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Oakes Weekly - September 4, 2003
Beerhunting the Maritimes, Part One
September 3, 2003
Written by Oakes
It was by way of strange circumstance that my summer vacation came to be in the Maritimes this year, that’s how it was meant to be I guess. I hadn’t been there since I left in the spring of ’98 in the middle of my master’s degree, which I completed elsewhere. Finally, I was going back, to savour the tastes, sights, smells and sounds of years gone by. And no doubt a few beers while I’m at it.
The Maritimes, for those who don’t know, are the collective of three Atlantic Canadian provinces – New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. I spent five years of my life there in the pursuit of higher education, so there was significant nostalgia build-up. But first, there was a twenty-odd hour drive to get out that way.
I’m a soldier when it comes to long-haul driving, so I hardly even noticed the 6 ½ hours to Trois-Rivières. Located halfway between Montréal and Québec City on the north side of the St. Lawrence River, Trois-Rivières is known for little, except maybe some university hockey success at UQTR. And for Chez Gambrinus, located across the road from the university. Chez Gambrinus is, of course, the local brewpub, situated in a renovated house.
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Chez Gambrinus, Trois-Rivières, Quebec
The waiter immediately pegged us as anglo, even before we said anything. This was actually a relief because my French skills have deteriorated since high school from pretty good to not bad to “I can get by with a little sign language” to the current state of bloody awful. The first beer I tried was the Cream Ale. I was pleasantly surprised with the level of hops, as well as earthy, toasty malts in this one. Sometimes I research beers ahead of time, sometimes I do not. I didn’t in this case, and if I had I would have known that both MartinT and Stephen Beaumont also liked this beer (though I can’t agree with Stephen’s assessment that this is true to style). La Bretonne is an odd beer – it is easily the yeastiest of the bunch, with toffeeish and smoky notes. Veuve Noire is an agreeable, very smooth little sweet stout, and I was intrigued by the not-entirely-true-to-style Rodenbach note in the aroma. I finish with a well-made, straight-up IPA.
I’d never been to Québec City in the summer before, and at this time of year it seems more tourist-trappy than quaint and historical. But the buildings are still very old and beautiful, and I was able to arrange a crack-of-dawn stop on the way back to take it all in without the annoyance of bus tours, hucksters and old people wandering aimlessly with cameras. A stop at a pub for some dinner proved fortuitous, as Pub St-Alexandre just happens to have around 150 different bottles, including some special imports. I selected Het Kapittel Prior, a smooth, sweet strong abbey ale.
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Quebec City at dawn, taken on the way home
A return trip to the local brewpub, L’Inox, proved disappointing, though. The décor blows. “Inox” means stainless, and I think that is the look they were aiming for, but it would be better described as soulless. Compounding things was the fact that the best beer I’ve had there, the cranberry witbier Viking, was unavailable. A couple of lacklustre new beers later and I was on my merry way.
The next day I was in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was a little late getting in, so I didn’t have much exploring time before I met OK Beer and his brother for a brewpub crawl. Stop #1 was the Henry House, a 19th century landmark that was the original Granite Brewery. I live ten minutes away from the Toronto Granite, so it was time for an “oldie but goodie” – Peculiar. Unlike in Toronto, this is cask-conditioned in Halifax, and served on handpump – a nice bonus.
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Henry House - home of the Granite Brewery in Halifax
The next stop was Rogue’s Roost, a brewpub that opened up a couple of months before I left. They raised my eyebrow by serving a proper India Pale Ale in a town where those three words put together means “insipid lager fermented at warm temperatures to masquerade as an ale”. Even better was the Pale Ale, skillfully balanced in the American style by brewmaster Lorne Romano, who was been with Rogue’s since it opened. At Rogue’s we were joined by Jeff Pinhey, a local homebrewer and a guy who can taste circles around me. The Brewnosers homebrew club was a godsend during my stay in Halifax, providing both good beer and good times when the former at least was not always abundant.
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Rogue’s Roost, Halifax, Nova Scotia
From Rogue’s, we headed to a new (for me) brewpub called John Shippey’s. This place has to be seen to be believed, but that’s for part two next week.
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A stop at a pub for some dinner proved fortuitous, as Pub St-Alexandre just happens to have around 150 different bottles, including some special imports.
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