Mondial de la Bière – Montreal, Quebec
Including the Grand Prix, an internationally-acclaimed jazz festival and the world’s largest comedy festival, Montreal hosts a festival almost every week during the summer. And the summer festival season starts each year with the Mondial de la Bière, lasting five days at the beginning of June.
With a significant French-speaking population, Montreal is the most continental of Canadian cities. This is reflected in French and Belgian style beers, most notably from Unibroue in nearby Chambly, Quebec. In fact, Unibroue was named one of the ten best breweries in the world by the Beverage Testing Institute.
Admission to the Mondial (www.festivalmondialbiere.qc.ca), which is held in the heart of downtown Montreal indoors at the historic Windsor train station and outdoors in the adjacent courtyard, is free. The 4-ounce beer samples cost between $1 and $5 (all prices in Canadian dollars), paid for through tickets purchased at the festival.
Attendees of the festival represent a broad range of people. From office workers taking an extended lunch break to laborers from the nearby port, people of all shapes and sizes unite in the pursuit of great beer. Because a day care is located nearby, you might even see groups of small children passing through the festival, though hopefully they’re not partaking in the festivities.
While the national brewers are present at the festival, there is an emphasis on Quebec’s microbreweries. In addition, there is the Petit Pub, which features dozens of beers imported from around the world, including hard-to-find farmhouse beers from Belgium and northern France. From Belgium, you’ll find the beers of four Trappist breweries, Brasserie de Silly and Brasserie Artisinale de Rulles and from France, you’ll find the beers of Brasserie Castelain, Brasserie Pietra and Brasserie St. Sylvester, amongst many others.
As with the general population of Montreal, the audience at Mondial is quite culinarily aware and appreciative of the fine beers on offer. They are more than happy to share their knowledge of local beers and attempt to swing you to their favorites. While larger microbreweries Unibroue and McAuslan will often be mentioned, so too will smaller favorites such as Bieropholie, Le Chaudron and La Barberie. La Barberie itself will rotate almost 30 different beers through its taps over the course of the festival.
In keeping with the general culinary theme, festival exhibitors are not limited to beer. Chocolate, cheese and other food vendors (even gourmet French fries!) are present and scheduled food and beer tastings are held throughout the day. And if you just can’t get enough of good beer, a relatively new addition to the festival is the MBeer conference where such internationally recognized beer luminaries as Fred Eckhardt, Charlie Papazian, Julie Bradford and Stephen Beaumont give presentations on beer and beer-related issues.
Because admission to the festival is free, you can come and go as you please. When the festival gets busy, during the Friday and Saturday evening sessions, take the opportunity to visit Montreal’s many local brewpubs. Most are within walking distance of the city’s subway system, the Metro. Make a special effort to visit Dieu de Ciel! (29 Av Laurier Ouest), which is commissioned each year to brew a beer exclusively for the Mondial; La Taverne du Sergent Recruteur (4801 Boul St Laurent), which locals will tell you is one of the city’s best; and L’Amère à Boire (2049 Rue St Denis), located on one of Montreal’s most lively streets, where you can sample as many as a dozen pub-brewed beers, including a couple on hand pump.
If you’re in the market for beer to bring home with you or to enjoy in your hotel room, the primary outlet is the SAQ stores, which are government owned and operated. Beer and wine, but not spirits, are also available at corner convenience stores until 11:00 p.m., after which they padlock the fridges.