McAuslan Brewing Company

As if every day of my trip wasn’t busy, our day in Vieux Port (Old Port) was jam packed with biking, history, food, and beer.

I was bouncing with excitement to see the oldest part of town, which some may complain is touristy, but it beautiful none the less. Vieux Port is full of art, food, horse-drawn carriages, and yes, people. Overlooking one side of the neighborhood is Marché Bonsecours (where the wedding was held) and Notre Dame de Bonsecours, and ancient church that used to hail ships into port.

Olive et GourmandoWe walked around with little direction – a beautiful thing – and gradually made our way to a destination sandwich shop called Olive et Gourmando. My family ate there years ago, and I dream about that Cuban sandwich.

Despite the shoulder-to-shoulder entryway and endless line, we actually only waited 10 minutes for a table.

The Cuban was calling me, but my general life commitment to trying new things steered me towards a sandwich of chevre and caramelized onions – a perfectly simple and endlessly satisfying combination.

chevre sandwich gourmandoAfter a walk along the pier, watching the world and its dogs pass by on a rhythmic loop of slobber…wag…jog… we hit the well-used bike path along the river. The direction was west, towards Brewery MacAuslan, the origin point of St. Ambroise beer, a Canadian crowd favorite.

We biked a distance apart, swerving around runners, veering under the occasional overpass, and even crossing the water once or twice.

It occurred to me that the last time I visited this city, as a recent college grad with a fresh French degree, I thought I would never return. Not that I didn’t want to…I just didn’t know how feasible it would be. Flights were so expensive at that time, and a 24 hour plus drive didn’t seen appealing. And yet here I was, taking to the streets like a local, not once stopping to ask for directions. It was a liberating sensation.

I was deep in this freeing reality, that destiny is created and important things like that, when I glanced across the canal to see a giant market. Atwater Market, Rick explained, is one of the best farmer’s markets in the province. We went, of course, as I am never one to refuse a local market.

The indoor and outdoor stalls were full of not just produce and flowers, as most American markets are. There was a large amount of meat, plus bakeries and deli items – pickled this, preserved that. There was a large cheese shop with a very good beer selection, too.

Additionally, a macaroon. This perfect one, in my hand.macaroon atwater

Back on the bikes for mission: beer.

McAuslan’s patio is incredibly bike-friendly in that it faces the canal and bike path with signage and ample bike racks. In fact, it is far easier to get to that way than from the parking lot.

I ordered a flight, which includes two Griffon beers and four St. Ambroise.

We sat in the sunny backyard with graffiti and construction equipment in the background and sipped slowly.

McAuslan flight

Aside from the Griffon Rouge which was simply a bore, we enjoyed the entire flight. The Cream Ale / Pale Ale naming thing threw me for a loop again, but ultimately both were very good beers. The preference was absolutely the Stout, with beautiful coffee aroma and a mild smoky note. The taste develops from coffee to chocolate and slight toffee. It is not too sweet of too dry, a modest everyday dark beer with smoke that builds into something reminscent of bacon (in the best way possible. Because it’s bacon.)

McAuslan pintsThe Cream Ale is also very good, dryer than an American cream ale with a very pleasant hop bite and perfect body. The Apricot Wheat is a nice summer selection with an apricot-clementine nose. On warming it becomes more syrupy in flavor, like candy. The wheat component is missing as the beer is filtered and not hefe-like in nature. Perhaps if the wheat played a larger role the sweetness would stay in check. Drink this while its very cold, for sure. For fall, though, I’d go with the pumpkin over the apricot.

I recommend a visit to McAuslan after a warm day in Vieux Port. It is a charming but not jolting juxtaposition of the old and new. Plus the bike ride offers sights along the river including serene kayaks, birds, and the opportunity for one of the best macaroons ever.

Reservoir Brasserie Artisanale

When it comes to vacation I typically plan moderately. I read travel blogs, scour maps, and  ask friends for all kinds of obscure suggestions. I am no stranger to Couchsurfing, AirBnB, and half a dozen other travel sites. The bulk of my research time is spent (this should be obvious by now) on finding breweries, deciding what beer stops are a priority, and determining which bottles to bring for trading.

This trip was different, as I was traveling to visit a local, and a beer lover at that. I offered some suggestions but generally let him play tour guide. I was especially looking forward to our visit to Réservoir Brasserie Artisanale. Affectionately dubbed “Res” by staff and regulars, the smal brewpub boasts an impressive tap turnover that reflects the seasons, as well as special 750ml bottles to be enjoyed on-site. It has been open since 2002.Res menu

Rick and I visited Résevoir more than once during my visit, as I was very excited to learn from the brewer, Nathan McNutt, in person after first learning about Res. I had so many questions about the challenges of brewpub brewing, the Quebec bottling laws, and I was determined to find out what the heck “cream ale” means to Canadians.

reservoir verre Sunday night at Res brought me my first taste of the place, tucked away just off a major street called St Laurent. Rick and I drank with assistant brewer, Corin de Jonge, and chatted with hostess Fannie.

I tried several of the crowd favorites, including the ESB and the Stout, both of which were classic and solid. I especially liked the dry nature and deep roasted character of the stout.

menu

 

My first pint and favorite of the evening, however, was nothing other than the excellent Berliner Weisse. Pungent tart aroma and very low hopping let the acidic nature of the beer shine. A nice cracker-sourdough malt profile underscored and unified the package.

