Tuesday, June 14, 2011

In heaven they have no beer that's why we have the Montreal Mondiale de la Bière.

This weekend was The Grand Prix, and The Mondiale de la Bière in Montreal. Fast cars and beer, what else do you need? Think about the imagery in a typical beer commercial and the answer is obvious - easy women. The standard beer commercial prop besides cars is women. The idea of pimping your ride works on several levels when pimping your beer and this is evident at Montreal’s Beerfest.
The festival is a microcosm of beer culture so marketing campaigns are heavily reflected. Since there were no cars at the beer festival there is only one obvious option left in attempting to draw attention to your product. With over 609 beers available to the public, 253 of which are making their first appearance at the fest, competition is fierce. You have seen the women in beer commercials so you know what we are talking about. Using women in trade shows is apparently common practice. Remember the boat show scene in Showgirls? The beer companies must feel very comfortable and in their element in this environment.

Typical Beer Ad

You can really tell a lot about a company in their front line marketing. On the festival floor the big beer companies stick with the proven formula mentioned above. The micro breweries focus on their product, the quality of the ingredients and artisanal manufacturing. This is no fault of the big beer companies. Great beer marketing campaigns are rare and it takes a real genius to create a campaign like Rolling Rock's VP of Marketing Ron Stablehorn.

Guitars, Cadillacs, Hillbilly Music
Microbrasserie, À La Fût, located in St-Tite, has found a winning formula by combining the best of both worlds. Link to their website here. A micro brewing company that has figured out how to put the word “tite” on a beer bottle. They also use cowboys hats and dudes with big handle bar moustaches as part of their schtick. Campy western brewpub that is a joint venture of engineers, we love it. We sampled La Sir Wallace, a scotch ale at 8% alcohol, that was a deliciously dark and intensely flavoured black beer.
Welcome to Paradise
We arrived early at Beerfest because the crowds in the evening are legendary. Holding the festival at Place Bonaventure might be a smart move by the festival's organizers not only because it is a massive area but because there are no windows. If you have ever entered a Las Vegas casino you know what we are talking about. What to have for breakfast? As we entered the festival we found ourselves in a faux beach installation known as Le Plage des Biertotters. We are talking about a full size, beach volleyball court with sand, tiki bar and sandy square surrounded by beach chairs. People observe that your choice of alcoholic-beverage says something about your personality so what can we say about this area? The main vendors at the beach were Mojo, Sol beer and a vodka spritzer offered by the SAQ called Palm Bay. This was definitely meant to be the extreme fun zone. Palm Bay is available in two flavours pineapple with mandarin orange but we opted for pink grapefruit because we thought it sounded a little more like breakfast. We found it to be a light, refreshing soda pop, sweet tasting with 5% alcohol and just a little fizz. We then moved along to Mojo station. Mojo is an alcoholic-beverage with guarna for energy. We opted for a new product, Mojo shots, available in big bottles at déps but also in cool shot glasses for the bar crowd. The shooters clock in at 11.9% alcohol. Two flavours are available sour raspberry and a blue coloured sour lime shooter. If you have ever tasted sour puss liquor then you are familiar with these types of alcoholic-beverages that are both sweet and tart at the same time.
Beau's Beer
In strolling around the fest floor one stand caught our eye. First because we love B-movie posters and second because the signage said "a family run, D.I.Y. business using organic products." Welcome to Beau's All Natural Brewing Company. Link to their website here. No false advertising here these are some amazing products. We were lucky enough to speak with Steve Beauchesne who co-founded the brewery with his father Tim in Vankleek Hill, Ontario (between Ottawa and Montreal).
Tout est beau Chez Beau's
Steve started out our morning on the right foot with their Winterbrewed Amber Ale that is infused with organic Nicaraguan coffee. Beer companies often boast about the coffee notes in their dark beers but this ale has a genuine coffee flavour and 5% alcohol. According to Beauchesne their Brewmaster worked closely with their coffee provider's (fair trade) Roast Master in the creation of a perfect blend and balance of flavours. All we can say is good to the last drop.

Secret Ingredient: Bog Myrtle
Next from Beau's was Bog Water Gruit Ale (6.6% alcohol) that instead of hops uses a unique ingredient called Bog Myrtle that was a very popular beer making ingredient in the Middle Ages. With the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516 the ingredient was no longer used as the law stipulated the only permissible ingredients were water, barley and hops. No wonder big brewery beer all tastes the same. The twigs from the plant provide a woody taste, the leaves some bitterness and the cones add a little peppery taste. Overall the flavour is a combination of fruity (plum like) and bitter notes. When we tasted this beer we could only think about how good it would taste with steak. We have been craving this flavour and combination since tasting this beer. Next up was the Bog Monster that offers more intense flavours of the Bog Water beer. The fact this brewery uses such high quality ingredients really comes through in the taste of their products. These are amazing and unique flavoured beers and a perfect example of how small breweries focus on the quality of their ingredients unlike the big companies that need a gimmick.

