It’s Friday afternoon. I’m a travel-loving food and drink enthusiast (or stalker) and I’m in Montreal – a city famed for both these aspects of its culture – for a ‘long’, but surely too short weekend of leisure. As in all good stories, I’ve skipped the tedium of airport arrival and AirBnB check-in) infuriatingly delaying the real “beginning” of the trip. Finally, like a dog forced to remain on the leash until the park gates, I’m free to run riot across a new city. As a smug “not part of the mainstream” type, I’m at the furthest point possible from the downtown chain bars and backwards-hatted, bearded white dudes in basketball jerseys (I myself forwards capped, forever baby-faced & surreptitiously checking playoff scores on my phone). Need a coffee and something to line my stomach in preparation for the beery road ahead, I grab a delicious Italian style Americano at the bustling, decades tested Café Olimpico in Mile End - a trendy neighbourhood a-tip the sprawling Plateau that I’ll eventually make my way to - then choose St Viateur bagel over Fairmount in a decision purely based on proximity, but that I’ll retrospectively rationalise as quality driven in the pointless war for bagel loyalty. Multigrain, light cream cheese; a ‘healthy’ choice which, in my mind, counterbalances the forthcoming tsunami of artisan beer that shall follow it down my thirsty throat. Deliciously fresh, I inhale it, powerwalking to the true start-point of my crawl, Vices & Versa.
Espoused by many as the best beer bar in the city, it’s only logical I start here, when I’m so flush with optimism that pretty much any brew would give me the “it’s everything I hoped for” validation that washes over me with my first sip, swirl, swallow and sigh. From a marvellous list displayed only on the many chalkboards, I choose ‘No Tahoma Farmhouse Pale Ale’ from Brasserie Dunham, powerful in farmyard funk and floral aromatics, but light & dry enough on the palate for the perfect starter. The sun is surprisingly strong on the leafy terrace to the bar’s rear, and I’m thankful for the beer’s tart, lemon flesh edge. I know that each bar I’ll visit is worth more than an evening’s stay, but my mission is one of variety, sacrificing the luxury of lingering for a sense of having somewhat ‘completed’ Montreal by Sunday evening. That said, with 40 beers on draft, I grab a 5oz galopin to chug – Le Castor’s iconic Yakima IPA – a flash of caramelised orange swiftly banished by the kind of aggressively crisp finish I took for granted before the wave of juicy, milkshakey NEIPAs that robbed us of the concept of balance.
Onwards then, to Brasserie Harricana which immediately throws a spanner in the works of my pacey pilgrimage. Gleaming copper, expansively lit by floor to ceiling windows, I pull up a stool (as I’m flying solo) at the long marble bar where a suave, white shirted bartender with a romantically French name and a twirly moustache that I initially hate, hands me a draught list and a food menu so inviting that I’m trapped by the promise of a top notch beer-paired dinner of my own design, and this warm-smiling, devilishly bright-eyed wallet assassin (though he does later reward my spending with a couple of freebies). A fresh, piquant steak tartare twinned with a spicy Szechuan RyePA at 5% starts me off blindingly, and if I had any self-restraint would have sufficed. However, a giant, silky-steak cheeseburger oozing with grease (let’s call it stomach lining) topped with bacon, rich, dusky mushrooms and glossy beer gravy follow the sophisticated starter. What better to go with, than one of my favourite styles, a Maya Porter! Roast coffee and dry, savoury meatiness to pair with my grill-marked umami patty, with a credibly prickly chilli heat and bitterness to re-enliven my palate. Mouth still somewhat coated though by the heaviness of the dish, I opt for the #Nebb.Yolo aged in Californian red wine barrels, armed with both the tannin and acidity to see off the tail of the beef. Bottomless pit as I am, I’m playing a dangerous game here, and can’t afford to wallow in post-meal stupor, so I’m back on my feet and out the door.
