On day two of our Quebecois beercation, we drive from Montreal to Quebec City in search of the perfect brew. We also stop at Quebec’s highest waterfall and learn why the dream of the 90s is still alive outside Quebec, but only on Valentine’s day.
Part one of the beercation in Montreal can be found here.
Before leaving Montreal, we stop at St-Viateur bagels, a bagel shop which has been wood oven cooking bagels in the Montreal style since 1957. We first learned about the Montreal style of bagel, which unlike its boiled cousin in New York, is cooked in an oven, when the incredibly hyped Black Seed bagel opened in New York a couple of years back. At the time, we enjoyed it, but found it overpriced. Growing up on New York style bagels also led to a preference for the chewier variety.
St-Viateur makes what I find to be a superior bagel though, somehow keeping the chewy interior of a New York bagel and yet having a nice crisp crust on the outside from the oven. Even cooler, they flip about a dozen bagels at a time in the oven with a giant plank that looks like it would work for the ski jump. Sadly almost all of the patrons inside are sporting wickahd Boston accents or Long Island ones, so we head north into the great Quebecois tundra.
I plot a slightly longer route than what the GPS suggest because it follows the river, which I believe will be a scenic ride like the Pacific Highway. It turns out to only have a view of the river, which is nearly entirely frozen, in one or two spots, and views of only strip malls and truck stops everywhere else. Worse yet, even though multiple warning signs indicate moose, we don’t see a single Moose. I get very excited for a minute when I see brown four legged movement, but it turns out to be a normal run of the mill deer. The views of the river we finally get around Quebec are pretty spectacular. It is in fact so cold that rather than freezing smoothly across, the river has frozen in what look like waves. Apparently as the wind blows, the water which hits the air freezes, leaving crazy crests.
Just outside of Quebec, another 15 minutes farther north, lies Montmorency falls. Here a river which flows down from the mountains to the north joins the St Lawrence, but only after cascading down 275 feet of cliff to the water below. The fall is actually 98 feet higher than Niagara Falls, though less wide. In the winter, freezing water vapor from the force of the fall rises back up, creating a dizzying vortex in the air. Much of it also freezes at the base, forming a “sugar loaf” of ice at the base. A cable car takes us to the top of the falls where we traverse a footbridge across and to the other side for even better views of the fall and in the distance, the skyline of old Quebec. The temperature is finally up a bit into the low negative teens, though the wind up here is fierce. I nearly lose a hand to frostbite from taking a single picture with my glove off (possibly exaggerating, though it did feel very cold), so we descend in the cable car back to the base.
Microbrasserie Beaux Pres
Secreted away in the sleepy town of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre, another 15 minute drive north of the falls, is the excellent Microbrasserie (microbrewery) Beaux Pres. The staff here is the most friendly and outgoing group we’ve encountered so far. We not only receive excellent suggestions on the beer, but are also told about the raging Valentine’s Day party they had the night before. Even better, the bartender decides we need to truly experience it, so puts on the ‘90s themed playlist from the previous night. As I enjoy two flights of tastings, Brittany and the Backstreet Boys bring me back to middle school. If I had known about this excellent beer then, It might have made up for the pain of hearing these songs endlessly on the radio. Gen is in heaven.
Thankfully the bartender has better taste in beer and rather than suggesting a single beer, points me to the tasting flight. The tasters arrive on a wooden plank and are much nicer and larger than the typical shot glass sized tasters. It’s enough to get a good taste of each beer, and not so small you can’t savor the ones you enjoy.
I begin with the Lucky 13, of course another smoked beer. This one is much lighter in color than those before; more of a copper caramel thank inky sea at night. The smoke notes are just as potent though. I begin to believe I could subsist just on Quebecois smoked beer for the rest of eternity.
I continue on with a dark sultry Dunkelweizen, another of my favorite styles. The St-Joachim, like Joachim Phoenix, is mysterious, confounding, and more than a little mercurial. Mostly though, it is delicious with an incredibly complex malty flavor that seems to continue changing long after the last sip is gone. Sort of like that Johnny Cash movie Joachim Phoenix made.
Completing the flight is another must order style, the Le Brume Des Caps, a biere de garde. This style, similar to a farmhouse style saison, almost a cross between saison and its Belgian cousins is incredible. Like the Nelson saison at Saint-Bock, it is a great malty beer that sticks a bit to the mouth due to a subtle sweetness. I first discovered the style at Victory brewery in Pennsylvania and enjoyed it so much I brought home two massive growlers of it. It’s the next style I plan on brewing.
I now feel a bit heavy from the strong beers I’ve had, so I nearly pass on a second flight. Thankfully I do not make this mistake and decide to get a lighter flight.
I immediately fail at this resolution with the first beer, an Imperial Oatmeal Stout. I don’t normally go for oatmeal stouts, but something about Quebec brings this part of me out. I find out the Catherine Le-Grande is brewed in collaboration with La Korrigane, a brewery in Quebec City we plan on also visiting. The creaminess from the oatmeal is definitely there, as it the weight of an imperial stout. It makes me feel like writing a book about Russian winters.
The remainder of the second flight is a bit lighter in character. The Mont-Ferreol fruit beer, a fairly blonde beer is the color of champagne and slightly cloudy, depicting a yeasty character. The head on it is excellent for a light colored beer as well. It has fruit notes of citrus, having been infused with sea-buckthorn, apparently a berry that is popular in French drinks.
Last up is the Grosse-Ile Red Irish Ale. Like the entirety of the excellent dozen or so beers on the list, this is brewed on premises in the large brewing room that looks like the lab in a James Bond movie. As I peer out the window behind the bar upon the frozen river, glinting in the sun, I swear I see an elusive moose, but it turns out to be the reflection of this moose colored ale instead. Alas. The beer brings me back to my time at Trinity College in Dublin, when I walked around it briefly.