Another zone at the Beerfest featured DJ's with beats in a club type setting. Fronting this club was a giant bar featuring Boris beer products. Boris seems to be going for the hipster crowd by making their servers wear nerdy glasses. When asking ourselves about this target audience we thought of this video...

Boris Beer: 20/20 Vision but just an empty pair of frames
Alexander Keith's and Unibroue both went with serving-wenches. Sleeman's kiosque left us scratching our heads a little because they had girls dressed up in flapper style outfits. They also had a photo booth with gangsters and someone dressed up like Jack Sparrow or Captain Morgan. We obviously do not watch enough beer commercials because we later saw that this was part of their "Notoriously Good" ad campaign that features their product in the prohibition era in the company of Al Capone. The people behind this ad campaign have obviously watched Boardwalk Empire but we have not figured out the pirate. Maybe he was at the wrong stand and looking for the serving wenches.

Serving wench
Seeing Double Chez Unibroue
Al Capone's Guns don't argue
Within this menagerie of colorful characters you do meet some interesting people.

Beerfest Mascot: We think his name is Sloshy and is BFF with Tipsy McSurly
We ran into Brewmaster Gary Lohin, Red Racer brewery (Vancouver, B.C.) who was also one of the Beerfest judges. In talking with Lohin we had a revelation, when we said that we were not beer drinkers. Lohin asked if we liked wine, of course we do, and said that beer can be paired in the same manner with food. In talking to Lohin, and tasting some of the fine micro brews, we realized we just do not like beer from the big companies. We have realized that all big brewery beer tends to taste the same, they even have the same type of carbonation. Micro brew beer can be like a fine wine with complex flavours that we have come to appreciate.
Denis Caciuc with students
We spoke with Denis Caciuc who teaches restauration services at the École Hôtelière de Laval. His students said he was the best teacher at the school and considering he takes his students to the Beerfest they have a point. The school should make an add with the Beerfest. We asked Caciuc for some of his recommendations and he said he was very impressed with the cider, mead and maple products that were also on tap at the festival. From Vinerie de Kildare we discovered Esprit d'Érable (14% alcohol). This is a beautiful tasting product. A very light and slightly sweet apéritif with maple notes. So light on the palate it seemed to dance and open up your palate a bit like tasting green apple. We also sampled a McKeown cider that was infused with cranberries and seemed to add to the tartness of the apples (6% alcohol). We would love for one of the cider producers to team up with one of a black beer producers at the festival because we have recently discovered Black Velvets. Guinness beer is poured on top of apple cider where it dances and creates a layered effect. We were also very impressed we the fine selection of meads from Miel Nature. Once-again these lovingly locally made artisanal products are outstanding.

elBulli Beer commercial with culinary students - no joke

We also took in some of the food at the festival. Montreal might boast about it's smoked meat at every possible occasion but what about Magnan and their roast beef? Magnan is long reputed to have the best roast beef in town. Magnan's was at the Beerfest offering a full range of items including an incredible roast beef sandwich that tasted well...iconic. There was also a giant shrimp cocktail that should have been called steroid shrimp cocktail and a delicious lobster roll.

We experienced a culinary first at La Face Cachée De La Pomme, another Quebec cider producer. As an attention grabber La Face Cachée was doing a culinary display with liquid nitrogen. Egg whites were whisked with their cider (12% alcohol) and then dipped in liquid nitrogen to create a "snowball" that also makes steam come out of your mouth. We have seen lots of cooking displays with liquid nitrogen on television but this was the first time tasting anything prepared in this manner. Like all Canadians, as children we have eaten snow and it you have ever chomped a tightly packed snowball it was an eerily similar experience. The outside was crisp like a meringue but when you crunch into the outer shell it was soft in the middle.

Oddly the best beer promotion that we saw that day was not at the Beerfest but on Boulevard St-Laurent that was closed for Grand Prix festivities. Sapporo beer was using image and movement capturing technology to project your likeness on a wall in the form of a giant sumo wrestler. Your reward for being sumo wrestler on their giant billboard was a free beer at one of the participating bars on the Main.

Until next year: Bangkok Psychobilly

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