The sun just having dipped below the horizon, it’s welcomely bracing in the spring evening shadow, and I gather myself with a quick blast of The Pharcyde’s “Passin’ Me By” and cut probably a less purposeful stride than I imagine to Isle de Garde a few minutes North-East. I need to re-start back at the bottom of the flavour intensity ladder or I’ll soon be lost in the inky world of imperial stouts, a stumbling fool unable to recall a single drop. This is the key to a good crawl; get outside, have a word with yourself and go back to something sessionable to arrest momentum. The dunkelweiss brewed in house does the trick on this occasion, crusty brown bread in liquid form. Two novelties impress me as I contentedly study the chic, spacious taproom. Firstly, the fanciest of dispense systems on the tap wall, allowing them to simultaneously serve beers at different temperatures, Bravo! and secondly “a round of beers for the chefs” actually printed on the menu. I could lie here and claim I rewarded this brazen bid, but I’ve just blown a day’s hospitality wage in 90 minutes at Harricana, and don’t plan to be washing dishes myself to cover my tab.
I’ll skip the stroll this time (aside from the unremarkable nature of my journey to Rosemont, I need to save my synonyms for ‘walk’ if I’m to avoid repetition or thesaurus vomiting). Brewpub Brouhaha comes well recommended, and as it immediately gives off more of a dive-bar sensibility than the well-dressed previous two venues, I relax opposite a pixie-ish, semi-shaven punk type girl behind the bar, at whose Quebec accent and depth of beer knowledge I marvel in equal measure. I grab a glass of Saison Voatsiperifery (which I obviously order by pointing rather than pronouncing. I’m charitably offered a bite of the ‘must-try’ Poutiflette; poutine with onions, lardons & fromage Pied-de-vent, by the pixie’s conversation partner at the bar, and still more generously a glass of her 10th birthday edition Sergeant Ripin Farmhouse Ale, aged in Chardonnay barrels. Damn, don’t these French-Canadians know their way around a wine barrel! This generosity of spirit is something I encounter again and again, arguably outweighing the beer itself in my reasons to revisit, hence my so regularly providing bartender character profile.
Offering my clumsily effusive thanks, I make a move to MaBrasserie, a cavernous, modern co-op taproom under the umbrella of which fall most of the breweries I visit today, and where I step back into IPAs with the Tribal, American interpretation of the style, bursting with leafy freshness. I try to show off a bit as I work my way through their Pimentiere home-made beer hot sauces on crispbread (yes I’m still eating) as I become ever more eager to show all these great, knowledgeable people that I’m one of them. My synopsis of Bohemian vs German pilsners is almost certainly unwelcome, but since it’s delivered in my second tongue gives me the confidence necessary to continue jumping into conversation with the locals. It’s evident that most will experience this bar as a group, as MaBrasserie hosts excellent beer tours, with knowledgeable guides making their well-trodden script and accompanying banter sound always as fresh as their maiden delivery. A giant, multipurpose space, I can’t picture a time of day I wouldn’t drink here, but unlike the almost universal 3am finish in the city, this lot knock it on the head two hours earlier, so I’m pointed towards Verre Bouteille to the East, which satisfies the yearning for ‘more’ that habitually plagues me this far into an evening. I push my way through a rideaux-culous entry curtain (my first legitimate French pun) into a jam-packed with all sorts, borderline-deafening live music tavern with a smaller but no less diligently chosen beer list. I people watch, lament that I never had the patience to learn the guitar (something that only ever matters to me when I’m drunk, watching the hero of the hour strum away in the spotlight) and sip my final glass of the night, of which I won’t pretend to remember in much detail. A Labatt 50 at half the price would have done fine. A long, moonlit walk home through the beautiful Parc Lafontaine and down the quintessentially outdoor-staired rows of cosy duplexes gives me time to reflect on a first foray of near perfection, which would take some beating on day two. “I want everyone to experience that exact thing” I affirm to myself, and so I put it to paper, not just for others to read but to attempt in tribute to the first of many a night out in Montréal.
Finally I’m comfortable with the day to day of work – mainly thanks to an “in at the deep end” Easter weekend of sun-madness that I recognised all too well from many Aprils in the UK. Just imagine that in extremis as people see their first sun after 4 months of sub-zero hibernation. Thus, I can remind myself that I’m not here to be a pub manager again, but to embark on this new broader business of consultancy, and so my exploration of the city’s bars continues, along with making the jump in converting the abundance of friendly faces into the much rarer phenomenon of friendship. This, regardless of the better cost of living here, is pretty expensive, and trust me, when that first pay cheque hits with a tax deduction of 50% - “welcome to Canada” smirks my boss – no amount of preparation can stop that from stinging a little. I’m happy to pay though, given how much I’ve gushed about the country so far. I’ve not encountered as many of the negatives that, for example, I felt in Copenhagen where up to 68% tax seemed to drive what I perceived as a nanny state, bereft of any migration/multiculturalism beyond tourists. This feels altogether a more inclusive city, and a more humanist form of taxation, when I observe all the government sponsored social initiatives (less the homelessness discussed in the previous article).