Other must-try beers are the Blanche – a common Québecois style, French for Belgian Wit – and the Cream Ale.

reservoir bottle

On Tuesday while the Pilsner was mid-boil, I asked Nathan what, exactly, the term cream ale means in Canada, as I found many cream ales to be higher in hop content than some pale ales, leaving me entirely confused. According to him, a cream ale is typically a pale-ale-like beer served on nitro (or “azotée”), making it creamy in texture. It has nothing to do with what Americans think of: a sweet, light beer typically brewed with adjunct grains. 

Despite the nomenclature, I found the Réservoir Cream Ale to be very pleasant, drinkable, and – mais oui! – creamy.

After his long day of brewing, Nathan ordered a bottle of the Double Blanche for Corin, Rick, and I to share with him. It wasn’t the end result that he was intending, displaying more phenolic smokiness and near Brett-like notes, possibly as a result of too-hot fermentation. While none of us were entirely turned off, I could tell that Nathan was very disappointed.

res brewhouse 2res brewhouse 1

Nathan is a very skilled and experienced brewer, with 8 years of brewing under his belt at Réservoir. We chatted about the challenges of brewing on a second story with limited temperature control in most of the tanks; it is clear that he has learned how to brew very well with a fairly simple system. He takes extensive notes on his recipes and always seeks to make things better each and every time. I appreciated his candor and honesty about the brewing process.

res pour

Bottling special edition brews leaves more room on tap for new and regular beers that turn over quickly. The 750s are all bottled by hand and can only be consumed on-site according to licensing law (the opposite of what Minnesotans can expect).

Visit Réservoir on a Sunday evening to experience a restrained but hip corner of Montréal night life, or for a weekday lunch on the upstairs terrasse. Try a variety of their beer and give one special bottle a taste, too, as some of their more unique beers are contained there.

Oh, and, try the churros. Thank me later.

Res crew

Corin, Rick, Nathan, Eric

Mont-Royal, Dieu du Ciel, Lili Co.

bikes up a mountainMonday we biked up a mountain, me on Pepé le Peugeot and Rick on his black fixed gear. Yep.

The mountain is in the middle of the bustling city, and it certainly feels that way all the way to the top. It is like Central Park with a severe incline and its people bent on getting fit.

The ride up is via a long, winding, wide trail of crushed stone with the occasional cavern carved through one side from rain. There are no rules, lanes, directions. It’s all quite aimless, leaving me to firmly state “à gauche” or “à droite” (on your left/right) frequently.

summit farnham cansWe brought two beers, because they seemed to compliment each other in style and in graphic design.

Two water stops and lots of pedaling brought us to a spectacular view of the city plus some surprises including a new sculpture garden, a little bistro and museum, and even a piano for public use.

Ok, so it’s not exactly mountain biking, but it is biking up a mountain.farnham and snacks

The beer was quite motivating, in addition to the view, and we enjoyed a Farnham Pilsener with fruit and granola. It was a beautiful beer with a balanced dryness which showcased the malt and Saaz hops very nicely.Saga over Montreal

Of course my Canadian friend absolutely loved the Saga. No surprise there. A mingling of pine, grapefruit, and tropical notes would please most drinkers.

We took one last look over the edge and then a wonderful thing happened – it was time to bike down the mountain.

And we kept biking. Down, over, into traffic, and finally turned into another neat neighborhood called Mile End (evidently all of Montreal is quaint, neat, pretty, and chic). I asked if we could go look at the castle-church-thing while waiting ten minutes for Dieu du Ciel to open its doors.

church-castle-fire station“Paige, that’s a fire station,” Rick informed me.

Naturally.

Next to the fire station is a little unassuming building that houses one of the more highly regarded Canadian breweries. Dieu du Ciel is a legendary place for beer lovers, as their spotty distribution brings bottles of the stuff to select states (not Minnesota).

dieu du ciel flight

Hibiscus, Nativite, Mild, Disco

It took much deliberation to settle on the four tasters for our flight but we ended up with decent variety and maximum interest: The Rosée d’Hibiscus Blanche, Nativité Hoplosion Weizen, Mild End Mild, and Disco Soleil Kumquat IPA.

DdC beer listThe best of the bunch was most certainly the blanche made with hibiscus. It offered a distinct fruit-floral note without tasting like tea. The faint pink hue and perfect serving temperature were worth bonus points.

Unfortunately, the Weizen had notes of DMS which were significant enough to overpower what I was really looking forward to – Mandrina hops. I was quite surprised for a number of reasons, but regardless, it was definitely there, so we moved on to better choices.

I ordered the Déesse Nocturne, an excellent stout served on nitrogen and was quite pleased. Even on a hot day after a sweaty ride, the nitro character and modest body presented a refreshing take on what came across as a dry-meets-American stout.

The final jaunt of the evening (after a much-deserved nap) was to a minuscule restaurant named Lili Co. where chef Teg Graham, a good friend of Rick’s, was guest-cooking an eleven course dinner for family and friends. I consider myself extremely lucky to have been in the country for this event. Eleven courses, yes, that’s what I said.

Lili Co. and its chef, David Pellizzari, handed the keys over to Teg who performed this miraculous series of events (I really don’t have words):teg lili co menu

teg lili co drink menu

 

Teg’s food was some of the best I have ever tasted in my life. I was so impressed by not only the quality but also the creativitiy.

Here are some images of his creations. It was the perfect end to a wonderful day, and not only did I enjoy the food, I enjoyed the amount of pride in the room, all in support of this young chef.

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