Quebec has long held the unofficial title as the best Canadian province for good beer. According to The Oxford Companion to Beer, Canadian brewing got its start here, when French settlers introduced beer in the 17th century. Unibroue, of Fin du la Monde fame, and McAuslan Brewing Company, who brew the solid St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout and Pale Ale, led the first wave of microbreweries in the early 1990s. And in recent years, Dieu du Ciel's range of rich stouts and hoppier offerings have made them one of Canada's best-known breweries among American beer lovers.
Belgian styles and strong, often dark, beers have ruled the beer scene in Quebec for many years, but now hoppy and experimental influences from American breweries are moving in where Abbey ales and the ubiquitous witbier left off. Québécois brewers, already an adventurous bunch, are producing complex barrel-aged beers, experimental sours, and wonderful citrusy IPAs.
Today there are more than 70 breweries in Quebec. Here are six great ones to seek out ASAP.
Le Trou Du Diable
Le Trou Du Diable literally translates to "the devil's hole," a reference to the whirlpool at the base of Shawinigan Falls. Let's just say this: you'll want to put any and all beer from this brewery in your mouth hole.
The brewery was started by five friends in 2005 in Shawinigan, about halfway between Montreal and Quebec City. They produce fine flagships—like the dry stout Sang D'Encre and refreshing, effervescent Saison Du Tracteur—as well as wild and wood-conditioned beers. The labels are fantastic, showcasing a wicked sense of humor; perhaps the best-known beer is their Shawinigan Handshake, a 6.5% ABV weizenbock with a label depicting the former prime minister of Canada, Shawinigan native Jean Chrétien, choking the devil. It's a reference to the time Chrétien actually put a protester in a chokehold and forced him to the ground. Politics never tasted so good.
Brasserie Dunham is a hophead's kind of brewery; they've already worked their way through the IPA style lineup, from American to Belgian to black to Imperial. One of the more intriguing takes is Leo's Breakfast IPA, a collaboration with Denmark's Kissmeyer Brewery, brewed with Earl Grey tea. It's subtle and probably unlike most IPAs you've had before, but it works. You can find their beers in 12-oz bottle singles, perfect for picking up a few trying out the whole collection.
Microbrasserie Le Castor
Le Castor is the rookie all-star of Quebec beer, thanks in large part to their excellent Yakima IPA, a 6.5% ABV big, resiny, tropical IPA. It's terrific on draft—when in Montreal, look for it at the recently opened Bier Markt downtown—and is also available in 660-mL (22-oz) bottles. The Blonde Pale Ale, also part of their year-round lineup, is pleasantly fruity and a bit sweet—more of a summer quencher than a winter warmer. For the heartier styles, they have a Grand Reserve line featuring a Wee Heavy Bourbon Ale and a Russian Imperial Stout. The brewery, located in Rigaud, QC, west of Montreal, has been open for about a year and a half and is one worth watching as they grow.
Les Trois Mousquetaires
Good German-style beers are always appreciated, and even more so among shelves crowded with Belgian and Belgian-inspired styles. Les Trois Mousquetaires, who brew out of Brossard, QC, produce a fine lineup of clean, high-quality German-inspired beers (kellerbier, maibock, altbier) for their Signature Series, along with more American and English styles like a barleywine and a pale ale. The Kellerbier—a unfilterered, full-bodied lager—is an easy drinking favorite while their 9.2% ABV Grande Cuvée Baltic Porter, a rich black lager, is made for sipping and sharing.
Charlevoix have two lines of beer with labels and styles so different it might be hard to tell they're brewed by the same company. Dominus Vobiscum features traditional Belgian styles—saison, double, triple, blanche—while La Vache Folle includes more American and English styles, like a Rye Pale Ale, an ESB and an Imperial Milk Stout, a perfect dessert beer with a nice creamy tan head, chocolate flavor and abundant bitterness. Their lineup also boasts a Champagne de Biere—a bubbly beer called Dominus Vobiscum Brut, made with Champagne yeast in secondary fermentation, riddled and disgorged in the brewery according to the traditional Champagne method. Pick it up for a special occasion.
Dieu du Ciel
At both its Montreal brewpub and its production brewery in Saint-Jérôme, Dieu du Ciel cranks out dependably inventive and quality beers. Their portfolio is rather prolific, with a style of beer for every craving, from the Rosée d'hibiscus, a tart wheat beer brewed with hibiscus flowers to the Solstice d'Hiver barleywine. The barrel-aged stouts and sour ales may make many a beer geek's heart flutter, but one of their greatest Quebecois beer contributions of late is the Moralité American-style IPA, available in six-packs at most local dépanneurs (convenience stores). Originally brewed as a collaboration with Vermont's Alchemist brewery, it's the kind of IPA you want stocked in your fridge—highly aromatic, tropical and grassy, medium-bodied, with a dry finish.
Read More by Heather Vandenengel:
Where to Drink Beer in Montreal
Beer Geek Glossary: Making Sense of Beer Trading Terms
Brewery to Watch: Propolis Brewing, Port Townsend, WA
The State of Sour Beer: We Chat With Brewers at the What the Funk?! Fest