Le Cheval Blanc

We made a visit to a tiny brewery in downtown Montreal called Le Cheval Blanc on Sunday. After biking all over town while Rick was working a brunch shift, I was certainly ready for a pint.

fleurs Montreal

While the place occupies a pretty low profile near the Univeristy of Quebec Montreal, Le Cheval Blanc is quite significant in that it was the first brewery licensed within Montreal in 1986. The business was inherited within the family after having been a tavern since 1940. By brewing within city limits, they paved the way for many breweries and brew pubs to come.

The company merged with two other microbreweries in 1998, and also has the rights to produce two Brewery d’Achouffe beers for distribution in Canada.

Le Cheval Blanc serves about nine beers at a time plus a cask selection. We each sampled a few on the terrasse, which overlooks busy Ontario Street.

WP_20140907_013One strength of Le Cheval Blanc is their variety. Most drinkers will have no problem finding a selection to be excited about.

left: Berliner, right: IPL

left: Berliner, right: La Split

The Berliner Weisse is quite tart without being puckeringly sour. The acidity is without a doubt refreshing and the citrus notes are very pleasant and natural. On top of the appropriate carbonation, this Berliner is spot on.

La Split is a collaboration with Les Brasseurs de l’Insulte. It is somewhat like a hoppy farmhouse, with very tasty esters and decent complexity. Nice pineapple notes are balanced by signficant bitterness on the finish, along with some wild and grassy notes.

le cheval beersFinally, I highly recommend the Framboise, a raspberry beer that is refreshing and pleasant, walking the uncomfortable line between true fruit flavor and …cough syrup. There is no lambic tartness, it is a straight fruit beer. While it could have a bit more body, it is perfect for summer and fall.

Le Cheval Blanc is a low-key, easily accessible brewery with a variety of choices to please most palates. While nothing that was on at the time was exactly jaw-dropping, everything was solid. La Split was a surprising treat and the Berliner delivered exactly what we were looking for.

le cheval cheers

la pluie, too much dinner, and a celebration

By Saturday morning we had arrived in Montreal after a restless trip on a midnight bus. Then came the only dreary weather of the entire trip. A soggy walk brought Rick and I to the adorable house of Jean-François, who graciously loaned me a bike for the duration of my trip, no questions asked.

Aviary Photo_130549225049505828I chose his suggestion, a red Peugeot with old-school gears, a split top tube, and a lock that you could kill someone with as easily as the candlestick in a game of Clue. I nicknamed her Pepé le Peugeot after the French skunk.

First we ducked under an awning when the rain kicked up. Then we got smart and ducked into a bakery. I ordered pastries in French, and well enough that the cashier did not switch into English. (Yay! I still got it!)

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Finally the dripping subsided and it was time to explore Rue St. Dennis, a bit of a main street, akin to Minneapolis’ Uptown but more quaint (everything is more quaint in Quebec). It was clearly Saturday, which brought young families, tour buses, and retired couples out of their soggy holes to shop, eat, and play.

After a cupcake at Sophie Sucrée and a new pair of shoes for Rick, it was time to regroup before our big dinner and (surprise) wedding reception. And regrouping meant beer. I brought eleven bottles and cans for my Canadian friends. We decided on a bit of a face-off while we dried out – Schell’s Weizenbock v. Pit Caribou Blanche.

Wheat beers are not all created equal. People often group them together in their minds, thinking that everything tastes like a Blue Moon and/or a Hefeweizen. Tasting a Belgian-inspired selection next to a German one was especially helpful for our palates.

wit weizen tastingThe Schell’s Weizenbock, part of their weizen series 12-packs, clearly gained the majority of its flavor from yeast, and the effect was especially stunning as the beer is not filtered. We enjoyed flavors of citrus, clove, and banana, punctuated by a significant hop finish. It feels broader on the tongue and seems more potent than the Belgian-style Pit Caribou 475 Blanche de Pratto.

The Pit Caribou is a lovely witbier (referred to as “blanche” by the Québécois) that appears  partially filtered and smells of strong citrus and pepper notes. It’s quite floral in the most pleasant way, and the effervescence adds to its refreshing quality. While we didn’t vastly prefer one over the other, a blanche would suit a bright, breezy day, whereas the weizenbock made us want to snuggle in for an evening.

And now, for the food. Rick is a cook at H4C in the St. Henri neighborhood, where we ate the most spectacular dinner I have ever had in my life, no contest. There is a fine line between haute cuisine and ridiculousness, in my opinion, and Chef Dany Bolduc served Rick and I a personal tasting menu of nine courses without breaching the boundary. Needless to say, I couldn’t bear to remove my camera from my purse and take any attention away from the food, but this will give you an idea:

There really are no words. But if flights to Montreal stay below $400 for much longer, you better just fly in for the food. I am not joking. Mozzarella ice cream. Enough said.

We spent hours and hours enjoying these little food playgrounds, and even Rick, a H4C employee, was surprised and immensely pleased. Not to mention grateful.

