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Oakes Weekly - July 14, 2005
The Blond, Blanche, Rousse et Noir Tour
July 14, 2005
Written by Oakes
I did a phone survey the other day conducted on behalf on Air Canada based on my recent flight from Vancouver to Montréal. I was on the bus home from work – a commute that is way too long may I add – and figured it was just as well to kill some time answering their questions. The interviewer was, as they say, not the sharpest tool in the shed. “And did you have to wait in line to check your bags?” “No, I just walked right up.” “How long was the wait?”
Anyway, the dimness of the 40 Watt on the other end of the line was only amusing for so long, as the interview droned on for a good twenty minutes. At the end of all this tough sledding, what they got out of me was that the flight was fine but the food was a tad weak (Air Canada only has two dishes, both only marginally passable) and that they could have tried harder in selecting the movie (some Sandra Bullock travesty I didn’t even bother to watch).
It was better that I didn’t watch it because I was able to squeeze out about thirty minutes of terrible sleep. I never could sleep sitting up. Thus, I was somewhat bushed and grumpy by the time I landed. I waited several epochs for my bag to show up. But just when my beard was about to become entangled in my shoe laces, it arrived and I was able to get the Quebec Brewpub Tour started!
I seem to have done one or two brewpub tours in my day, and they all work the same way. I start as tired, testy and altogether unequipped for a hardcore beer roadtrip as possible. I collected my passengers for a 1500km swing around Quebec – Rastacoeure, Ungstrup, and tiggmtl. We wanted to find out what was happening in the hinterlands. Not the farthest hinterlands, mind you, as the Îles-de-la-Madeleine are as yet just a slight bit out of the way.
The first stop was Chez Gambrinus, a brewpub I <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Story.asp?StoryID=228>visited a couple of years ago and honestly wasn’t sure I’d visit again. Not that there is anything wrong with, it’s just off the beaten track a bit, as evidenced by the fact that tiggmtl and Rasta were visiting for the first time. The first beer I tried was a tepid Ginger Beer, but I followed this with a toffeeish, earthy, firm Scotch Ale.
The next stop was well away in Baie-Saint-Paul. The main freeways in Quebec are stultifying, not exactly a good thing for a guy working on his second consecutive day awake. As we approached, I finally saw some hills and winding road. Coming around one bend, the whole of eponymous bay opened up before me. Sweeping down from the hill reminded me of my visit to the Isle of Man on the approach to Laxey. At Baie-Saint-Paul we visited Le Saint-Pub, home of the Charlevoix brewery. The brewery is one of Quebec’s better micros and also has some pub-only brews. The one I wanted was the bitter, but they didn’t have that. They actually only had two, one being the Premium Lager, every bit as scintillating as it sounds. Baie Saint-Paul itself is a small, cute touristy town. The kind of place where they use a tractor to change streetlights.
From there, we headed north. The road was a wonderful drive with lots of twists, hills and turns. The landscape was typical Canadian shield forested hills and occasionally a sharper formations to punctuate things. Eventually, we arrived in the Saguenay region and visited La Baie. Mapquest wanted us to take “the other left” apparently, so it took a while to actually get to Le Bistrot Victoria.
Set across the road from a fairly open bay on an inlet adjoining the Saguenay River of 1996 flood fame, the Bistrot Victoria boasts five house brews and some solid bistro food. The homemade sausages are excellent. A couple of the beers were pretty good, and we the Blanche, Blonde, Rousse et Noir Tour officially began.
From La Baie, it’s a quick 20 minute drive to Jonquière, home of the last stop, La Voie Maltée. A mixup resulted in us not really having a place to stay. The boys thought that was a barrel of monkeys but having been down that road enough times before and having not slept in 40-odd hours, I was having a less fun time. Some power-searching turned up a B&B with two rooms available not far away, which was pretty lucky considering there was some big music event going on downtown. Naturally, we ended up at the B&B for lovers, staying in rooms with names like “La Coquine” – “the Rascal”, and “Le Romantique”. It was either that or sleep on park benches, so we just laughed and headed out for a pint or three.
Off to La Voie Maltée, located in the heart of mass of drunks and aimlessly wandering teenagers. Voie Maltée had several beers on tap, including their barley wine Polisson, and a Belgian-style Grincheuse. The former was another milestone beer for me. I think I surprised Mr. Ungstrup when he realized I had several hundred unrated beers in my logs. Thankfully for Jens, nobody cares about ratings from 1996 so I’m not going to dip into my full catalogue.
