In the Land of Ice and Snow
What It's All About Blog – By Tony Forder
Quebec City for the microbewers conference – bit of a squeeze on now. With 333 breweries currently operating in the province – that's three times as many as when the AMBQ (Association des Microbrasseries du Québec) held their first conference 13 years ago – shelf space competition is getting more fierce; inflation doesn't help as consumers become more price conscious; and the recent closing of a brewing co-op in Montreal, Ma Brasserie, sounded an alarm within the industry. Supermarkets all have microbrew shelves, filled with single cans ($4-$7 CAN range) – a big feature here, although it is more economical to buy in 4 or 6-packs. Three different supermarket chains pitch breweries on their services in one conference seminar, but only 15 breweries dominate the category, we are told.
Interesting presentation, DRUNK – How we Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled our way to Civilization by Edward Slingerland, University of BC philosophy professor, extolling the benefits of alcohol, especially beer...right up my alley. Reminded me of Michael Pollan's talk at the Craft Brewers Conference in Portland, 2012 – humans' co-evolution with yeast, which inspired my poem Ode to Saccharomyces Cerveseriae. I especially liked Slingerland's posit that drink is a sacrament for writers, poets and artists (so far I haven't heard that ChatGBT has access to this channel of creativity!).
I said a quick hello to fellow ex-Brit Charlie Bamforth, the amicable professor emeritus from UC Davis brewing school. I confess the technicalities of his talk about brewing great lager were a little over my head, although he had plenty of tips on how to keep DMS out of your beer.
Post conference it's over to La Korrigane, Catherine Foster's brewpub, where we run into some OG Montreal brewers including Jerome Denys, signing books – a collective retrospective about his iconic Montreal brewpub, Le Cheval Blanc. Other brewers trickle in, among them Pierre Tilquin, the Belgian lambic blender.
OGs of Quebec craft beer (L-R) Benoit Mercier (Benelux, Bilboquet), Jeannine Marois (Mondial de la Biere), Jean-Francois Gravel (Dieu du Ciel!), Jérôme Denys (Cheval Blanc), Catherine Dionne-Foster (Korrigane). Conference brews.
Back in Montreal, it's the Mondial de la Biere Christmas party. About 20 of the festival staff at the Saint Bock brewpub for 11 am brunch. Baguettes, beans, bacon, sausage, eggs...and french fries...and pizza...and caesar salad... and mimosas or bloodies made with Blanche wit beer. 40 taps here, I tried a delicious Cream Wheat stout. And I cracked a couple of bottles of my mead to decent reviews.
On to the newly-remodeled Dieu du Ciel! brewpub – expanded into neighboring space. Six month project turned into 11, but now nearly double the space and taps. But sticking to their 25-year-old template – 20 excellent brews from session to strong, sour, American, Belgian. Classics like coffee laden Peche Mortel (Mortal Sin) imperial stout; Rigor Mortis quad aged in a brandy barrel was sublime.
Co-founder and brewer Jean-François Gravel showed up, gave me a tour of the basement - where I had only been once years ago – when a bootlegged 'cross country keg of Rogue Old Crustacean had been cracked – anyway, they dug deep through plateau rock to get away from hunchbacked ceilings, hence the delay.
I had a special bottle of Liefmans Kriek with me, a tribute beer in memory of Madame Rose, Belgium's first female microbrewer – well-traveled bottle, Belgium to NJ via UK, then to Quebec. It was well Craic'd
Seasonal treat – a foot of snow overnight. Don't mind trudging to Mondial office – first snow (mine) of the season is always fun, but sure it gets old fast. Working on a 3-ring import circus for 30th annual Mondial de la Biere fest 2024, make that 4 rings. Belgian, Brazilian, French Pavilions and Canada Beer Cup winners in the Petit Pub. Mark it May 24-26.
Montreal airport – never really had trouble, 'cept for one time immigration hold up, nearly missed me flight. It's cool though, you go through US immigration there, so when you get off in the US (Newark), it's plain sailing. This time I had finally bitten the bullet and applied for Global Network (they call it Nexus in Canada). They require you to go for an interview for completion (in Newark it's located in baggage claim at Terminal B), which I had done...only 10 days before my return trip from Montreal, so I didn't have my card yet, as I explained to the customs officer. Who approved it? he asked. At my interview they told me it was approved and that my passport scan would show it. Here it says conditionally approved, he said, so there's two possibilities – either they found something or they just didn't hit the approval button. He spent a couple of minutes on his computer then said, Looks good to me, I'm pressing the button. You should get your card within two weeks. Thanks, I said, realizing that a different officer could well have created some problems.
Duty free and my bottle of Sortilege Prestige – Canadian whisky aged in a maple syrup barrel for a 7 years – nectar. Futuristic de-icing and up and down through the clouds to Newark. Brought a cold blast back to NJ, but it'll swing. And Ain't That What It's All About.