It took me a few visits to my neighborhood brewpub to put a finger on what was so pleasant, so endearing about Montreal's many great brewpubs and bars. It's a pervasive conviviality, bars that are both laid-back and lively, welcoming, but not overwhelming. Every brewpub feels like it could be your neighborhood bar, like you could spend hours here ordering pint after pint with friends, or just reading a book by yourself.
Montreal is a brewpub town, and a very good one at that. Brewpubs in Quebec tend to look and feel a bit different than their American counterparts, which are often big and food-focused. In Montreal, the bar is usually short and small tables pushed together make up the bulk of the seating. Food is sort of an afterthought, which is fine, since there's not a lack of good food elsewhere in the city. A few chalkboards hung around the bar display the draft list of beers brewed on site, and maybe a cask or two. The beer is served in imperial pints (20-ounce), verres (12-ounce), or pitchers.
And while Quebec may have a reputation for dark, strong beers (the winters can be as cold and dismal as one might think), you'll see everything from barrel-aged sours to crisp pilsners to dry, citrusy IPAs. Montreal's a perfect city to just hang out in, and even better one to hang out and drink beer in. Here are a few of our favorite spots to get you started.
Dieu du Ciel
Visiting beer drinkers often make a beeline to this intimate (and almost always packed) brewpub in the hip Mile End. Their stouts—the creamy Aphrodisiaque (known as Aphrodite in the States) and the hefty, coffee-infused Péché Mortel—would be worth it alone, but then there are the experimental or hoppier offerings, like a Mosaic-hopped pale ale, Mosaika, and an 'India Cream Ale' called Mea Culpa. As their bottled beer distribution grows across North America (they have a production brewery too in Saint-Jérôme outside of Montreal), Dieu du Ciel has drawn deserved attention to Montreal's beer scene. A visit here then, is an essential and worthy one.
Vices & Versa
Further north of Dieu du Ciel on Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Vices & Versa is the best place in the city to try the biggest spread of locally-made beer. Friendly bartenders will guide you through the more than 30 taps and several casks—from breweries like the excellent Brasserie Dunham and Le Trou du Diable—and are quick to pour samples, too. During the day, the space is bright, airy and spacious; by night, it's packed and lively, often with live music or DJs playing several nights a week. Pretension has no place here; it's just a very good beer bar, with a good deal of food to enjoy.
The newest addition to Montreal's beer scene, Station Ho.St is a bar/tasting room opened by Brewery Hopfenstark, who brew out of L'Assomption, Quebec. The emphasis here is on drinking—the room is sparsely, but coolly, decorated, with lots of wood and a long, gorgeous bar. Big bags of New Brunswick's Covered Bridge Chips are the only food for sale, but you're welcome to bring in your own snacks. They offer a good deal of Belgian styles, including an inventive lineup of saisons—I enjoyed a Boson de Higgs, a 3.8% ABV "Berliner Rauch Saison", and a Saison Station 7, a nice herbal, slightly tart 5.0% ABV saison.
Le Saint-Bock offers respite from the touristy Latin Quarter in the form of 19 drafts (when I visited) and a cask, most of which are brewed in house and range from the standard offerings (Rousse, Witbier, ESB) to the more adventurous, like a subtle Coffee IPA. Plunk down in one of the cracked leather armchairs or grab a small table for lunch. St-Bock's also one of the best spots in town to find a bottled import; ask for the Beer Bible and you'll be handed a thick bound glossy book which will seem doubly impressive because it lists all the beer by country and style. Here, you'll find everything from Cantillon to Smuttynose to the rarely seen Westvleteren 12 (for a mere $54.99 for a 330-mL bottle).
Le Cheval Blanc
Cheval Blanc's an intriguing little brewpub located on Rue Ontario, near the University of Quebec at Montreal. It feels retro, with small red formica tables, a giant neon clock in the back and Chinese-style lanterns dangling from the ceiling. The bar is tinged in red light while the brewing system glows with green. The standards—a blonde, amber, stout, porter, etc.—are are very solid and lower in alcohol, but you'll also find treats like an excellent, clean and crisp IPA with Galaxy, Simcoe, Citra and Calypso hops. On the way out, stop by the Distroboto for a $2 zine from a converted cigarette machine.
L'amère À Boire
Just a block up from Saint-Bock, L'amère À Boire specializes in classic, well-done German and Czech ales and lagers, from Hefeweizen to Czech-style pilsner. To match the polished beers, the space is clean and bright, with a lofted space and two terraces. The food menu is pretty extensive, with offerings including a burger de lapin (rabbit burger) and fish 'n' chips. Or snack on a soft pretzel and a pint of pils for an easy-does-it afternoon.
Located in an old bank in downtown Montreal, the industrial, stainless steel look still defines this brewpub, right down to the former vault-turned-lounge in the back. The focus is on Belgian and American styles, with interesting one-offs like Amalgame, a sour brown with cherries aged on oak for one year. It's a popular after work or class hangout spot, given its Sherbrooke Street location and proximity to McGill, but they also opened a second location in Verdun if you want to branch out.
About the Author: Heather Vandenengel is a nomadic beer writer and the News Editor for All About Beer. You can follow her on Twitter @heathervandy.