Friday, June 25, 2010

"Blame Canada" For What? Being Awesome?

Before we get into my recent trip to Canada, let’s talk upcoming events:

  1. Peak casks are being tapped at Perimeter (5:00) and Duluth (6:00) Friday, June 25th (could be TODAY!). Both are IPA, but it is possible a Brown Ale shows up. Long story.
  2. Another Peak IPA cask is being tapped at Mall of GA on Saturday, June 26th (6:00). The new Terrapin Reunion Beer 2010 will be debuting at The Fred with a cask event on Saturday as well. This one is at 4:00 though.
  3. Come out and meet the guys behind 21st Amendment Brewing Co. from San Francisco at Metropolis on Monday, June 28th from 6:00 to 8:00. Their “Brew Free Or Die IPA” and “Hell Or High Watermelon” are just recently available here in Atlanta.
  4. More Peak casks being tapped the following week at Suwanee on Tuesday, June 29th (6:00) and Ellard Village on Friday, July 2nd (6:00). Both of these should be Brown Ale but like I said, long story.
  5. The beer dinner menu for Matt & Fred’s Big Picnic 2 has been posted on the Taco Mac web site. This is one of two special dinners we do each year (the other is in December). They are bigger than our usual dinners, with some tricks up our sleeves. You have to try the “Jean Girard”. Gregory loves it, and you will too.

And now for some errant rambling for your amusement:

Let’s see….how do I put this bluntly? Holy crap I have been busy! A lot of folks think that I have some cake job where I just get to run around drinking beer all the time. While that may be partially true some of the time (and entirely true at other times), I actually have relatively boring desk duties that don’t get done when I am off doing more interesting “work”. But let’s face it; you don’t really care to hear about any of that. You can probably find real life bitching and moaning right there in your own life. You don’t need the internet for that.

So let me tell you about Montreal. If I didn’t like you, I would tell that it was terrible and that you should never go there. However, it was everything I just said, except the absolute opposite. It was beautiful, cool & breezy, clean and it hosts one of the best beer festivals I have ever been to. What was so great about Mondial de la Biere? Well the fact that I had never seen 90% of the beers there is a start. The venue—an old stone building with opaque cantilevered ceilings and enormous courtyard—was another. Throw in the plethora of beautiful women in low-cut shirts everywhere, drinking beer and speaking French and you are starting to get the picture. So what is the deal with French Canadian brewing? Oh, just a ton of excellently made beers heavily influenced by Belgian and U.S. craft brewing, that’s all. I mean, who knew? Who had a clue that a ridiculously good beer culture was percolating just north of Vermont in Quebec? Sure, Unibroue is great. Dieu du Ciel is known as an outstanding brewery to people who can afford it. But the breadth and scope of what I discovered was pretty astounding.

"Like what, Fred?” Settle down. We will get to that later. First of all, I was the guest of Unibroue. If you don’t know who they are, look at the labels of Maudite, La Fin du Monde, Trois Pistoles or any of those beers that you (hopefully) are familiar with by now. The brewery that makes them is called Uniborue, and it is outside of Montreal in a little town called Chambly. We went there, but that comes later in the story. The festival ran from Wednesday to Sunday and from 11 am to 10 pm. The cost of admission was free. Before you get too excited, I should tell you that the beer was not free. You bought tickets for beer, and each beer was “priced” according to how strong or rare or wacky they were. I really like this format because you could move around as you pleased—even leaving for dinner or whatever you needed to do—and not feel like you were missing out on anything. The festival would be there when you got back, even if that was tomorrow. And the pour sizes, since you were paying for them, were substantial enough that you did not feel rushed into getting any refills. Thanks to the fine people at Unibroue, who rightfully had a huge booth at the event, I had a VIP pass that got me as much of their beer as I wanted. For zero tickets. That was hard to walk away from, let me tell you, especially their new “U Blonde”. Not available in the states yet, but delicious. There was lavender and lemongrass in it plus one other thing that I can’t remember right now. This is a new recipe, so ignore any reviews that you might read on it. They nailed this one, and the Mondial de la Biere was the debut of the new formulation.

So you want to hear about some other beers? OK, so imagine a Belgian tripel, a really well-made one. Delicious, right? I’ve seen them aged in bourbon barrels before. And there is no shortage of them hopped up like an IPA. Love those. But have you ever had one aged in a red wine barrel? Specifically in a Canadian-grow cabernet barrel? Oh it wasn’t good, this beer they call Vent d’Anges was out of this world. Broadway Pub in Shawinigan, Quebec is a brew pub owned by a guy named Marc who used to brew for Unibroue. No wonder his beers rocked. He also has a beer called simply “Dandelion”. It is a Belgian-style blonde that has—you guessed it!—dandelion flowers, stems and roots in it that Marc hand- picks from his and his neighbors’ yards. And the hops he uses? None. Absolutely zero hops, which I have only seen done in one other place. That is at Hair Of The Dog in Portland, OR. The beer called Hair Of The Dog Greg is bittered using a ton of winter squash (green ones with whites stripes). I had it back in 2007, and it was great.

The Dieu du Ciel people had about 8 of their beers that we can get here in bottles, but at Mondial they had them all on draft. Yes, Peche Mortel of draft. Yes it was out of control! I had one of their beers called Routes des épices (The Spice Route) that had black peppercorns and other spices in it. Very good. Dieu du Ciel also makes a beer called Pionnière that is black IPA. As if that is not enough beer porn for you, then let me tell you about their Isseki Nicho. It is an “Imperial Dark Saison” weighing in at 9.4% and hopped with Japanese hops. Those last two beers pretty much destroyed the known beer universe as far as I am concerned.

