Beer travels: Montreal and Chicago (and San Clemente)

Actually, beer does not travel all that well. It is much better that the drinker do the travelling, in order to sample the best of local flavor. And travel we did, and drink we did–in Montreal, Quebec City, and Chicago from 16 to 21 June (and in San Clemente on our way home from the airport).

In Montreal, we visited two brewpubs, both outstanding.

Dieu du Ciel (29 Laurier Ouest)

This brewery features mostly Belgian-inspired beers, though has other styles as well. We tasted:

    Fumisterie–Rousse Ale Chanvre 5%. The brewmaster’s notes (French only, so I may have missed some subtlety in the description) says this is a mix of British pale and German alt styles. It was very smooth with a good bitter finish. Very well balanced.

    Bière du Mai–Ale aux conifères 5%. It is what its name says: it is brewed in a Belgian May beer style and contains conifers (I assume spruce). You definitely taste the forest. Very long sprucy finish. It may sound weird, and I suppose it was. But I liked it. A lot. I am not sure I would have wanted a full pint, however, but I consider myself very lucky to have tasted such an interesting and innovative blending of Belgian and Canadian flavors.

    Blanche du Paradis 5%. This is a classic Belgian bière blanche, with subtle flavors of curação and coriander. Perfectly balanced. Had a full glass after the taster. Probably the star of the session, at least until we went for the heavy artillery for dessert (wait for it).

    Déesse Nocturne stout 5%. Very coffeeish, perfectly balanced. Stouts hardly can get any better than this.

    Vausseau des Songes IPA 6%. Not bad, not a standout. You have to love a brewery where the worst beer is an IPA that you’d be happy to drink any evening.

    Rigor Mortis Blond d’Abbaye 6%. Uh, well, all I wrote down in my notebook was “I’m speechless.” This was simply mind-blowing. I have travelled to Belgium and visited the Westvleteren abbey brewery and this effort would stand up well.

    Rigor Mortis ABT d’Abbaye 10%. Tastes of prunes and toffee. This brewer deserves to be a Companion in the Order of Canada.

    The brewery had a couple of other items that we did not get around to tasting. I mean, the nights are only so long and the walk and metro back to Guy-Concordia is a long trip. They also had an apricot ale from one of my favorite east-coast USA breweries, Dogfish Head (appropriately known as an “extreme brewery“). I am sure it was great–a “fruit beer for hopheads“–but alas I missed out. Dieu du Ciel also has food, supposedly just snacks, but these snacks are hearty enough to serve as a full meal and complement the beer very well. The brewing lineup apparently changes often, as the 21 June listing on the website shows several new offerings that we missed (including the IPA on cask, a sour wheat beer with raspberries, a smoked ale, and a barleywine aged one year in keg, while the Bière du Mai and some others that we tasted are no longer on).

L’Amère à Boire (2049 St-Denis)

    This brewery features mostly Central and Northern European styles, with some British thrown in for good measure. All expertly done, though the porter was a bit disappointing. (But you have to love a brewery where the worst beer is a porter you would be happy to drink on any given evening.)

    The stars of the session (OK, sessions) were their Odense Porter and Imperial Stout. The Odense is a Baltic porter; that is, a dark and intensely malty and somewhat viscous lager. I have never encountered this style at a brewpub before, normally having to content myself to bottled products from Okocim (perhaps the classic Baltic porter for its rather extreme viscosity and chocolate-malt flavor), Zywiec (better balanced than the Okocim, though not necessarily better overall, and apparently no longer brewed), Utenos (an excellent version from Lithuania) and various others from Baltic countries. (In 1994 we encountered Okocim on tap at a place on Krakow’s main square, but in 2005 we could not find it anywhere.) OK, back to Montreal. I take my hat off to any brewer who can master this rare style, and this one can. It was right up there with the best from the Baltic region.

    The imperial stout was one of the very best of the style I have ever had. It was like drinking a rich chocolate dessert, and it was the perfect second dessert after the homemade mango and coconut sorbets at Le Piton de la Fournaise (see our main Montreal trip report).

    L’Amere à Borire also had a Czech dark lager, another variety I have never seen at a North American brewpub that I can recall. It was not exactly U Fleku, but it was excellent.

    The brewery website indicates fourteen styles on a “flavours circle” but there were “only” about half that many when we visited.

