In the United States, the unofficial kick off to the summer is Memorial Day weekend. Astronomically, summer begins on June 21st this year. For me, summer begins in early June, at the Mondial de la Bière in Montreal. A magical event not to be missed on anyone’s (beer) bucket list, the Mondial is a delight to experience. It is located in one of the most cosmopolitan cities I have ever visited, and is an excellent location for a beer lover and urban explorer. Québec is a dynamic place for the craft beer market, as is evidenced in its representation at the Mondial.
Mondial, French for ‘global’ or ‘worldwide,’ is a bit of a misnomer in this instance. While a few international choices were represented at this event (Tecate, Asahi for instance), the primary focus was on the homegrown microbrasseries of Québec. No matter, this event was of global proportions, such that the dizzying array of regional breweries was very impressive. The Mondial de la Bière is a singular experience – a wonderful mélange of languages, cultures, and interpretations of one of the oldest concoctions crafted by man.
Je suis arrivé. Armed with beer glass, pretzels, camera, voice recorder and eyes as wide as saucers, I feel like a veteran. This is my second year attending, and I am familiar with the surroundings. I learned my lessons from last year: arrive with Canadian currency; buy plenty of tickets up front (it’s a pay as you drink system); and eat something before the damage is done. After a fifteen-minute wait to enter the Gare Windsor, I saunter into the massive space, scanning the tents and aisles. I am compelled to run to the nearest booth like a crazed consumer who waits for the latest Xbox at 4 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving. However, I have to stay calm and collected. I feel like a neophyte. I tell myself not to rush through it; there is plenty of time, and plenty of beer to sample and people to meet.
I have been waiting for this moment since the day it ended a year ago, and finally I am here! I’ve been to several beer festivals back home, but nothing compares to the Mondial experience. Perhaps it’s because the four-hour jaunt is entry to a culture I embrace, one so different from my own that I connect with. Perhaps it’s the anticipation of surprising my tastebuds, for better or worse. The only way to know is to fill up my glass, one brewery at a time.
I didn’t want to over think my approach; I didn’t want a plan of attack. I did, however, have some internal rules. I tried to abide by them: visit only those breweries I had not previously visited (or if I did, try a beer I hadn’t tried yet); start out with lighter beers before going to the heavy stuff (if I could make it that far); record my impressions via voice as opposed to writing in a beer journal. That never works. As the hours pass and the beer flows smoothly through my system, I tend to forget to pull out my little notebook and actually write something coherent. At least with a voice recorder I can capture my immediate impressions and interview some people along the way, some of which I will share so stay tuned…