The Museum of Jewish Montreal (MJM), Montreal’s keeper of Jewish history and culture, provided a unique opportunity to not just learn about Quebec's Jewish history, but to experience it with their event ‘L'Affaire Hart,’ named after a newly-rediscovered beer recipe. With the help of Réservoir Artisanal Brewery and the Hart family, the MJM recreated one of Canada's oldest beers—light amber in colour, rich in flavour and history.
The history of the beer began in Trois-Rivières in 1796. The Harts, the first Jewish family to settle in Quebec and known for their political and social justice work, opened a malt house and brewery. More than 200 years later, the recipe was discovered in an online database by full time lawyer and beer loving blogger Gary Gilman.
Gary Gilman practices corporate commercial law, and runs the blog Beer et Seq. on the history, economy, science, and culture of beer. It was his blog post written in February of this year that sparked the interest of one of the museums researchers, Magdalene Klassen.
The event took place on the corner of St. Laurent and St. Denis, in Fletcher’s Espace Culinaire, a Jewish café run by the MJM. According to their Facebook page, the restaurant aims to "reawaken traditions, reimagine the classics, and reconnect community," a sentiment that echoes throughout all of MJM’s endeavors. Rows and rows of excited visitors filled the venue, whose minimalist industrial style sets the perfect backdrop for their colourful and complex dishes. Fletcher’s was effortlessly cool, from the clean industrial design of the space, to the youthful, well dressed museum employees.
The first speaker at the event was Denis Vaugeois, a historian and author, who told the story of the Hart family. Among many political and social accomplishments, they opened the first synagogue in Canada. Gilman then spoke about the historical and technical aspects of the beer, detailing the traditional English brew techniques, that are archaic in comparison to today's methods. Nathan McNutt, the master brewer from Réservoir, and the man behind the Hart beer's revival, discussed the techniques used to create the most authentic version of the 18th century beer. In order to get the closest possible result, McNutt tried to stick to the original recipe as close as possible, making alterations here and there to counteract the effects of today's technology.
After hearing from Vaugeois, Gilman, and McNutt, guests and coordinators ventured out field trip style to Réservoir’s neighbourhood brewpub, where the second floor and terasse had been reserved. There the bartenders and brewers served the guests complimentary glasses of the 8.6 per cent beer.
Beer brewing technology have both come a long way since the 18th century. Beer is no longer brewed in wood barrels using hot stones, caramelized by the dregs of previous batches. The technology of the production has changed, and so have the tastes of the consumers. The alcohol percentage of beer has gone down, along with the strength of taste. L'affaire Hart is not a trendy IPA or a university classic like Pabst Blue Ribbon. It has an unique flavour that perhaps even some of today's biggest beer fans won't enjoy. Many guests held a genuine appreciation for the historical aspects of the beer and the passion that went into recreating it, but were unable to handle the taste of the traditional English brew.
The name of the reimagined beer, and the event itself, commemorates the triumph and hardship of Ezekiel Hart, whose successful election into the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada was met with controversy and antisemitism. According to the McCord Museum, despite winning the votes, he was unable to take his seat because he could not take what was at the time the customary oath “on the true faith of a Christian.” From creating the first Jewish beer in Quebec, to opening the first synagogue in Canada, and all the political and social work in between, the Hart family has been an extremely influential part of Quebec’s history. MJM and Réservoir celebrated the history of the Hart family, bringing people from all age groups and backgrounds together over a glass of beer and tales of social justice.