Monthly Archives: January 2009

AHU: The wide world of deps

Depanneurs are peculiar stages for the drama of life. If you’ve been in one, you’ve been in 20, but everyone has a favourite. There is a cozy familiarity one has with the dep closest to their apartment. Maybe the old man behind the counter smiles when you come in, but it’s a shame that beer in Montreal is sold almost exclusively in deps, which are little more than glorified newsstands peddling cigarettes, forties of Molson dry, and overpriced groceries despite such minor charms.

Where to buy good beer is the question I’m asked the most. It seems that people are interested in drinking quality brew but reluctant to shell out $7 a pint at a bar. But never fear! There are deps that suit your purpose if you’re after something more than a Molson Ex. Well, actually, some aren’t deps – in fact they may scoff at the stereotype that beer needs be sold next to bottles of Porte d’Enfer. Nevertheless, these four establishments are the best purveyors of local, craft-brewed beer in the city. Along with a description, each review has the manager’s pick, my own, and a reason to go more than once.

Marché Atwater

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Tack one more resolution onto 2009

Here’s a novel idea: Once in a while, 100-200 words on two beers tried within the last seven days. No limit or expectations on either the beers or their reviews. Ready? Go.

Beer #1: Frontenac blonde ale biere_frontenac2

Beer #2: Le Mild-End, Dieu du Ciel! dieuduciel1
Le Boudoir (850 Ave Mont Royal E.) wins for best bar name in recent memory, but it also wins the puzzler award for its tap of Frontenac blonde ale, a delicious but mystifying beer. The bartender said it’s brewed by the folks at McAuslan in St-Henri, and while a vague review on an obscure reviewing site provides corroboration, there is no evidence of Frontenac on the McAuslan page or anywhere else. All information points toward a Montreal brewery that existed in the early days of the 20th century. The brewery, founded by Mr. Beaubien himself, shook the beer world by slashing the cost of their product, inciting a price war. Despite all the rabble-rousing, Frontenac failed to put its money where its mouth was and folded back in the 1920s. The pint at Le Boudoir was a tasty, less dry, and less hoppy version of the Griffon blonde, but if McAuslan isn’t owning up and Frontenac closed shop way back when, who made it? Was it the ghost of ales past, ales present, or ales yet to come?

UPDATE: I found out while working at McAuslan that Frontenac is a label they slap on Griffon blonde for reasons unexplained. I think it’s not the brightest idea, in terms of branding and confusion on the part of the consumer, but they’d probably say “Pay us for the keg and you can call it whatever you want.” I asked who brews Frontenac; the answer, I do (or did).

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A while ago I spoke with Dieu du Ciel’s brewmaster Jean-François Gravel about a piece on the importance of tradition in brewing. Rather than giving credence to one specific practice, Gravel’s beer reflects the multitude of traditions. With that in mind, I approached a session beer (a.k.a. “mild”) that graced Dieu’s blackboard as “Le Mild-End.” The trend of brewing in North America has generally favored the bigger, stronger, bolder beers. The concept of a session beer, one that is low enough in alcohol that you can drink four or five and not stumble home, comes from the Brits. Unfortunately, the practice has succumbed to the double IPAs, Imperial stouts, and other extreme beers from this side of the pond. I ran into Gravel as I ordered my Mild-End and he explained that the beer had been on the tap list five years ago, but was dropped because of low demand. We chatted about ambivalence toward beer that registers as unfamiliar. Beer without hops can be good! Le Mild-End sure was. Full-bodied and sweet without being syrupy, wonderful caramel and biscuit flavors shone in the malt – a fine beer whether you’re having one pint or four.

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