I’m doing my best to reign in my natural desire to be busy and avoid falling into a work-hard play-hard pattern I’ve been happy to escape, but it’s been a jam-packed fortnight when I look back. Fitting in one day skiing in Vermont before the end of the season was a real bonus; a one day cross-border road trip where we had the slopes almost entirely to ourselves, with more than enough snow to work with. I’ve been out of the winter sports game for a decade now, save for one day in the alps during my 4 months in Besancon, so my two bruised hips are testament to a rocky road back to competence. What I did observe through all the falling down and getting up again was surely a benefit of the life change I’m undergoing, in a new-found patience with failure and willingness to just be bad at stuff. Until now in my life I’ve always hated activities which I’m not instantly good at (golf, guitar and meditation all come to mind) but having spent 6 weeks as a newby at most things here, rediscovering my language and starting a life from scratch, a newly burgeoning calm helped me to gamely re-practice my skiing fundamentals without getting frustrated, and I enjoyed the process of de-rusting, reaping the rewards in the afternoon with something of a return to form. I’d advise we all try being a beginner at something again around this time of life, it’s seemingly great for the mind and definitely the ego.
I was lucky enough in timing my arrival here to witness Canada’s first legal 4/20 celebration, as thousands headed to Parc Mont Royal in a plume of smoke, and my new housemates Mo & Mike kindly invited me in on their hang with some home-made hip-hop. It’s only now becoming normal for me to see people busting out grinders at restaurant tables, and to see weed branded like beer or artisanal chocolate. There’s a lot of issues to overcome still, so check out Netflix’s The Grass is Greener for some enlightenment on the whitewashing of the legal cannabis economy, stealing deserved representation and profits from those ethnic groups previously persecuted by the drug’s legislation.
As other viewing habits go, to balance out some of my art-housey viewing of the past month, I treated myself to an opening night trip to watch Avengers: Endgame at the multiplex around the corner from me. While I won’t discuss the plot, I have to say that watching it with a more Americanised audience who whooped, cheered and applauded throughout really heightened my enjoyment of this finale to 10 years’ worth of films which Marvel impossibly managed to make live up to the hype. I wolf-whistled Chris’s Evans, Hemsworth & Pratt with the best of them, and bizarrely choked up at a clunky but undeniably awesome feminist hero set piece.
My incessantly chatting my way around the city paid dividends this week in the form of some actual parties. A very familiar pub “leaving party” piss-up let off some steam, but earlier that night I attended an informal birthday dinner for a friend of a friend, during which the main event of the party would be ‘story telling’…My vicious teenage cynicism having only been enhanced by half a decade living in what must be the judgement capital of the world, I would have rolled my eyes hard two months ago, but my new adventure mindset paid off as I was warmly welcomed into a room of the most charming, engaging people (on whom I road-tested an IPA and carrot cake pairing I intend to use later) and when it came to the Graham Norton big red chair style anecdotes, every one was impossibly hilarious and often had a potent message at the denouement. I’m very glad I went. At the other end of the spectrum, I also engaged in a fairly grimy post-work night out at a bar with an actual skate park in it – a cash-and-cans-of-Coors-Lite-only kind of dive club, where I had fun, but since having been explained the venue’s atrocious sexual assault history, I won’t be going back.
As far as crafty beer venues go, I’m continuing to work my way around the ‘cinq a sept’ busy post work slots across the neighbourhoods. Boswell at the north end of Ave. Mont Royal had a pleasant family-friendly atmosphere given the chic, modern décor, and their ‘Binette XXX’ Funky Tripel was probably to pick of my flight, following some middle of the road IPAs. Espace Public came highly recommended and while the entertaining, borderline too cool for school barman (I realise the hypocrisy as I’ve gone all curly mopped, hoop-earringed craft beer ‘connoisseur’, but it was time for a change) liberally dished out tasters some fairly whacky product, - ‘Dreamsicle Sour Farmhouse Orange IPA’ doing way to much in my mouth for comfort - their ‘P’tit Dej Oatmeal Breakfast Stout’ hit the spot and kept me there beyond happy hour.
