I bought my very first beer in Montreal. My friends, Mickey and Senwung, and I were there to kick McGill’s tires. It doesn’t matter what the beer was (er, a sixer of Molson Canadian) because the point was that we were adults in the eyes of this French-speaking world.
Since then, I’ve been back to Montreal on a few well-remembered occasions. (Once to crash a political convention and then for a whirlwind visit that included steamies and a visit to Martin Picard’s Cabane à Sucre for the launch of his second cookbook.) My most recent visit focussed more intently on beer and food and I came away with the distinct impression of how much things have changed.
Beer is hacking (sometimes desperately) away at the ingrained idea that wine goes with restaurant meals. And that means some wonderfully creative food can be included on a beer trip to Montreal.
Foie gras at one end of the luxury scale and poutine at the other are still staples. Certainly, there have always been options for lighter food in Montreal, but these days fewer of the new restaurants are depending on drafting behind the success of places like Au Pied de Cochon with their dishes like pig’s feet in a can.
Dieu du Ciel!
Montreal is becoming a city of brewpubs, but DDC’s home at Laurier Ave. is still the king. It’s best for a quick snack and a few beers from their awesome, wide-ranging selection. Things get a bit hectic at peak times, so plan this one for a tourist-only time like 3 p.m.
They do stouts to perfection at DDC and Péché Mortel (9.5% ABV) with vanilla and dark roasted notes is the archetypal imperial, coffee-infused version. Equally strong, Immoralité (9.2% ABV) is their hazy, double IPA with tons of citrusy hops, notes of stone fruit and a warm backbone.
Patios like the one at Benelux make me wonder why all brewpubs don’t just copy theirs. It manages to be both peacefully lush and buzzing with energy and activity.
A tasting paddle of samples is nearly mandatory to get a proper sense of the broadly influenced beers at Benelux. Sabotage (7% ABV) is their mainstay IPA with a nice malt backbone supporting the tropical fruit and zest of hops. Lapsus (7% ABV), out of a bottle, is a great way to get acquainted with their sour beer programme. It shows tart raspberry with an amber body and an extra gear from funky brett.
Foodwise, the EuroDogs at Benelux are sort of max-volume take on a Montreal steamie.
Harricana’s popularity is a very good sign. I wish there were more businesses that so successfully combined good food, well-made beer and an environment that welcomes both locals in for lunch as easily as beer nerds looking for something new to try.
The in-house beer selection rotates frequently so these recommendations are more of the “watch out for” type. Harricana 68 Blonde Funky (5.7% ABV) was a brett ale with everything from tropical pineapple to a clean, tart finish. Conversely, Harricana 21 (5.6% ABV) is a lightly flavoured blonde ale with a pleasant grassy herbal note that complements mild cheese very nicely.
Where else to visit
With such great brewpubs, it makes sense that it took a while for Montreal to get a really exceptional beer bar. But these days, one spot stands out so completely that it was the first stop on my visit. Vices & Versa has a dynamite tap list with recognizable standbys Dunham, Trois Mousquetaires and Charlevoix featured alongside up-and-comers like Lagabière, Matera and cider from Milton. Rounding out the picture, the food is comfortable, especially the burgers and the patio is one of the coziest I’ve seen.
When alcohol was introduced to Ontario grocery stores a few years ago, we could finally buy cheese and beer in one place. And yet, dépanneurs still feel like a better place to shop for beer. Dépanneur Peluso is the reigning champ for good reason, but you’ll need a car to get there.
Dépanneur AS is a neighbourhood hidden-gem (check for freshness and don’t expect great deals) but my new favourite is Les Bon Buveurs. The space features a brilliant combination of an outlet for all the wonderful duck products from Lac Brome; artisanal Quebec fare at the Ils en Fument du Bon counter; and a tightly curated mostly Quebec beer selection.
The other advantage is the location is in the same block as Jean-Talon Market—the number one place to buy all things edible in Montreal. Two new favourites are Fromagerie La Moutonniere for the deepest chèvre selection I’ve seen and Les Cochons Tout Ronds for carnivorous delights, especially stellar cured meat.
Quincaillerie Dante, only a short walk away, might be unique in Canada. It’s half gourmet shop—both cookware and tools, plus ingredients to go in them—and half hunting supply store. Celebrity chef Stefano Faita’s family owns Dante and has a lock on the neighbourhood restaurants. Impasto, the rustic pasta joint is especially popular and for good reason.
After realizing that they have competition for “coolest city in Canada”, Montreal has seemed to put a greater emphasis on evolving and trying new things—in food, beer and culture. If staying current on developments seems a bit tough, there’s a solution. Spade and Palacio run tours on foot and bike that do an excellent job of connecting visitors to neighbourhood haunts that don’t make it into the guidebooks.
Getting to Montreal
There are as many ways to get to Montreal as there are to leave your lover. Porter and Air Canada both have plenty of flights and you could drive. But my hands-down favourite method is the train, Via 1 if you can swing it. Pro tip: Opt for the early dinner and you can usually get an extra round from the digestif cart.
Where to stay
I can’t entirely explain it, but there is something about Montreal that demands a stay in a boutique hotel. Maybe it’s about finding innovative new uses for old spaces (and there are plenty) like Hôtel Place d’Armes. Right downtown on St. Jacques St., it offers a convenient location plus dining that’s good enough that you don’t want to leave the building. j