Even before we became Beer Travelers in earnest, Montreal was a favorite destination. The city’s francophone roots are still strong, and French remains the language you’ll hear spoken most often. Don’t let that scare you off. Your efforts to speak a few words of high school French will be warmly received and appreciated. And English is also spoken in most public places.
It’s easy to get around Montreal. Downtown is pedestrian-friendly, and the public transportation system is excellent and inexpensive. As for beer traveling, you’ll find an abundance of wonderful establishments with a liquid lineup to satisfy the most finicky taste buds. So, join us in a visit to some favorites.
Our first stop is Brasserie Dieu du Ciel! (29 rue Laurier Ouest). Loosely translated to English it means “Oh my God!” and that’s precisely what you’ll say when you taste the brew. It has garnered quite a reputation, and deservedly so.
The beer list is the broadest and most imaginative we’ve ever seen at a brewery. There are more than 75 in all, most of them rotating seasonals. They also earn top honors for creative names like “Fog Traveler,” an ESB, and “Coalwoman,” which is a rauchbier.
The day’s tap selections are listed on a blackboard by number, and they’re identified both by color—blonde, blanche, rousse, and such—and by style. A word about those color designations in Montreal: a “blonde” can be anything from a golden ale to an American pale ale.
We started with a dry-hopped version of a Belgian blonde and a Rosée d’Hibiscus, a wheat beer with hibiscus flavor. As the evening progressed, the original selections ran out and bar staff replaced them with even stronger, more adventuresome beers. We graduated to Péché Mortel (“Mortal Sin”), a coffee-flavored stout; Rigor Mortis, a Belgian-style trippel and an imperial cream ale brewed especially to commemorate the 14th Mondial de la Bière—more on that festival later.
Banking on Beer
Not far away from the University of Quebec at Montreal campus, home to some 40,000 students and smack dab in the middle of the city, is Benelux Brewpub and Café (245 rue Sherbrooke Ouest). It’s housed in what was once a bank; the vault is now a black-walled area for intimate conversations and tasting. The decor is “industrial,” with exposed ductwork, an open ceiling and upside down pint glasses as light fixtures above the bar.
The beers are hoppy by Quebec standards; the American IPA is something you would find the on the West Coast. Everything we sampled was true to style and refreshing. Our favorite? The blonde, a pleasing golden ale.
The Latin Quarter, a bohemian district north of downtown, has several brewpubs, so you can manage a mini-pub crawl even if you’re in town for just a day.
Le Saint-Bock Brasserie Artisanale (1749 rue St-Denis) is easy to spot: you can’t miss the outdoor mural with a beer mug and a halo above it. And yes, those are white Christmas lights around the front door, even in the summer. When Mother Nature cooperates, the front terrace is an outstanding place to relax, people-watch, or write up your tasting notes.
One delight of Montreal beer hunting is that the brewpubs frequently dedicate a generous amount of tap handles to Quebec microbreweries. Another is the quirkiness of the names. Both of us were schooled by the nuns, so it always makes us chuckle when we see “faith-based” beer names on the menu. That’s why we chose two of the house beers—La Confession, a brown ale; and La Penitente, a pale ale, both of which had a pronounced maltiness—and found them soothing to the soul.
Just a few doors away is L’Amere a Boire (2049 rue St-Denis). Like many establishments on this street, there are multiple levels to this pub. The interior is clean and modern, with tables and chairs made of blond wood and brick walls adorned with pictures of the Czech Republic, courtesy of a local artist.
The beers are inspired by classic European styles, but then they’re given a distinct, only-in-Montreal personality—fitting for a pub whose tapas menu includes rabbit and smoked marinated herring. The lineup includes both ales and lagers, so we staged a head-to-head tasting with Fin de Siècle, a brown ale; and Drak, a Czech-inspired brown lager. Both were served in a cross between traditional Pilsner glasses and cylindrical glasses used to serve Düsseldorf altbier. Neither disappointed—and yes, you can tell the difference between them.
L’Amère a Boire’s 14 tap handles offer something for everyone including Cense Hora, a lager that has been served at the Czech consulate in the city; Naturtrub, a hefe-weizen; an imperial stout; and a Maibock.
Montreal is the largest French-speaking city in North America, but it also has an Anglophone district. Crescent Street is at the heart of its nightlife, and Brutopia (1219 rue Crescent) has been a fixture there since 1997.
As you might expect, Brutopia reminds you of a British pub, with lots of dark wood, dartboards, and even Guinness posters. There are eight house ales, three of which are seasonal offerings. Finger foods, and sandwiches from cuisines around the world, highlight the food menu.
There’s a delightful back terrace with planters filled with colorful flowers in the summer. That’s where we enjoyed a refreshing IPA and cream ale while darkness began to gather. The pub also pours local microbrews, and Guinness and whiskies are popular with some locals.
A little further afield is Le Réservoir (9 rue Duluth Est). Ironically enough, we got caught in a reservoir-filling downpour on our way there and by the time we arrived, we were soaking wet. And you thought beer traveling was a cushy job, didn’t you?
Le Réservoir has one of the smallest outside signs of any brewpub we’ve visited, but its fans have no problem finding it. We sat at the bar, atop retro soda-fountain-style stools, and studied the beer list on the blackboard above us. On the board were a blonde and blanche, ambré de blé (a wheat beer), an India pale ale, a Scotch ale and a cream ale with 100 percent Quebec malt. Surprisingly, both of our pints—the cream ale and IPA—were nitro-conditioned. They were flavorful, and a soothing antidote to the nasty weather outside.
Réservoir’s laid-back, intellectual air contrasted with the busy kitchen in front of us. One glance at the menu explained why: the “snack menu,” Réservoir’s brand of pub grub, featured grilled goat cheese with figs and marinated onions, aioli and gravlax in vodka.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention one more thing about Montreal’s beer culture. Mondial de la Bière is an outstanding beer festival. This year’s festival will run from May 28 to June 1, and will be held at Windsor Station and Courtyard in the heart of downtown.
We’ve watched the festival blossom into a world class-event. This year, organizers expect to have over 350 beers, 100 of which will be new to the festival. There will also be plenty of French-Canadian food, along with workshops that pair that food with the beer.
We invite you to add Montreal to your list of places to visit, and we’d like to close with a toast: À votre santé mes amis et au revoir jusqu’au prochain numéro!
Paul Ruschmann is a writer, editor and researcher. Maryanne Nasiatka is a writer and photographer. They travel as much as their budget permits visiting many of the places where great beer is brewed and enjoyed.