Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Beer on a Balcony

Spring has sprung in Montreal!  It's now official, as the sun is getting stronger by the day, making us pale and sickly children of the North apply our sunscreen liberally already, and the trees are dotted with small clusters of pale green - the first tiny and tender leaves.

People in Canada are generally pumped to see the end of winter, and generally reluctant to see the beginning of it too.  We are eager to stretch the patio-weather as long as possible.  Patios in Montreal have been officially in use since almost mid-March (though some places didn't really have them set up, and people would have to unstack the chairs on their own initiative).  In the spirit of getting outside, layering on some SPF, and soaking up the warmth (with a hoodie by my side, just in case the breeze is chilly), I wanted to write about the happy marriage of balconies and beer.

Montreal has a number of really excellent quality micro-breweries, some which are very well-established, widely-known, and fairly old.  McAuslan Brewery has been around since 1989, Unibroue has been brewing since 1990, and Le Cheval Blanc is the oldest micro-brewery in the city, opening its kegs in 1987.  Many other micro-breweries fill the market with all kinds of artisanal beers, in really every flavour and strength imaginable.  Dieu du Ciel has a beer which is touched with flavours of absinthe and fennel, for example.  They also have a beer called the Spring Equinox, a maple flavoured Scotch ale, in honour of spring.

One of my new favourites is a Scotch ale, called Ecossaise, by a fairly new-on-the-scene brewery that goes by the name Brasseurs de Montreal.  This is a very refreshing ale, light on the hops, with a nice round flavour and light after-taste.  I am often put off by beers with a strong after-taste, so this one is particularly pleasing for me.  I also like the very bushy white eyebrows of the person on the label.

People who live in Montreal, I suggest, are very fond of a) baconies and patios, and b) micro-brewed beer.  I suggest this based not only on the number and variety of both of these things available in Montreal, but also on their very extensive use and consumption.  The ability of many small breweries to do well compared to larger breweries here is evidence, I think, that there is a market that supports them.

My sister was in Montreal at the beginning of last week, and though she had been here before she suddenly remarked on this trip that no one living in Montreal has houses - as in, fully-detached, multi-storey, yard-and-fence houses.  This observation is true of some neighbourhoods - particularly the Plateau, Villeray, Ahuntsic, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, St. Henri, and a few others - but not all.  One would be remiss to forget that the homes in Westmount and Outremont are often massive and come with large yards.  However, it's an interesting feature of Montreal that many people always live in apartments, raise children in apartments, and will rent for many years unless they try to purchase the apartment from a landlord.  Outdoor spaces like parks, patios, and balconies become the alternative to having your own yard.

Beer in the outdoors is somehow especially pleasing.  Beer inside is good, but there is something so relaxing and enjoyable about beer outside.  Especially in the spring after a long winter, especially when it's microbrewed deliciousness, and especially with good friends.

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