I’m sure that I was one of the many Americans who decided to cross the border into Canada to partake in one of the best beer experiences of the year — the Mondial de la Biere. Exhausted from extensive travel of recent weeks, I could have easily changed my mind, canceled my hotel reservation, and not gone. Mon dieu! I must admit the thought crossed my mind for a nanosecond, and then I slapped myself silly for having such a contemplation! Sick with a nagging cold, I brought my Kleenex and recently acquired tee from the Karl Strauss Restaurant & Brewery in San Diego. I was armed and ready!
Having been to a few beer festivals, I realized that the only consistent thing to expect is to drink great beer. Other than that, I had no idea what I was in for. Beer festivals are as diverse as the regions they are in, so for all I knew, I could have been sampling some poutine flavored ale (although there was maple wine)! The best thing is to expect nothing, drink, and enjoy.
After a scenic drive up Interstate 87, as I crossed into Canada, I could almost smell the hops in the air. I had arrived! Luckily my hotel was within walking distance to the festival (no drinking and driving!) and it was a glorious, sunny Spring day. With trusty map in hand, I could not find the location itself. Bonaventure? Windsor? Which was which? Was it outdoors? Indoors? Hidden in a cave? Did I need a secret password to enter some large stony structure? After about ten minutes (which seemed like forever) of walking in no direction, I encountered some New Yorkers from Orange County with the same predicament. You could almost feel the panic. Two angelic Quebecers, with empty glasses in hand, guided us to our destination. I could hear the trumpets in the distance, for we had arrived to Heaven. Beer Heaven, that is.
Like a kid in a candy shop, I wanted to run up and down the aisles and sample everything until I got sick. I was eager to just get on with it already. After the somewhat treacherous trek, I had forgotten to exchange money, my ATM card was not working, and I had to buy tickets. Panic again. There were hundreds of booths, both indoors and outdoors, and I had to pick a place. I was overwhelmed — the people, the smells of beer, sausages, and my empty glass. There were no self-imposed rules except for a few: no beers I already knew (Unibroue, Sleeman, Boreale), and no foreign big time beer (Dos Equis, Sol, etc.). I would sample what I could with no discernment, pure chance. Beer made from chestnut flour? You got it. Beer named after a little boy? Sure. Beer served by Goths? Game on.