On a frigid, sunswept street corner on the south shore of Montreal stands one young fellow with a bag of gold. Sheltered in a bus stop enclosure in northeastern Montreal is another lad whose bounty’s akin to ambrosia. Soon enough, on 4 to 10 scattered streets in and around Montreal, friends walk towards an invisible pulse, congregating for a dominical reunion which they adore. All carry their own loot, one they wish to share at all costs, even if it means they’ll only have 3 or 4 ounces of it for themselves. And for some mysterious reason, they nearly all loathe the razor blade. All, that is, except a new recruit who’s probably going to learn that facial hair, apart from suiting these hedonists perfectly, is an efficient shield against Mother Nature’s yearly period. Custom-made for waiting at bus stops. He’ll learn…
In the meantime, their generous host is setting up the communion room, where the altar will be filled with the regal delicacies he and his guests will have chosen. His dog, faithfully excited, is hoping that one devotee will have brought pâté or terrine, which he likes to snatch from the said altar when the drinkers are absorbed in their sacramental observations. It takes cunning and stealthy planning, but he’s succeeded many times already. He’s a pro…
This is how it’s been around noon every Sunday in Montreal for the last, say, 30 months. The location of the Sunday feast varies from week to week, but one thing never changes: these guys’ passion for craft beer. Many travel a few times a year, sometimes together even, and bring back special bottles from the regions they have visited. Some trade with foreign beer lovers, and receive highly sought after libations on their doorstep. The wiliest will ask their travelling family and neighbours to bring them specific beers of potential excellence back from their journeys abroad. All in the ultimate goal of sharing the best of what the beer world has to offer with their passionate friends. You could almost say their respective inner fires are what initially guided them towards each other. Or maybe it was the greedy impulse of putting to one’s lips as many world class beers as possible. One thing’s for sure: they wouldn’t trade those sacred Sundays for any other religion’s.
Last Sunday, they decided it was time to celebrate their union in style. The tasting was fully booked before everyone could be contacted. The grandeur of the proposed menu was probably too alluring. The guidelines for bottle selection were simple: to pick either the 2 most tempting bottles of your cellar, or bring 2 which will fit with the others’ selection. Whether they were new or old favorites didn’t matter much, as long as they had enough for all to have a decent sample of. The result of this magnanimity was breathtaking. The opening sermon spoke of wilderness and spontaneity as being the cornerstones of a healthy imagination. 3 Cantillons were shared, of which a mindblowing Foufoune reaped the most praise. Its apricots were bolder than usual, and ingeniously integrated to the inherent funkiness. Vigneronne neared the sublime with its flowery fruitiness, but proved a little too dusty, dry, and thin to compete with the Foufoune. Cuvée des Champions was the most simple of the 3, offering plenty of wooden dryness, but lacking any outstanding features to be memorable in such a tasting. A young Lindemans Cuvée René vintage seduced more effectively with its champagne-like fluffiness, dry wooden notes, and peppery yeastiness. What better way to keep yourself permanently smiling than nursing on gum-drying sourness and vitality? At least, this is how these guys think.
Quietude was needed before they embarked on another arch of acid amenities. And Mikkeller’s Simcoe IPA was the chosen recluse. The surprising brown gown of this Danish india pale ale made most present gasp in curiosity. Its gorgeous pink grapefruit, pine resins, and earthiness was delectably married to caramel sweetness and candied fruitiness. A unique interpretation from a brewery they’d certainly love to get to know intimately. Such is the frustrating reality of tasting products conceived thousands of miles from you.
A fellow parishioner chose the next tart flight to alight. This carefully sequenced scripture evoked the possibility of comparing Rodenbach Grand Cru, Panil Barriquée, New Belgium’s La Folie, and Pizza Port Solana’s Cuvée de Tomme. Such a heavenly repast must have been the catalyst of this too perfect an arrival. Palm’s Rodenbach Grand Cru was the easiest drinker of them all, very fruity, with a yeastier nose, and athletic tartness. Panil Barriquée (sour version) wore a more attractive perfume, and was accordingly more effervescent. Black grapes and cherries abound in this sexy wooden dryness. This show stopper preceded the mother of all show stoppers : La Folie. A luscious mouthfeel transporting tons of sour cherry esters for the mind and body to levitate. Some consecrate this as a contemporary deity, some confess they prefer the Panil, but all agree it is a stunning and luminous oud bruin. Eventually, most come off their cloud to fill their glasses with Cuvée de Tomme, gold foil version. And most climb right back up there. Its suave chocolatey maltiness, potent cherry fruitiness, classy wooden dryness, and soaring funky tartness all coalesce for the greater good of beerkind. An oracle of imagination, talent, and hedonism. There aren’t any monotheists amongst these believers; this strong ale is yet another throne holder in their pantheon.