Lets go to a weddingTo cap off a wonderful day, things just became more splendid when we took the Metro to Vieux Port (the historic port of Montreal) for a wedding. Isabelle, H4C’s pastry chef and a friend of Rick’s, had invited us to celebrate with her and her new husband. While I didn’t know of these plans until I landed, I am always prepared for wedding-level fanciness.

It was some of the best wedding dancing I have ever witnessed, with a room full of people not afraid to have a total ball.

Unimaginable fun was had. Friends were made. I didn’t get hit by a bus on my bike. Big win.

bienvenue au canada!

O, Canada!

I arrived in Ottawa an hour late meaning the anticipation of setting foot in the land of (more) hockey and poutine was both sweet and riddled with guilt knowing someone was waiting an hour longer to pick me up. Rick, my Couchsurfer from April, agreed to host me in Montreal but we decided to spend one evening west of the francophone world.

Ottawa, the English-speaking, centuries-old capitol city of all of Canada, is a very beautiful place. We bussed from the airport nearly all the way downtown and then took some time to stroll the acridly humid avenues of one particularly quaint neighborhood.

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Terraces and dining rooms were overflowing, but we were content to find a table in the corner of Rick’s second choice – Sir John A. To say I was ready for my first Canadian beer is an understatement simply in terms of thirst.

I ordered a new selection, Pink Fuzz from Ottawa’s own Beyond the Pale Brewery. This beer is a bitter unfiltered (smoothie-like in color and clarity, actually) wheat beer with grapefruit added throughout the brewing process. Contrary to the menu and website’s description, the grapefruit flavor is NOT subtle, instead it is very forward and quite delicious. There is a clear tilt in the balance towards bitterness here; it is nothing like a radler. All the same, it is very refreshing and the wheat character creates the classic hefe mouthfeel.

rick lug tread beau ottawaRick’s eyes got big over his first taste of Lug Tread from Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. Using all certified organic malts and hops, this Ontario brewery delivers an excellent selection including this Kolsch style, which earns very high marks in my book. You won’t find the word “Kolsch” in this beer’s description, but I can read between the “lagered ale” and “Cologne” lines pretty easily. Lug Tread gracefully displays a remarkable clean character as well as the hard-to-define Kolchiness better than most craft interpretations of this style.

Food, or at least pizza, at Sir John A was certainly nothing to write home about. Pesto sauce with an overwhelming amount of cheese was only elevated by very good crust. Have some beers and move on to one of the other excellent restaurants for dinner.

Next we kicked it uptown to Parliament, which was completely stunning at night.

Monuments, the confluence of several rivers, and a musical light show greeted us like a welcoming party.

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We watched the lights projected on the majestic building. We watched the moon fade in and out of view behind thick clouds. We watched the people who were watching.

beer no beer ottawaWalking parallel to downtown, we soon navigated to arguably the center of Ontario nightlife: Byward Market. If we thought that parliament was busy, this area was crawling with people – families, tourists, locals, couples. All sorts of languages greeted us as we made our way to Lowertown brewpub.

Only open since May, Lowertown brews in Toronto but has ample space in the basement for a large brewing operation. At this time it is unclear what the timeline is for brewing on site.

Rick and I ordered the two Lowertown beers available – a lager and a “dark”. Based on the vague look of apprehension and irritation when I inquired what “dark” means, Lowertown may have a gap to fill when it comes to enthusiasm, education, or both.

WP_20140905_023I asked Rick several probing questions about the beer scene in Ontario and Quebec. “There isn’t enough interest,” he says, speaking generally of why there are not more brewpubs in Ottawa. “I mean, some people are interested, but it is still very small.” Acutely aware of the American everyone’s-a-beer-lover movement, this irritates him.

We enjoy the lager, and what clearly amounts to a German Dunkel (although I cannot confirm this, there were no menus or further staff discussion on the topic).

Finally, we decide it is time to take a cab back towards the bus depot and our final brewery destination, but not before I derail our plans in order to experience my first Beaver Tail, something I was told I simply had to try by a fellow Minnesotan.beaver tail selfie ottawa

The beaver tail, which joins the bearclaw in the legendary animal category of pastry names, is like a flat, fried piece of pastry dough. Ok…that’s exactly what it is. Choose your toppings and move out of the way because someone else is waiting anxiously to order next. We opted for simple cinnamon and sugar. Let the calorie parade of traveling in Canada begin.

Finally, for the unforeseen flop of the night.

Clocktower had promised to be the culmination of our Ottawa microbrew experience, however, something was simply off about each of their beers. An experienced and successful brewery, Clocktower draws from the dedicated beer lovers and the sports bar crowd alike.

We attempted several tastes from the bartender who, while working efficiently, seemed genuinely interested in pleasing our palates. Each taste was more fruity and phenolic than the next, hinting at a systematic brewing issue of some kind. We were pretty disappointed, especially my Canadian traveling partner, who had actually hauled around an empty grower to be filled.

clocktower ottawaOttawa was a wonderful evening full of unanticipated delights. I highly recommend a visit to Byward market and a stroll across the lawn of Parliament, no matter what time of day.