Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Back for More: 19e Mondial de la Bière

Last year was our first outing to Montreal’s annual Mondial de la Bière in a long time. We remember attending the fest,  now celebrating its 19th year, in its early inception in the mid-90’s when it was held on the paved area behind Place des Arts, now the beautifully landscaped Quartier des Spectacles. There were about 12 tents with the highlight being Peter McAuslan in a kilt. Also at that time we had a job that involved a lot of free beer. This might sound like a great perk but it was generally in lieu of any real monetary payment. Our free beer was also not of the exotic variety, as now found at the Mondial de la Bière, except maybe the odd hemp beer in Whistler, B.C. After several years of drinking too much of the big label brands we definitely had our fill and just stopped drinking beer. We decided to attend the beer fest last year for the food but we did end up staying for the beer. Besides enjoying some amazing beers and flavors we love the fact that it is great place to meet lots of interesting characters.

Beer Buffalo
Last year we were lucky enough to speak with Mondial Judge Gary Lohin who happens to be brewmaster at B.C.’s Red Racer brewery. During our discussion we informed Lohin of our preference for wine over beer. Lohin explained to us how beer can be just as enjoyable with food and there was no reason for our dislike of beer. If you love food and flavors then why not enjoy a great-tasting beer. Based on Lohin’s advice we took it upon ourselves to spend the year doing gallons of research for our next Mondial. Our homework has definitely paid off because we have rediscovered the enjoyment of a great beer. Our dislike of beer for so many years came from drinking too much of the bad big label stuff.

Brazilian Beer Barons: Samuel & Paulo Cavalcanti from Boderbrown
During our past year of intensive research we have come to the realization that we are perhaps lightweights in the beer department. We are not big beer drinkers, the kind that play Edward Beer Can Hands, and we still have not done enough research in order to be full blown beer snobs. Where does that leave us? Our favorite beers seem to be white, like Hoegaarden and fruit, like Kriek- Cherry beer. Why are we mentioning this? It would seem to us that the type of beer you drink says a lot about the type of person you are. Think about it, Pabst Blue Ribbon seems synonymous with hipsters. How about the world’s most interesting man? We all know what he drinks even though he was not at the beer fest this year. And who drinks Labatt Blue? Given all the characters at the beer fest it only makes sense to us to look around at people and their beer because we think we need a new beer and image.

Denis Caciuc & Friends
We were a bit disappointed because last year we saw Captain Jack Sparrow and Al Capone at the Sleeman space. Considering the number of breweries which use serving wenches at their kiosques we suppose the Jester of Tortuga was in the right place. Captain Sparrow may have stayed away this year because the beach area was limited to a tiny patch of sand with no volleyball courts. We thought he might be at Microbrasserie Le Naufrageur's kiosque but no luck. Besides the regular festival parade of serving wenches we did run into a few familiar faces. Denis Caciuc, who teaches Restauration Services at the École Hôtelerie de Laval, once-again gets the Coolest Teacher award because he brings his class to the beer fest. Talk about your fun field trips. We also saw the beer fest mascot who last year looked yellow but this year sported a cool brass finish. Maybe they are going to change his color every year. How about a nice stout or rousse finish? In terms of dressing up we did notice this year a few people sporting fun T-shirts with slogans like I'm Drunk and Beer Gut. We also spotted funny hats. It seems that putting your beer fest tote-bag on your head is becoming a Montreal festival fashion phenomenon especially when visiting the bar after opening night. Since the Mondial is part of our summer festival calendar why not dress up for the occasion? The staff at the kiosques dress up in costume so why not the public? The organizers could give prizes for best costumes, T-shirts and they could tap into the whole cosplay / Comic-Con market. Keeping in step with the vampire trend we'll go as Beercula. 

New Look?

The first step to improve our beer drinking image was choosing a new weapon. What better way to get in touch with your inner Ninja than the BBbarfly bottle opener. The guys behind BBbarfly told us they had made the trip from Toronto by renting an RV in order to transport their stock  to the beer fest and also to have a place to sleep. We are glad they came because we love kitchen gadgets and this is just about as cool as it gets. The BBbarfly opener is almost as awesome as our kitchen blowtorch. The opener uses the same design as a Balisong or Butterfly knife but without the sharp danger because it only opens beer bottles. You also get to chose your own artwork and color to fully accessorize your weapon. We of course chose the Tiki Idol motif because we love retro inspired designs. Cosplayers take note that the BBbarfly is the perfect accessory for a Hit Girl costume from the movie Kick Ass

For ordering and additional information visit the BBbarfly website here.

One stand immediately caught our eye with their copy of François Chartier’s book Papilles & Molécules (Taste Buds & Molecules). Brasseurs Sans Gluten (Gluten Free Brewers) are obviously up to some interesting things besides making gluten free beer with ingredients like millet, buckwheat and brown rice. Papilles & Molécules is about the science of wine pairing and food so why not apply his theories to beer? Chartier’s methodology and research (some of which was carried out at ElBulli) is to look at food ingredients (herbs, spices...) and their aromatics at the molecular level. By isolating these individual composites Chartier is able to find relationships, "chains of flavor", to the same composites found in wine. Aromatics (smell) is one of our senses and plays a major role in how we taste food. Inspired by Chartier’s research, the brewers at Brasseurs Sans Gluten (BSG) have made a beer using sotolon, a compound that when concentrated has the smell of fennugrec or curry powder. The chemical compound can also smell like molasses, caramel and maple syrup at lower concentrations. Sotolon also appears in highly fermented (brown and black) beers. The Brasseurs Sans Gluten beer, Sotolon Impériale, features all the above mentioned tasting notes giving it a unique flavor profile.  As cool as molecular brewing might be, we are not sure if this is the type of beer we want to drink as part of our new image. A bottle of gluten-free beer with sotolon would certainly be a great conversation starter at a party but our only worry is that all this science talk might make us sound even nerdier, no matter how many BBbarfly tricks we learn.  A fine sipping beer that should not be rushed.