Bier Markt downtown on the other hand was fairly disappointing, a super generic set of taps and impersonal service I’ve not been accustomed to here, but then again in a central area of the city crawling with stags and hens I don’t know what I was expecting, and I did get a merciful break from the hockey playoffs to watch some NBA. Bar Waverly in Mile End was much better however, giving me the chance to try a few hot cans on the market, including ‘Noctem Catnip’ exploitatively merchandised with kitten pictures. It also gave me another taste of delicious failure as I more than once failed to move the waitress with any sort of flirtatious banter…can’t win them all…or indeed many. I’ve also fallen predictably hard, given my fervent fermentation fanship, for Kombucha, which is in plentiful supply around town; shout out the beautifully sunlit bunker Café Osmo, a ‘Sangria Kombucha’ on keg at work, and Quebec’s own Rise producer. Having always avoided it – despite many acclaimed health benefits – as an overly niche new trend back home, I trusted something about its abundance here in all my favourite venues and would heartily recommend non-believers jump on the bandwagon to mix up your softy-drink schedj. Finally, foodwise, when a couple of customers told me gleefully they’d be grabbing “awesome Japanese hot-dogs” for dinner, I had to check out Hotto Doggu which is definitely a must-visit for food on the go. My ‘Volcano’ spicy sausage topped with Yakuniku ramen was a quirkily excellent reverse-dessert following a Ben & Jerry’s sundae binge spawned from the aforementioned 4/20 hang.
I’ve really got to thank people for reading at this stage, and their kind feedback. Having spent most of my English degree loosely imagining a career in journalism I proceeded not to write a word or read even a page of fiction in my 5 years of hardcore hospitality. This warm-up blogging has been a great rediscovery - despite the hand-cramp - and worthwhile tool in mentally processing my experience. Now I’ve got the bug, I’m embarking on the industry-focussed journalism aspect of my business, for which I’ll be writing more disciplined commentary, think-pieces and reviews on the Food & Drink sector, for the benefit locals and tourists alike. Much as each of these articles contains a Netflix recommendation, my goal is always to get people out and about tasting new things and talking about it. I’m looking forward to doing that myself on a daily basis for the foreseeable future! Did anyone notice the over-abundance of alliteration in this one? It just happened.
My first day here, I was told by a friend “people talk about the weather a lot here” by which she didn’t mean the locals have a penchant for small-talk, but rather it’s often so extreme here it would be weirder NOT to talk about it. Today is the first real day of rain I’ve seen; an absolute deluge. It’s snowed 3-4 inches a day multiple times without derailing anybody’s routine, and the temperature has fluctuated between -10 and 16oC this weekend. Terraces have been enthusiastically whacked up in from of any forward-thinking bar-restaurant, and yet I can still ski 90 minutes away on Sunday! Though it might not sound so, I’m finding it infinitely preferable to London for one reason…it’s so rarely grey. I’m a bit of a sunflower, touched with a little Seasonal Affective Disorder like I suspect we all are, even if I try hard to maintain a certain metaphorical ray of sunshine persona, so give me -12oC with clear blue skies any day.
This does make it all the more shocking however that the level of homelessness here far exceeds that of my homeland (there you go, I’ve finally found something that’s worse here). I wouldn’t be surprised if Montréal alone has more rough sleepers than the entirety of the UK. It’s no San Francisco, which is by far the most out of hand I’ve ever seen that problem, but a 10 minute walk to the shops might bring 3-4 demands/pleas, especially if a tube station is en route. I don’t have a solution, however.