Arriving into Quebec City itself finally in the afternoon, we stop in the northern suburbs first at La Souche, a funky but rustic feeling brewery and pub where the food rivals the beer. La Souche is known for their excellent poutine which won accolades for best in Quebec. It is pretty similar to the other poutine we’ve had (lobster excluded), but the thick cut fries are a nice touch. The smoky gravy echoes the rustic lodge vibe of the bar which is decorated with lots of wood, including branded slats which form the beer menu above the bar. There are over twenty beers on tap, again mostly from the brewery itself, with a few guest taps.
As everyone knows, poutine best compliments a smoked beer, so I order the Incinerateur, a smoky beer as dark as a Quebec night. The smokiness in this one is nearly overpowering and just on the cusp of being too much. It does hide the more subtle caramel notes more than the other smoked beers thus far. It holds up well to the poutine though. I find out that the gravy in the poutine is actually made from the beer, which ties it all together. Perfection.
As the sun is nearly setting, we head into old town Quebec and explore the narrow streets and fortifications. It has been said many times, but it is true; Quebec feels exactly like Northern France. No wonder the beer styles are so similar.
L’Affaire est Ketchup
When is Quebec City going to get Uber? The thought crosses our minds several times as we walk for half an hour from the old town to the Saint-Roche neighborhood of Quebec, a more modern feeling, vibrant area with tons of restaurants and bars. Our destination is L’Affaire est Ketchup, a super popular restaurant with the hip in Quebec. Anthony Bourdain even visited and was a big fan. The restaurant was started by several 20-something friends who wanted to cook and essentially never upgraded from their college dorm room appliances. It’s like Friends in French with really old ovens.
The food is a homage to the amazing selection of meat and seafood available in Quebec. I begin with a dish showcasing both, a land and sea dish with scallops in their shells, clams, and beef carpaccio. Somehow these totally disparate items work well together. It is also the first time I encounter scallops in a shell which makes for some edge of the seat daring maneuvering to try to extract them. Nothing flies back into the kitchen, so I consider it a success.
There is no moose on the menu, though there is elk. I pass though as I am starting to believe these creatures don’t actually live in the great white north. Instead I get the goat three ways, a thick steak, what is cut like a piece of pork belly with crispy skin, and a shepherd’s pie of the meat and veggies. I wonder why more restaurants don’t serve goat besides Indian. For an animal that looks suspiciously like our dog, it is incredibly delicious. This line of thinking makes me uncomfortable so I order another glass of champagne instead.
The last stop on our beercation tour is La Korrigane, located near the restaurant in this cool neighborhood. This is also the brewery that the imperial stout I had earlier in the day was made in collaboration with. Korrigane is known for its experimentation with unique ingredients, most of which are sourced locally like berries. It is also very small batch and not carried outside of the pub.
As we take seats at the bar, we realize a show is going on inside. It is hard to pinpoint what is going on due to the language barrier on the large stage inside, but it involves two teams in hockey jerseys and what is apparently audience participation in the form of raising cards with a thumbs up or closed fist depicted on them. We believe this to be Canadian improv, apparently something the bar is known for. We do not get most of the jokes. This makes it hard to have our own conversation inside, so instead I quickly sample the Mary Morgan witbier. I do not notice an abundance of cloudiness or yeastiness from it, though the flavor and esthers do come out well. It does oddly go well with improv and though I don’t understand a word, I nod along knowingly. We begin to suspect jokes are being made aboot Americans, but it only seems fair.
After the witbier and opulent dinner, I can take no more. After another quick walk of exploration in the old town which is now nearly abandoned and yet more picturesque, something like a jigsaw puzzle picture of winter quiet and warmth, we decamp back to the hotel.
The next morning we grab chocolate croissants and lattes at Paillard, a French style bakery which are exceptional, and bid farewell to Quebec though the drive back to the US will take nearly eight hours. There’s always time to pick up some Tim Horton’s timbits on the way.
Bonus: Albany Pump Station
On the way back home, we need a break in driving. A bit past the halfway mark, we pass the turn off for Albany, NY, the capital of New York and a town we visited several years back for a minor league hockey game during the NHL lockout. Right off of the highway is a great brewery and pub in an immense warehouse like space called the Albany Pump Station.
The first time we came here, I was impressed with the beer and food, the former has won many accolades and medals at beer competitions, and the later which was normal pub food, but solid. I also enjoyed the warmth and atmosphere of the space.
This time, instead of sitting near the bar, we sit in a large open space in the soaring ceilinged main room. Due to a combination of the exceptionally cold temperature, the large space, and possibly heating issues, it is frigid inside. Everyone has coats still on. We try not to let this detract from the experience.
I notice an Irish Stout on a nitro tap on the beer menu and immediately jump on this. Like a rauch beer, you never turn down a nitro stout. The nitrogen bubbles result in a much smoother, creamier feel in the mouth, enhancing the taste of the beer, especially on a cold day. The Dawn’s Dry Irish Stout is creamy, reminiscent of Guinness on tap, but only mildly bodied and roasted. No wonder it’s won so many awards. It also goes great with the massive burger and onion rings the size of my first car’s tires.
As we hit the road again through the Empire state, finally getting back into New Jersey, I feel oddly sated by the beercation. I’ve hit all the major beer groups (except IPA) and delved deep into a smoked beer and biere de garde pool that I will forever relish. Montreal and Quebec may not be on your radar for beer, but they should be. If you’ve already been, go again, the quickly evolving scene there may surprise you.