The Face of L'Alchimiste's La Métropole
 Our next stop was a little side booth next to L'Alchimiste’s main stand and featuring their Métropole (5.14% alcohol get it? 514 = MTL) that is the official beer of the Montreal XV Rugby Club. A golden Pilsner that is very smooth and easy to drink, the beer branded with the image of rugby players is definitely tough looking. Right away we imagined ourselves hanging out at the Rover’s Return pub with our mates after a game and everybody speaking the Queen’s English. We turned around to find two guys from Dubai wearing kilts, Burberry and Fred Perry sampling the Métropole confirming our fantasy. Our one problem with this picture is that it might involve playing rugby. Given the rugby games we have seen and our low threshold for pain, and tendency to break into tears, we doubt we would be much of an asset to any team no matter how much we enjoyed their beer.

Two Guys from Dubai avec La Métropole
 Feeling a bit lost and disoriented in the foray of so many beer stands, or perhaps tastings, we did decide to go into some familiar territory at Brasseur de Montreal (BdM). Since tasting their beers, BdM has become a favorite. Each beer offers a distinctive flavor and taste. Of course we were immediately drawn to their fruit beers and fell in love with their Cherry Ô Fruit from our first sip. This light tasting beer (4% alcohol) reminded us of a watery melted cherry Popsicle – we meant this in a good way. After an inquiry we were told at the Mondial that cherry is no longer available. Fruit beers often come across as heavy and syrupy but this is not the case with the Brasseur. These beers often taste more like beer than fruit. BdM's balance of beer to fruit is perfect. We tried their apple and cranberry fruit beers that were both excellent with similar light and refreshing tastes. We could not resist taking a sample of our personal favorite the Chi Orientale because we love the strong ginger taste of this pale beer. The Ghost Town stout with absinthe flavor is another winner as its dark taste plays well with the anise flavor of absinthe. We are not sure what drinking these beers says about your personality as a beer drinker but they sure are tasty with their wide array of flavors. We guess there is something for everybody so you could say this is a democratic choice.

Robot + Beau's = Le Robeau
Speaking of great beers, last year we were really impressed with Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company from Vankleek Hill, Ontario. Once-again Beau’s delivered the goods. Given our addiction to caffeine we liked the strong coffee taste of their Collabrrrewator. We also sampled their Winter Brew, also with coffee notes, and found it a bit more smooth and lighter than the Collabrrrewator. These beers are great tasting and good looking with some of the coolest artwork you will see on any label. The genuine quality of these products makes it hard for us to decide what type of image they convey. We think they say, I’m a cool original. Our major problem with this beer is that it is not available in Quebec. We heard that Beau's is launching a kimchi beer and we really hope to see it at the Mondial next year.

Crazy Rabbit: This is what we look like after the Mondial
Staying with the the familiar, we headed over to Le Grimoire’s stand because we sometimes use La Noire Soeur (The Black Nun) in our cooking. The holy sister beer has a strong chocolate and coffee taste that is really not sweet and makes amazing spiced nuts. At the Mondial we sampled Desérables, a maple beer that we were told by the Grimoire staff makes great braised ribs. We also tried Vie de Chateau, a rum beer with a very pleasant caramel aftertaste. Despite these sweet sounding flavors with all three beers they are very subtle and not overpowering. The flavors are dark rather than sweet.

Soul Sister
Being creatures of habit we could not resist trying Levrette’s White Cherry beer. Also the beer has a picture of a bunny on the bottle. In fact, after this many beers we were starting to look like the rabbit on the label. This beer did offer a nice contrast to all the dark beers we kept finding at the Mondial and was a nice palate cleanser. On the topic of fruit beers we discovered that Boréale now offers fruit beers as part of their lineup. The Cuvée Boréale beers feature the local flavors of Quebec. The apple/cranberry beer is obviously a very tasty combination. We were very impressed with the wild blueberry beer with a deep and royal taste of wild blueberries. The beer tasted like a fizzy watered down version of the deep tasting liquid that seeps out of homemade blueberry pie. The two drinks have some of the most beautiful colors that we have seen in a beer. The apple cranberry is amber and the wild blueberry a deep purple.

Proper Beer Fest Attire
 Obviously we were right back where we started when we arrived at the Mondial still drinking fruit beers. This leaves us another year for more research before the next edition of the Mondial. There are a few other beers that we sampled and think are worth mentioning. The Broadway Pub located in Shawinigan served up the Memorial and it is not the beer commemorating Jean Chrétien's famous handshake. The dark brew is a Bock made in the traditional manner. We also enjoyed the Pilsner from Tcheque beer. It's made in Contrecoeur (Québec) by brewers from the Czech Republic using ingredients imported from their homeland. Paying our respects we tried Gary Lohin's Red Racer White Ale and it was definitely one of our faves of the fest.

Painting the Town Red
Next year the Mondial de la Bière will be celebrating its 20th anniversary. Amazing to think how much the Québec micro-brewing industry has grown in this time and the festival itself featuring over 30 Québec breweries. The Mondial will also be leaving the cavernous concrete walls of Place Bonaventure and setting up camp at the Palais des Congrès. We are excited about the idea of going for some early morning Dim Sum in Chinatown before the Mondial so if you would like to joins us we will be at La Maison Kam Fung.