Boozing has always been just a little more civilized in la belle province. Back in the dark days of Prohibition, Quebec was the only province to vote a resounding non, making Montreal a very popular destination to for thirsty tourists from across eastern Canada and the USA.
Even today, the craft brewers of Quebec are unique in North America, with their strong ties to French and Belgian brewing traditions.
The early French settlers of Quebec were flummoxed by the absence of native grapes suitable for winemaking, so they soon turned their attention to producing fine beers in the manner of their European forebears.
Yes, gentle reader, our poutine-munching brethren to the east have a long history of making beer, all the way back to a tiny Montreal brewery opened way back in 1786 by an upstart brewer named John Molson.
You may have heard of the Molson Brewery once or twice, or perchance seen one of their quintessentially Canadian commercials on TV. Molson is the oldest brewery in North America, and the second-oldest company in all of Canada, preceded only by the 1670 founding of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
However, your intrepid liquor reporter is not here to wax poetic about the megabreweries, no matter far back they can trace their pedigree, especially when there are so many tastier beers to be had in Quebec!
One of my constant favorites from la belle province is McAuslan Brewing, founded in 1989 by the pioneering Peter McAuslan, who decided to leave his cushy job in academia to found a microbrewery.
The late 80’s were the first wave of the craft beer revolution in Quebec, with several brave craft brewers coming into the market, many of them learning by trial and error as they went. Many of those early microbreweries did not survive, but McAuslan Brewing has continually prospered, and now sells 10 million litres of beer across Canada and the USA every year.
As the majority shareholder, beer fans had been wondering for years what would happen when the gregarious founder of the brewery eventually wanted to retire, as the 67-year old beer baron did earlier this year.
Holding fast to his own convictions, he saw the value of remaining true to the principles of craft beer, and did not want to sell out to a megabrewery producer of fizzy yellow water. Fortuitously, another family-owned, Montreal-based craft brewer called Brasseurs RJ was interested in expanding, and bought up McAuslan Brewing, lock, stock, and brew pot.
Fortunately for the many fans of McAuslan Brewing, nothing has changed in their brands or brew quality, and the same lovely brews remain available in our local booze merchants.
The St. Ambroise Pale Ale was the first brew out of the kettle back in 1989, and continues to be a top seller. Pouring a dark golden orange into the glass, with toasty caramel malts on the tongue after the first sip. The aroma is very mild, with hints of grassy and slightly floral hops to balance the malt flavour. Easily the most sessionable of the bunch.
The St. Ambroise Apricot Wheat Ale is particularly popular with the ladies, with strong fruity aromas coming off the glass after pouring. With flavours of apricot and graham crackers, this is a beer to be enjoyed cold on a sunny rooftop patio.
The St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout is the perennial favourite of your intrepid liquor reporter, who has long had a special place in his heart for dark beers.
Pouring like a dusky ebony cloud into my glass, the aromas are of burnt coffee with hints of molasses, topped with a creamy mocha head of foam. The dark roasted malts have hints of peat, licorice, and smoky chocolate all coming through. The dark roasted malts seem to provide a coffee-like bitterness to balance the sweet malts, with a complex flavour balanced with only a tiny amount of hops.
I usually get my McAuslan beers a variety six-pack, but whenever I get the chance, I visit one of the several craft beer halls in nearby Calgary to enjoy it on tap, the way beer was meant to be enjoyed.
McAuslan has strong distribution in Alberta, so you can find it almost anywhere. If it is not at your local booze merchant, check out www.liquorconnect.com to see where it is available near you.