While the anticipation of the Mondial was great, my interactions with the people who were at the festival were what truly impressed me most. When I am in Montreal, I am in a city like no other, and the Québécois are a most welcoming bunch. Thousands of thirsty folks arrive to the Mondial, expecting a great time. The festival and its people (and of course the beer) do not disappoint.
Most of the larger breweries (e.g. Unibroue, Rickard’s, Sleeman, Alexander Keith’s, Sapporo) had a predictable formula to attract the consumer – pretty girls dressed in sexy outfits. From the Scottish schoolgirl look to the slinky shirts that hugged every voluptuous curve, the enticement to sample at these places was hard to resist. It isn’t hard to figure out that these types of events draw a primarily single male crowd, and these big boys know how to cater to them. While I did use up some of my tickets for these big names (and enjoyed some of their brews), what struck me most was the hospitality I encountered. Granted, most of these ladies were hired for their looks and not for their knowledge of the products they were promoting (I won’t embarrass them); I overlooked their ignorance because they were extremely friendly and hospitable.
The approach of the local microbreweries, on the other hand, was completely different. Their beers speak for themselves – no gimmicks needed. No neon signs, no miniskirts, just homegrown beer made with a passion that any beer lover could taste. Places such as Benelux, Boquébière, À la Fût, and Hopfenstark employed everyone in their crews – from the bar backs, bartenders, to the brewers themselves – everyone pitched in to endorse the creations they were so proud of. I found myself lingering at these booths a bit longer, wanting to sample everything and find out as much as I could about these places. Such was my experience at Benelux, Boquébière, and À la Fût.
In my most humble French, I asked for some suggestions at Benelux. I was met with a smile and curiosity by Dominic, an affable guy who was eager to talk about Benelux’s selection. He knew his beers, and I was immediately drawn to their award winning Cuda, an American style IPA. Delicious. Dominic was gracious enough to stop serving the many thirsty patrons to give me an interview and continue our conversation during a cigarette break. Dominic invited me to Benelux’s Cask Ale event after the Mondial; it was surely something to consider. I found that these Quebecers have a genuine passion for beer and real interest in good conversation. It was refreshing to dialogue and not have to work so hard at it. Same was the case at Boquébière and À la Fût where I was met with equal conviviality.
Hats off to the cowboy from À la Fût, whose name I didn’t catch. He didn’t speak a lick of English, and my one year of college French from twenty years ago was going to have to do. I was just inebriated enough to speak without inhibition, and was amazingly understood. What surprised me even more was that I grasped most of our unbalanced conversation. Again, I lingered at this booth as if I were at a hometown bar. Kind and generous, the cowboy gave me a great deal on novelty boot glasses and filled them up with delicious suds.
The beer certainly is the main attraction at any brew fest; however, the forces behind these festivals are not to be overlooked. Had it not been for people like the ladies at Alexander Keith’s, Dominic, and the Cowboy, I would not have appreciated as much the delicate flavors behind the beers I sampled. Well done, Québec!
Next up, the brew review and the brewers behind the magic.