Saturday, May 12, 2012

Free Beer Expo! Wow Dow! Take a Bow!

When it comes to beer the name Molson seems synonymous with Canadian history but how about Dow? Dites Donc Dow! L'histoire d'une brasserie d'ici is the new, free exhibition housed by the ÉTS (L'École de technologie supérieure) whose campus is located on the site of the former brewery. The exhibition is a joint project between the ÉTS and Pointe-à-Callière museum. Founded by John Dunn, the Dow brewery story begins only fours years after John Molson set up shop in 1786. Dow would gradually become one of the most popular beers in Québec outselling Molson and Labatt combined in the 1970's. Sales fell when scandal blamed the deaths of several heavy Dow beer drinkers on the fact cobalt sulfate was being added to the brew for better foaming action.
The old Dow brewery, and the ÉTS, are located on lower Peel street and part of Griffintown. This neighborhood is now the focus of major development and transformation in our city. The Now for a Dow! exhibition invites us to consider the past when looking towards the future. This message applies to the neighborhood in transition but also to the ÉTS that as an educational institution seeks to inspire technological innovation. The use of the former brewery by the ÉTS seems to have has ensured the preservation of some heritage buildings that played an important part in Montreal's industrial and manufacturing history. 
Dow and the most interesting old men in the world
Our personal memories of Dow naturally include its reputation as a beer that killed. We also recall drinking it at a discount price Chez Les Foufounes Électriques. In case you are wondering you could still purchase Dow beer up until 1998. The Foufs stash of Dow must have been one of the last in the city. The added novelty to our cheap Foufs beer was the upside down label. Instead of Dow we drank Mod. During the expo's vernissage, Dow beer memorabilia collector Pierre Guillotine-Hurtubise, whose personal collection makes up a large part of the exhibition, recalled that despite all their marketing efforts Black Label was not the "underground" beer of the 1980's. Hurtubise says it was Dow. Dow's cult status, Hurtubise explained, stemmed from the fact that it was a beer consumed by old men in Taverns evoking memories of the past and the 1970's when Dow was the beer of choice in Quebec.
Spring in Montreal! Bière, Beau Temps & Terrasses  
The evocation of the past is achieved in the exhibition that comes across as a bit of  time-capsule in a building that once housed the brewery. This experience is achieved thanks to, perhaps our favorite part of the exhibition, montages of Dow's print and television ad campaigns. Considering the beer's long history this includes advertising images from the late twenties. We also discovered that Unibroue's use of the Québec folk tale La Chasse-Galerie in the marketing of their Maudite beer was in fact first used by Dow. In terms of evoking nostalgia, the 40's and 50's print-ads look like they are directly from the desk of Don Draper on Mad Men. The television ads are equally engaging especially when offering the occasional glimpse of how our city once looked.

Own a piece of history and a Planetarium
In all this celebration of Montreal's past and Dow we did notice something concerning on the way to the exhibition: a City of Montreal for sale sign on the now closed Dow Planetarium. We do not wish to suggest that the burden of preserving this heritage building be placed on the ÉTS or Pointe-à-Callière, incidentally the museum is subsidized by the City of Montreal that is selling the planetarium, but too often these buildings are forgotten when the choice is made between development (profit) and architectural heritage (remembering the past). The low density building does take up a square block in a central downtown location. The Dow Planetarium was built thanks to the backing of the Dow brewery and inaugurated in 1966 just in time for Expo'67. Hurtubise mentioned that the LNI (Ligue Nationale D'Improvisation) was interested in the 60's style building as a permanent performance space. Our hope is that this part of Dow's history is not forgotten.
Les Brasseurs: Cold Beer - Bière Froide
Should this glimpse into our city's past leave you thirsty for more we recommend wetting your whistle at Les Brasseurs de Montreal a nearby Griffintown brewery. Since discovering Les Brasseurs', Chi L'Orientale, a white beer with a very strong ginger taste, it has become one of our favorite beers. A recent visit to Les Brasseurs lead us to the discovery of their cherry Ô fruit! beer. Refreshing, much lighter and less sweet than Belgian Kriek (cherry) beer the nose reminded us of cherry Popsicle. We have also sampled their absinthe-based stout: Ghost Town. A dark tasting beer with chocolate notes and a strong taste of black licorice, or anise, thanks to the absinthe. All are great beers with a distinct taste and obviously made with great attention to flavors. In hindsight and in keeping with our trip down memory lane perhaps we should have tried La Montréalaise Griffintown.
The Dites Donc Dow! / Now For a Dow! exhibition is located at 355 Peel. It is open from Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free Admission!
Les Brasseurs de Montréal is located at 1485 Ottawa. Check the website for opening hours.

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