Elsewhere, we tasted various Unibroue prodcuts, but all in bottles, and some of which I know are available in some stores near home. (Somewhere in Montreal or Ville Québec there must be Unibroue taps, but on our short visit we did not encounter any.) The most memorable were the Maudite and L’Éphémère au moût de pomme (a saison brewed with Granny Smith apples). We also had a few other Quebecois beers at various places, including a luscious McAuslan St. Ambroise oatmeal stout (with a 100 percentile rating from 444 reviewers at Rate Beer) on tap at St. Alexandre pub in Quebec City and a rich and coffeeish Boréale Noire stout and the same brewery’s strong and caramelish Cuivrée. (The latter two were tasted at Le Fripon on Place Jacques Cartier, the stout on tap and the strong ale in bottle.)

On to Chicago

We did a one-night stopover to see one of Merry’s college friends from their Wayne State days. She now lives and works near O’Hare and was kind enough to pick us up and be our beer chauffeur for the evening.

First stop was Goose Island Wrigleyville. I’ve wanted to go to the Goose for a long time, and while I still have not been to the original on Clybourn, at least I have gotten Goosed now. We tasted:

    World Cup Ale 5.7% on cask. This was probably the star of the session. The brewery describes it as having “a slightly sweet malt character – due in part to the addition of toasted applewood chips in the bright tank.” It is dry-hopped generously with Centennial and could be classified as an IPA.

    Honker’s Ale 4.3%. This is perhaps their signature beer. Very good, not spectacular.

    Nut Brown Ale 4.5%. A very good nut brown, though never a favorite style of mine and could not stand up to the session competition.

    Fat Goose 4.8%. Very nice amber.

    Matilda 6.9%. A very serious rival to the World Cup for the honor of best of session. This is a Belgian-style strong ale with a special yeast strain and Styrian Golding and “an abundance of Saaz hops.” A real Belgian strong ale would not be this hoppy. And no, that was not a complaint. You have to love a brewer with this kind of sense of advanture! Matilda is one of a series of specialty seasonal beers that are available at the brewery for purchase in bottles (in addition to their regularly distributed bottled lineup), so I took one home.

Unfortunately, they were out of the Dead Goat Porter, which was brewed to “help break the curse on the Cubs” (apparently without success).

The Map Room (1949 N. Hoyne)

By reputation, this just may be the best place in all of Chicago for the beer lover. (Rated #5 in the country at BA, near in rank to several others I know and love: Toronado, Papago, and O’Brien’s). Reputation deserved. We tasted:

    Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel 9%. Wow, this is one of the most interesting ‘crossover’ beers I have had in a long time. It is what its name says: a mix of Belgian triple and double IPA styles, and while its level of hoppiness was not anywhere near a typical American double IPA, it had all the fruity and complex flavors you would expect from a classic Belgian brewer and much more intense hop character than anything I tasted in Belgium. This was simply a sensational beer, with perfect balance.

    Bell’s Two Hearted Ale (6%) on cask. Oh my!!! I have had the pleaure of this IPA in bottles a few times (not available on the West coast), but it is just mind-blowing under cask-conditioning. Hoppy and smooth. What a combination! The brewery describes the beer as having “an incredible floral hop aroma” and that is no exaggeration. The bartender set it down nearly a foot from where I was standing at the bar and I could immediately smell the hops.

    60 Minute IPA. From the previously mentioned Dogfish Head. Hard though it may be to believe, this was probably the star of the session, and it is not as though it had weak competition.

And the various maps that cover all the walls and the geographic-oriented reading material in the copious bookshelves give this place a nice touch in addition to the beer. (They could perhaps turn down the music just a touch, however.)

Returning home via San Clemente

Surely, you did not think we were done, did you? We arrived back at Orange County airport at around 8:00 p.m. and it just happened to be wing night at Pizza Port San Clemente. And, would you believe it? They had Old Viscosity “black barleywine” on tap!! The link refers to brewer Jeff Bagby of Oggi’s, but he left that establishment some time ago and now brews fulltime for the Ports, though he had already been doing so parttime for a while. You have to love a brewer whose philosophy is “I don’t think there is really anything you can do too much of with hops.” In the interview, from 2004, he says about OV:

We wanted to make it strong (12% or upwards) and make something that wasn’t so much of an imperial stout, but black in color. It had a nice hop aroma and fairly nice hop character, but not a bunch of roasted malt or astringency. I think we did an ok job. I’ve described the beer as a cross between an imperial stout and a barleywine because it has such a high alcohol feel and a barleywine’s mouthfeel and somewhat of a hop character. I wish there was more hop character in that beer. The last bottle I opened was still pretty nice. The beer seems to be different almost every time I taste it. What the hell kind of style it actually is I don’t know. I would love to brew it again.

Fortunately, he did. And he did better than OK.

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