It’s become a real, authentic Montreal institution as thousands once again descended upon Windsor Station and its courtyard for the 13th annual Mondial de la bière, Montreal’s international beer festival.
From foreign suds to local flavours and honey meads to iced ciders, this year’s festival was a smorgasbord of luxurious liquids, appealing aromas and delightfully paired, bite-size morsels. With over 300 different products to sample, various presentations and festivities, it would have been nearly impossible to take in the whole festival and what it had to offer but two brave journalists from The Nation, did their best at the fest on your behalf.
In that each tasting consisted of only a few ounces of beer or one ounce of apéritif, we were able to sample a wide variety of beverages but by no means did we even attempt to hit the 300 mark. We instead picked a variety at random and simply went with that.
Our results are as follows:
Our first tasting was an amber beer called L’Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien of Switzerland that was offered to us by the brewer of this fine product, Jérôme Rebetez. Originally a wine maker, Rebetez gleefully exclaimed that he had come over to the “dark side,” and became a brewer. The beer itself had a wine-like, spicy taste with a marmalade-like bouquet, creamy and caramelized with a strong, bitter aftertaste with notes of the wine. For more info go to: www.brasseriebfm.ch/
Next up, my fellow taster and extra mouth, Mr. Will Nicholls, decided to sample the affectionately named Arrogant Bastard Ale, a bitter ale, hoppy, strong tasting, malt at 7.2%. The earthy craft beer went down easily though Nicholls said that the drink had a bit of a nasty aftertaste, www.arrogantbastard.com/
While Will sampled the “Bastard,” I careened over to the flavoured malt beverage department, which featured brewed products but do not taste like beer and are generally fruity, cooler type of drinks. These drinks are designed to be sold in dépanneurs and grocery stores. The Mojo line of drinks are new out this season and come in three different flavours; tropical fruits, green apple and strawberry kiwi. Described as “an alternative alcoholic beverage,” Mojo is packed with sugar and guarana and can leave you with quite the head-spinning feeling, though taste -wise, there is a distinct chemical flavour that was somewhat overpowering, similar to flavoured dental fluoride. www.drinkmojo.ca
We were intrigued by the following product because its packaging was so similar to the celebrated champagne, Veuve Cliquot. But Trois Dammes St-Croix by La Recolette Brasserie was nothing like its champagne friend and was instead surprisingly good amber ale. We both agreed that its strong, hoppy taste and effervescent quality was indeed delightful and would be a product we would consider again, should we happen upon it.
Though the US does not exactly have a spectacular reputation for its beers, we decided to give the star-spangled-banner clad Stoudt’s American Pale Ale a shot. Mr. Nicholls thought that it was a regular blond with a hoppy taste, similar to a Sam Adams, possibly in the same genre, like a typical craft blond.
For contrast purposes, he also sampled an actual Sam Adams Boston Ale, which he cited as being a nice beer that is quite satisfying and somewhere in between the extreme sort of brewing and a regular domestic.
Going a little more exotic, I then opted for the Belgian blackberry beer Bon-Secours Myrtille, which was a delightful surprise. The Bon-Secours is a typical flavoured Belgian beer with pink foam and a sweet light aroma of berries. The flavouring was never overpowering nor was it overly saccharine, making this one of my favourite picks for the festival.
Looking for something different to invigorate our palates, we opted for the Allagash white beer of Maine. This delightful pale coloured beer was brewed with spices to create an intense aroma that paired well with the slightly flatter texture of a white beer. We really enjoyed this particular beverage as well and thought about what a delightful accompaniment it would make to a fine meal in lieu of white wine.
Next we sampled another American product, the Left Hand Brewing Company’s Juju Ginger, a light and refreshing ginger beer with a soft white head and lots of bubbles. Having sampled various ginger beers in the past, I must say that this one really wasn’t bad, just the right amount of sweetness, effervescent, alive and intense! Good show! www.lefthandbrewing.com/
Beer was not the only thing up for sampling as there were also various wines, honey meads and iced ciders up for tasting at this event. Feeling the need to be thorough we sampled Nuit D’Amour’s honey mead wine, made with black currant berries. This sweet chilled after dinner drink was our favourite of the few that we sampled, with its syrupy texture and bright pink colour.
This would be an ideal after dinner digestive, perhaps best served on a date. We also sampled Pommes sur Neiges ice cider, a local product but its intense sweetness turned us both off.
The brewers of Pilsner Urquell of the Czech Republic gave their own demonstration on just how easy it is to pair high-hopped bitter beers like Urquell with sharp cheeses, raw salmon creations and acidic fruits like tomatoes. We sampled various appetizers of that very nature with the beer and it was actually a quite majestic experience. The bitters paired well with the creamy textures and subtle fishy notes in the raw salmon creating a wonderful flavour sensation.
Speaking of good pairings, prior to our reconnaissance mission at the actual festival, we also had the opportunity to speak with Lucy Saunders, chef and author of the new book, Grilling With Beer: Bastes, BBQ Sauces, Mops, Marinades & More, Made with Craft Beer. Saunders was at the festival to demonstrate examples from her book and did a presentation on flavour progressions in grilling, using beer as one of the key ingredients. There are certain advantages to marinating meats in beer in that they have unique aromas. But another advantage “is that it’s a lot less acidic than wine and so you don’t run into the same risk in terms of over marinating, where the proteins start to break down and turn (the meat) mushy and so you can be a little more cavalier with your marinade,” said Saunders.
Wanna-an-lguanna? Now say it three times fast!Saunders was even kind enough to share one of the recipes from her new book with us as a delightful example of how to cook with beer and suggested a pork loin as an ideal meat for this recipe but said that it’s just as delicious with steak:
Unde Bison’s spice marinade
1 tsp. fennel seed
1 tsp. black mustard seed
1/4 tsp. of celery seed
1 tsp. of red pepper flakes or to taste
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 tsp. of kosher salt
1/2 tsp of ground chipotle peppers
1 tbsp of brown sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
12 oz of a black wheat ale
Toast the seeds first and then add all of the remaining ingredients to a blender and puree. Marinate meat for a minimum of two hours, up to one day, depending on the desired intensity of the flavouring. Grill as desired and enjoy!