Every year as the Superbowl comes around I am painfully reminded of the cheap, watery, tin-flavored, mass-produced beer being consumed endlessly across the continent. The attraction of this yearly football phenomenon is synonymous with Budweiser and Coors, as countless advertising campaigns and beer sales will attest. But now that the post-game smell of rancid low-grade lagers has settled, I find it all the more comforting to be living in one of the finest cities in the world for genuine artisanal microbreweries.
The current state of microbreweries in North America owes its origins to trail-blazing British brewers like Bill Urquhart, who in the 1970s rebelled against large faceless corporations with the hope of creating a new generation of beers crafted with an original flair and personality. Although cask ales were originally the main product, in no time the movement incorporated a full palate of lagers, stouts, pilsners, porters—you name it—with no two alike. New terminology invaded the industry which had previously known only the two extremes of tap houses and large distributors. Among them were a “craft” brewery, which is small and independent; a “microbrewery,” which is even smaller (15,000 beer barrels or less per year); and a “brewpub,” which both brews its beer and sells it on the premises (and is only considered a microbrewery if the product is found elsewhere around town as well).
High concentrations of artisanal breweries began to define various cities as hubs of the new beer revolution. The obvious North American example is Portland, Oregon, which is home to over 40 microbreweries alone—a testament to the city’s understated ingenuity and creative, young population. But our fair city on the hill, Montreal, has also proven itself as a veritable hotbed of progressive entrepreneurial beer-heads. The better known—and better tasting—downtown specimens around town include Benelux and Dieu du Ciel, but multitudes of other scrumptious examples abound.
Brasseur de Montreal, which opened its doors in 2008, recently opened a brewpub on Rue Ottawa. Serving an eclectic mix of Belgian, Chinese, and Scottish beers, this new kid on the block doesn’t seem to be afraid of diving into the proverbial deep end. The cleverly named Broue Pub Brouhaha on Lorimier avenue serves an exclusive selection of its own crafts and other local brewers’ fares, showing that Montreal’s brewpub scene can support both camaraderie and competition. Outremont’s up-and-coming brewpub HELM crafts its beers exclusively from Quebec grains, and would surely become a McGill student favorite if any of us actually bothered to venture to the other side of Mount Royal for a night out.
The defining feature of Montreal artisanal breweries is their non-traditional approach to ingredients. Talk to any beer purist and you’ll get an earful about the sanctity of the four main ingredients of beer (barley, hops, water, and yeast) and the blasphemy of adding anything foreign to this holy quartet. But anyone who’s had a Benelux spiced seasonal beer knows this is utter foolishness. The distinctiveness of Dieu du Ciel comes from their bold addition of, for example, fair trade cocoa and vanilla to their Aphrodisiaque stout. Brasseur de Montreal also experiments successfully with non-conventional ingredients such as ginger and various citrus fruits.
The bountiful cornucopia of Montreal breweries has proven that deviation from rigid traditional notions of alcoholic fare brings about products necessary to keep the industry on its toes. Granted, there is always room for creative renderings of traditional ingredients, as the Sam Adams brewers proved with the release of Infinium, a specialty beer made purposely to show the vitality of the original four elements. So, with this in mind, go forth and enjoy our city’s fine offerings.