I slept like a log, needless to say, and struggled to crawl out of bed. But I did, and we headed back towards Quebec City. Just outside the capital we arrived at the mountain resort town of Lac Beauport (if 300m counts as mountains, which it doesn’t to us west coast mountain snobs). We almost didn’t make it, however, as highway construction closed off a few exits and we were forced to make a detour. The brewpub Archibald is the newest addition to Quebec’s brewpub landscape, having been open for only a few weeks.
MartinT’s poetry had tantalized us for this visit. I sat quietly while tiggmtl toyed with the idea of lunch, as he’d seemingly forgotten Martin’s stern warnings about the food. I thought perhaps he was going to take one for the journalistic integrity of the site, but he stopped just in time. We don’t break our necks to rate food, but beer is our thing. I actually found the beers reasonably well made, with the distinct exception of the stout, but I was evidently alone in my assessment.
We broke south to Quebec City. I’ve been to Quebec City a few times but as to whether our driving right past La Barberie without stopping was deliberate, I’m not saying. Actually, I don’t have as many issues with their stuff as the locals do but we were progressing to L’Inox. As décor goes, this is one of my least favourite brewpubs, and we settled onto their charming parking-lot-cum-patio. Being familiar with all but one of a brewpubs offerings is not necessarily a good thing. It sure wasn’t on a recent visit to a nameless-to-protect-the-innocent establishment in BC. But in this, being able to while away an hour on a sunny afternoon with the tasty coriander, buckwheat honey and cardamom-infused wit Kermesse rather than working on a dégustation was a good thing. I will now take this opportunity to mention that a great time to visit Inox is in February, when they brew Viking, their best beer.
It was a fairly long haul from there to Sherbrooke, and we broke it up with some cheese, bread and salami for lunch. A little over an hour, and a long drive through suburban hell, later, we arrived at downtown Sherbrooke’s brewpub La Mare au Diable. Situated near the top of a steep hill, La Mare offers an excellent view of the older parts of the city, and on the other side of a river a tree-cloaked hillside interspersed with old buildings and a massive church. La Mare also offers some truly mind-blowing beers. Seriously, how they managed to brew so many beers so poorly my tiny peanut brain cannot comprehend.
We left a lot of time on the meter when we buggered off and headed towards Bromont and the obviously-named Brouemont. Now this brewpub was serious business. Breaking the Blanche Blonde Rousse et Noir tour for a moment to indulge in a sumptuous Scotch Ale and a pair of genuinely hoppy IPAs (a rarity this side of the border) was heaven. We hooked up with a local beer geek, who put us up for the night in his Victorian-era (maybe even before) house and hosted a small bottle tasting, including a rare Andechs Doppelbock and a pair of vintage Seigneuriale Reserves from his impressive cellar. Merci, Éric.
The next morning, we decided to trek back towards Sherbrooke for a little Anglo ale, at the English-speaking university town of Lennoxville’s brewpub the Golden Lion. Yes, it’s also called Lion d’Or but the beer and food leave no doubt as to the spirit of this establishment. Naturally, they were the one brewpub that didn’t have a Noir ready for me, when they’re the one most likely to get it right but what can you do? Well, you can choose between a couple of very good bitters. I will, however, be able to finally get that elusive stout as they are planning to bottle it this winter. I mentioned the English food? Yeah, it was lousy from the presentation to the ingredients and beyond. It’s not that they screwed up my fish and chips, but they sure didn’t try very hard either. Incidentally, the Quebecois are in love with mayonnaise, and like the Dutch put it on their fries. They’re on crack.
After the Golden Lion came another haul, towards Montréal but with a stop along the way at St-Hyacinthe. Those of you following along with a map (and I know some of you are map geeks like me) will notice we passed by Magog, a town with two brewpubs, on more than one occasion without stopping. You probably won’t need to break out the abacus to do the math on that one.
The reason for our final stop was Le Bilboquet. Draped in beer bottles and with some of the coolest décor I’ve seen in a brewpub, including maps of major beer countries carved into the tabletops, Le Bilboquet is a place worth visiting. The tunes were great (despite the early faux-pas of turning off Zeppelin to put on some sort of African-American rhymey sort of thing) and the beer was solid if unspectacular. It fit well with the Quebec theme of brewpubs built for drinking, not beer analysis. Which might explain why the owner was sweating it out during the course of our visit. But seriously, this is the kind of place I want around the corner from my house. I could spend a lot of time at Le Bilboquet.
But we couldn’t, which was the real shame of it all. We had business to attend to back in the city. Some sort of summer gathering, for some website.
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