As if these guys’ addiction to well-thought-out sourness wasn’t already obvious, another majestic tart task was put in front of them. Cantillon’s Saint Lamvinus and Drie Fonteinen’s Scharbeekse Kriek, J&J Oude Gueuze Blauw, and J&J Oude Gueuze Roze. The Saint Lamvinus was tarter than previous experiences with it, giving them no compromise on acidity, and then some. Proof that many Cantillons are variable products. Variable, but most often lovely. Its grapey fruitiness wasn’t able to outshine Drie Fonteinen’s Schaerbeekse Kriek though, which offered rich cherries in a luxurious mouthfeel, all draped in the most radiant reddish tinge. A superb depth which all lambic lovers must taste, more than once if possible. One of the merry travellers had been to De Heeren van Liederkercke recently, and so the group had the amazing opportunity to try Drie Fonteinen’s J&J Oude Gueuze Blauw and Roze. The first, an expertly blend of Lindemans 1-year-old lambic and Girardin 4-year-old lambic, was a unanimous masterpiece. Farmhouse freshness in its most expressive form, filled with haystacks, dry wood, citrusy fruitiness and tartness in a frothy but soothing carbonation. The Roze, a blend of 1-year-old Boon and 3-year-old Girardin lambics, was fruitier, less effervescent, and proposed a classier flavour profile than the Blauw’s. Yet another astonishing Drie Fonteinen blend, as great as their recent, regular Oude Gueuze efforts. Awe is easily perceivable in the room, and shocking vows of brotherly love expressed amongst the praying. They consider themselves to be very lucky people.
Unibroue recently boycotted its very own Québécois people for the release of their new 15th anniversary beer, Unibroue 15. In the spirit of forgiveness, the group let a visiting American honorary member bring a bottle of this controversial object of desire. Thankfully for those shunned, the 15 isn’t the masterpiece the 10 and 11 were, even showing a smidge of DMS in the nose. Its intrinsic creamy yeastiness and leafy spiciness were fun to harvest, but overall Unibroue has done much better, they conceded. But this was just an entryway for more interesting Belgian-style strong ales anyway, namely two very rare ones found by the day’s host when visiting the Fantôme brewery in the Wallonian countryside. The first, called La Piétrain, was another one of Dany Prignon’s eclectic tastescapes, elegantly filled with doughy yeast, apple and pineapple fruitiness, and of course, unified and unidentified herbs. The second was called Millennium, brewed 6 years ago for the event of the same name. The aroma was starting to be affected by this wise age, emulating dry earth, and potato sacks for some. The flavour and body though were as brilliant as a fresh Fantôme, teeming with gooseberries, citrus fruit, herbal bitterness, and frothy bubbling. Another reason to thank the host, and once again feel immensely privileged.
After Sly Fox’s 2005 Christmas Ale somewhat disappointed the now spoiled feastgoers, 2 other jewels were brought for the admiration of all. Midnight Sun’s Monk’s Mistress and Rauchbock. This Alaskan brewery’s prowess in malt extraction has reached its apex in both of these brews, which were equally impressive. The Monk’s Mistress, a dark brown Belgian-style strong ale aged in Cabernet barrels, was jampacked with port-filled chocolate, red meat, and nutty delicacies. The low carbonation might have made it cloying for some, but none could avoid the fact that this is what a malthead dreams about. The Rauchbock had the same decadent maltiness, rendering lip-smacking candied fruitiness and level-headed smoke. A filet of alcohol heat in the back seriously warmed the senses. Or was it the weight of the day starting to take its toll on the floating minds? Anyway you see it, this Rauchbock was a shining beacon even on this day of bountiful rejoicing. Truly impressive.
The beery finale had to be of equal or superior lure, and there was but one in the fridge to achieve the goal of sending them off to a further firmament: Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Breakfast. Citrusy hops, roasted coffee beans, and dark chocolate united in a balanced symbiosis which could not have been predicted. Silky, rich, yet eminently drinkable, another Mikkeller success. And another fulfilling discovery for their insatiable thirst!
Believe it or not, arguing is an integral part of these festivities, and often the spark of many a laugh. One of them thinks he is always right (I won’t tell you who). One of them waits for the proper moment to bludgeon with cynical, and sometimes truthful, one-liners. Another thinks the first guy is always wrong (what’s funny is he’s wrong). Some others look in bewilderment at the apparent seriousness of these friendly outbursts. This is my group. I am a member of this small congregation of craft beer lovers. I was there last Sunday. I’ll be there next Sunday. Do you have your own fraternity to share great moments with? I hope you do! Because this is the most delightful Sabbath I could ever imagine.