News on Brews
Gatineau Winter BeerFest
Where: Château Cartier, 1170 Chemin d’Aylmer, Gatineau
When: Thursday and Friday from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday, doors are open between 12 p.m. and 1 a.m.
Prices: $5 admission, beer and food tasting samples extra through tickets
When he opened the doors to the inaugural Gatineau Winter BeerFest last year, Mario D’Eer was expecting around 2,000 people to come and sample some of the Quebec’s best brews. The festival wound up drawing more than 8,000.
“We had a little bit of a problem,” said D’Eer, while smiling, still shocked at the festival’s success right out of the gate.
For the event’s second kick at the can, which begins Thursday at 4 p.m. and runs until Saturday night, he expects more than 13,000 to attend.
The festival, which will take place at the Château Cartier in Gatineau’s Aylmer sector, is a sign that microbrewing in Canada’s capital has hit the mainstream. D’Eer, who has long been involved in the microbrew movement, says people are finally realizing that beer is supposed to taste good and that different styles of beer are available to suit various palates.
More than 60 of those beers will be available at D’Eer’s event, which will also feature a mix of Château-Cartier-made gourmet treats. There will be strong and spicy Scotch ales, malty sweet bocks, smooth and balanced Belgium triples and dozens of other styles to try.
The Ottawa area, D’Eer said is like a “paradise” for beer lovers. With the microbrew movement, small breweries in Ontario have done a fantastic job of recreating British ales, lagers, stouts, porters and other styles of beer. Meanwhile, brewers in Quebec, thanks to their strong French ties, have focused on perfecting other European brews from Belgium, Germany and Austria. Because they live on the border between the two provinces, Ottawa and Gatineau residents have access to the finest brews from breweries in either province.
With help from the Chelsea Pub, one of the event’s lead sponsors, D’Eer last week co-ordinated a sneak peak of what the show will offer beer aficionados over the weekend. D’Eer’s “must try” at the festival is a beer brewed by Trou du Diable, a group of young, avant-garde hipsters in Shawinigan.
This is a brew that aims to mix Belgian-style wheat beers with British-style ales. The label on the bottle pokes fun at former prime minister Jean Chrétien’s famous gaffe in 1996 when he grabbed a protester by the neck. The bottle features Chretien, who has sanctioned the brew’s use of his image, throttling a devilish figure. The beer is relatively high in alcohol, seven-per-cent alcohol by volume. The brewer, and D’Eer, boasts that lovers of weizen-style wheat beers, and India Pale Ales will embrace this brew.
Below are my picks for three beers that are not to be missed.
Dominus Vobiscum Lupulus
Alcohol content: 10 per cent
International Bitterness Units (IBU): 70
Price: $11.65 per 750-mL bottle
If you are going to have just one beer at the festival, make it this one. Made by Microbrasserie Charlevoix, which is located about 90 minutes northeast of Quebec City, this beer is perfectly balanced, with the sweetness of the malts offsetting the bitterness of the hops. While this beer rated highly for bitterness, in no way do the hops become overpowering. And while with many stronger beers, the alcohol easily stands out, that’s not the case with Lupulus. Its high alcohol content is admirably well hidden. The beer pours a golden colour with a thick, creamy head. “People who know beer, know this beer,” said D’Eer. “It’s the work of a real craftsman.”
Le Cheval Blanc Blanche
Alcohol content: 5 per cent
Price: $13.45 for six 341-mL bottles.
This brew is worth trying simply because it’s an interesting experiment to marry old- world Belgium-style wheat beers with the increasing popularity of bitter India Pale Ale-style brews. Made by Les Brasseurs RJ in Montreal, Le Cheval substitutes the orange peel and coriander typically found in a Belgian-style wheat beer for a strong dosing of hops. To the Belgian monks who make white beers, this would be unacceptable. But, to Brasseurs RJ’s credit, what they have created is a surprisingly refreshing. From the first sip, it’s apparent that this isn’t just another wheat beer. Without the citrus and coriander undertones, the taste of the wheat in the beer shines through before the bitterness of the hops takes over. Really, the hops shine in this beer, especially in the absence of sweet malts to help balance the bitterness, but they are not overpowering. As is typical for for a Belgian white-style beer, this brew pours a cloudy, pale straw colour.
St. Ambroise India Pale Ale (IPA)
Alcohol content: 6.2 per cent
Price: $9.95 for four 341-ml bottles
Hop heads rejoice! This one’s for you. In keeping with the “extreme cuisine” movement, some beer lovers are pushing the limit on bitterness. IPAs are the perfect vessel for adding bitter hops because of the beer’s history. During the British Empire’s occupation of India, beer needed additional hops, which acted as natural preservatives, in order to stay fresh on their journey from the United Kingdom to the subcontinent. Montreal’s Brasserie McAuslan pays homage to those 19th century brews with a copper-coloured, full-bodied beer that is far from balanced. With a lack of sweetness from the underlying malt, that results in mouth-puckering bitterness and a lingering grapefruit finish. While this beer certainly isn’t for everyone, it’s a must-try for those who love hoppy beers.