I could go on for hours about a bunch of beers that most of you haven’t seen before, but that gets boring after a while. I think you get the picture. Mondial is where it’s at people. Especially if you can see the tower of your hotel from the festival site. We literally stayed across the street from the thing. You can look at the slide show and get a pretty good idea of how this whole thing went down. I will tell you that once we got friendly with some of these people behind the counters (and they all had deluxe bar/booth set-ups), they stopped taking our tickets. We got caught behind the velvet ropes at St. Sylvestre’s table (they make 3 Monts & Gavroche among other beers). These people were just shoveling beers and little appetizers at us. I guess a guy from Kentucky who knew a guy from Athens that I was with knew the VP of the brewery from some beer dinner or something. So we were in with those folks big time. Nice group of people there.

We had a chance to visit one of their brew pubs in Montreal (there are 4 or 5, I think) called Benelux. A friend of mine from Terrapin recommended it, and we were all glad we took his advice. The beers were outstanding, and we had a plate of local cheeses and stuff like that while we were there. The place is in an old bank I guess, because they have a private sitting area that is in the old vault. There was the big vault door swung open and everything. It was very cool.

The food we ate was great everywhere we went in Montreal. I had some rabbit with green lentils at this one place, and steak au Poivre at another. The last night we went to this restaurant that specialized in mussels. I had a big pot of mussels in a white wine/Dijon mustard broth. They rocked.

We arrived in Montreal Wednesday evening and left Saturday morning. It was a short trip, but well worth the time in the air. The highlight of the whole shebang was our Friday afternoon journey to Chambly. Unfortunately we could not go to the brewery that day. There was a labor dispute going on, and I guess some angry employees were making things inhospitable. But we still took a bus full of Unibroue reps from around the country and their customers (people like me) across the river about 30 minutes to the picturesque little town of Chambly. On the outskirts of town is the Le Fourquet-Forchette, a restaurant owned by the brewery (which is in Chambly, in case you were not paying attention earlier). The name refers to the French words for “fork” and the paddle-looking thing that brewers used to use to stir the mash in the old days. The name symbolizes the harmony of well-paired beer and food.

First off, the restaurant is next to a castle (the one on the Blanch de Chambly bottle), at the intersection of two rivers that make a large lake. Sound nice? It was beautiful. Add into this scenario that it was 75 degrees and sunny, with big puffy white clouds in the brilliantly blue sky. The restaurant had a tent behind it (facing the water) on their stone patio. Under the tent were long tables, all decked out with buckets full of corked & wire-locked 750 ml Unibroue beers. Before we were seated we were given a reception “beer cocktail”. That is basically what you call it when you mix beer with something else, like if you mixed a Quel Q’Chose with Champagne. What we got was their Raftman amber ale mixed with a small amount of concentrated sweet tea, a lemon slice, and a few ice cubes. Sound crazy? It was. I mean it was crazy delicious. I was very skeptical at first. I mean, why f*#k up a good beer, you know? Well this was so good that we are serving it at our July beer dinner as our reception beer. OK, so I stole their idea. Or was it really theirs in the first place…?

After that we were seated and introduced to the artist that does their amazing labels, their brewmaster, and their chef. If you go to their web site and see the guy talking about the beers and the stories behind them, it was that guy. He told us all about the region and some of its history, and then a lot of the legends and lore of French Canada. Mainly we learned about how these things tie in with the names and label art of their beers. If you ever get a chance, it would be worthwhile to know some of these stories if you are at all interested in history. In fact, as Americans we don’t really focus much on the history of our colonial neighbor, and the fact is that they are very much intertwined.

Then lunch was served. We started with a butternut squash soup. Then we received a placemat that had a circle on it that looked a pie cut into 12 pieces, maybe more. The words in the “slice” described the food that came on that part of the plate once it was served. The edge of the circle had the label of the beer you were supposed to drink corresponding to each food’s description. The servers were dressed like colonial milk maids or something. All very rustic and colonial themes going on everywhere. The plate had different meats and cheeses and things like that gong around in a circle, very tightly compacted. The theme, again, was local and colonial. On the plate with the local cheeses, among other things, was cured duck and salmon, smoked scallops, bison meat, and something called pemmican. If you don’t know what pemmican is (and it is not the beef jerky of the same name), let me explain. First of all, Native Americans ate or used ALL of the animals they killed. Apparently not every part of the animal tastes good. I am here to tell you that right now. Basically pemmican is a small amount of dried meat, nuts and (in this case) dried cranberries mixed with animal fat to make sort of a pâté consistency. We also had some regular pâté that was delicious, I would like to add, but the pemmican had too strong a flavor and oily consistency for me. I am a pretty bold eater, but I had to draw the line there. Everything else was great, so I am not complaining. Plus we were opening beer after beer after beer. Using these small, curvy, stemmed glasses they had out, we could taste almost every beer they make over a very long lunch. It is safe to say that I got over the pemmican pretty quickly. I took a lot of pictures here, so enjoy those if you have time. Between the setting, the hospitality and the beer, this rates as one of the peak beer experiences I have ever had. And I have had a few.

So that is it for Montreal. Hope you enjoy the pictures. I will be gone part of next week for a visit back home to see mom and the family. All other travel plans are on hold for now as we get prepared to open out first store in Charlotte, NC. Then there is Deckard’s (more details to follow) opening in September, so the rest of summer is jammed. I do have a notable birthday coming up once all of that is over, and that trip is shaping up nicely. Stay tuned. Have a great weekend and Fourth of July. Talk to you soon.