As I contemplate my recent travel to Montreal, so many thoughts, scents and memories cross my mind, it’s hard to know where to begin. I guess where I left off would be a good start. Arriving at the Mondial was like arriving to the new wing of an airport — pristine white booths, floors, numbered stations, and lots of people. In order to get on board, all I had to do was buy my tickets and take off. Each ticket cost $1, and most samples were between $2 and $5. Very reasonable in today’s climate.
Glass in hand, I was armed for a plethora of sampling. The majority of brewers were from Quebec, and I rapidly noticed a heaven/hell medieval theme: breweries with devil logos, tarot card looking labels, beer girls dressed as wenches, and beer names like “Don de Dieu.” It was like being at a Renaissance festival, sans the big turkey legs. I was waiting for a scene from Men Without Hats’ video “Safety Dance” to start. No such luck.
Instead, I was treated to some fine, and not so fine Quebec born beers. Case in point: at one booth, I oohed and ahhhed when offered a beer made from chestnut flour. The taste, however, was not my cup of tea. I was also disillusioned when I orded the red or “rousse” beers, expecting the sweet smoothness of a good old Kilkenny. Instead, my tastebuds were shocked and confused — the red tasted more like the trappist stuff, which is probably my least favorite flavor in a beer. Just a few miles across the border and red takes on a completely different meaning!
I was quite impressed with the Canadian hospitality I was given. In my maze-like travels in and out of different aisles, lanes, booths and stands, I was drawn to a chic, South Beachesque area that was crowded with young, hip beer samplers. What was this place? Did I have to pay an extra cover charge just to sample? While chatting up the beer boy at this French outpost —Brasseurs de Saint-Sylvestre — he introduced me to the son of Stéphane Roy, VP of Canadian Operations. David was his name I think — a handsome young man from Montreal, who looked bored out of his gourd that he was sitting at his father’s station all day. Is this what it feels like for children on “Take Your Kids to Work Day?” I sampled their Brassin D’Hiver, which was quite the tasty beer. After David humored me with his graciousness and good looks, he introduced me to his father, who gave me the royal treatment. You would think that I was some big time beer critic from The Beer Advocate. I was given a complimentary glass and sample of Gavroche, named after the little boy from Les Miserables. I was not blown away by the beer, but gratefully drank it. I think I’ll stick to French wine.
What impacted me most at the Mondial was the sincerity of the Quebecers, from angels on the street leading the way, to every person I encountered that was at the festival in a variety of capacities — from the intimidating and Gothic looking but soft spoken crew at Hopfenstark who had the tastiest IPA from a cask I’ve ever had, to Chloe at Les 3 Brasseurs, an unassuming quiet little booth amongst the rowdier ones. Then there’s the cutie from Brutopia, who served me decent maple beer and a sublime raspberry blonde. After serving hundreds, if not thousands of sloshed festival goers, he remembered my name on my visit the next evening, and gave me extra samples. I was also thankful for the girls at the Argintinean empanada booth. Not only did these ladies smoothly flow in and out of English, French and Spanish in one breath, they fed me the most delicious beef pies.
As day two was nearing the end, the drunk revelers took over the place from the beer afficionados, and chanted the soccer anthem in unison…”ole ole ole ole…OLE OLE.” I was definitely not in the U.S. and absolutely loved it. In the midst of this Canadian haze, I closed my eyes, devoured the empanadas imagining them a big turkey leg, and did a little pirouette. Sheer bliss.