Other than the weather, I’ve also been warned “everyone cares about hockey”. Along with my desire to fit in the aforementioned ski before the end of the season, I also resolved to get a taste of Canada’s favourite sport, and so grabbed myself a ticket, solo, to the penultimate game at the Bell Centre as the Montréal Canadiens (yes…) welcomed league best Tampa Bay Lightning (infinitely superior to the Milton Keynes team of the same name that I enjoyed on mum’s whim this Boxing Day) with the season on the line! It turned out to be a phenomenal first exposure to the NHL, as the HABs (no idea, not an acronym according to the screaming fan I asked next to me) in front of a full house, vanquished Tampa in a 4-2 comeback. Now I wasn’t quite as impressed by the facilities as the San Diego Padres baseball stadium - an absolute craft beer and street-food paradise - but the lights were bright, the speakers were turned up to eleventy-stupid and the national anthems were belted out with such vigour that I resolved not to return without having learned the words. The atmosphere was electric, but unlike the English football world, in which racism, homophobia and general spoiling for a fight often lends the noise, this arena replaced mouth-foaming aggression with a general competitive enthusiasm and getting behind the team. That said, I haven’t actually seen any black or Asian hockey players thus far…
Yet further to my cultural self-education, predominantly in an attempt to understand this tricky accent, rather than some desire to really get the to anthropological soul of the populous, I’ve cracked on with what little Quebecois content is available on Netflix. While Gaz Bar Blues is very much in the French art-house existential misery vein, both Patrick Huart (already one of my favourite actors!) vehicles have been dynamite. Bon Cop Bad Cop seems somewhat of an institution…a cross-border buddy-cop action-comedy focussing on a hockey-themed murderer. It’s both entertaining in it’s on right and insightful into cultural relations (or stereotypes) between this French-speaking province and Canada at large. Starbuck – loosely based on the true story of a prolific sperm donor and his numerous offspring’s legal quest to reveal the identity of their genetic father – really touched me! Huart is a tour de force, the flawed heart of a feel-good film with some added emotional punch, which ultimately pushed me over the line into applying to volunteer at a local youth mentoring association. I’m now about 10% more proficient in deciphering the super-nasal, quasi-blue-collar dialect, but I’ve got a way to go!
The French impact naturally extends to the cuisine, and while globalisation makes all world foods omnipresent in any first world city, I’m very much enjoying the prevalence of tartare de boeuf, I have a delicious pain au chocolat most mornings, and if anyone wants to check out the sheer absurdity of classic French x North American mashups i.e. creamy, meaty, vinous indulgence, I’d usher you to Anthony Bourdain’s (rest in peace) Parts Unknown episode on Quebec….mouth-watering and sickening in equal measure. Poutine, however, is all conquering. My bar does a hearty portion drenched in beer-gravy, with 5 potential toppings including pulled pork and smoked meat, but the Pouti-flette (tartiflette bacon and cream hybrid) at Brewpub Brouhaha this week took the title of best so far. Lucky I’ve has slightly fewer heavy nights of late, as it’s excruciatingly difficult to turn down on a cold, hangover day! Honourable mention too, goes to the falafel entrée at Pub BreWskey in the vieux port, and to the beautiful brunchy snacks at September Café impressively maintaining substance with style.
Naturally my beer tour continues as I show my face around the neighourhoods, and indeed ask new friends to introduce me to their favourite watering holes. This later technique yielded the week’s best beer, as a girl from work, passionate herself about tasting the best of the best, took me up to Rosemont where Brouhaha’s ‘Sergent Ripin’ & ‘Saison Voatsiperifery’ impressed me a great deal. Mabrasserie, a successful co-op of which the former is a member, also offered a tasting of four beer based hot sauces made on site, of which the coffee stout version tickled me the most. I was also kindly lent a smashing beer book “Les Saveurs Gastronomique de la Biere – Gendron & Thibault” which, if they haven’t done it already, I might offer to translate, as to do so like I’m doing right now just for educational purposes, is pure delight. I’ve also, peculiarly, drunk more Jameson’s this week than cumulatively in my life hitherto…people just love shots here. Bartender to bartender, bartender to guest and vice-versa, neighbouring bar staff! God forbid the Canadiens score 8 in a game and our “Hockey Shots” drop to 25c. As if to prove my point, as I hand-write this article in my notebook, a bartender I met on day 2 at Loic in St Henri (who on that day gave me and my friend shots as thanks for recommending him beer books) has just entered this bar on the other side of town, recognised me and…you guessed it…sent over a Jameson’s with a rogue-ish grin…it’s endless. I might have to start a counter-culture where a 5oz galopin of savagely strong beer becomes the new shooter of choice!
So another week down, into the grind of work and simultaneously a conscious ramping up of social activity and friend-seeking, the novelty is far from wearing off and my “working holiday” visa is living up to it’s name. Book your dates to visit ASAP friends, I’m plotting a hell of a welcome tour.
Trois semaines ont passées très vite, je me sens déjà chez moi et j'ai trouvé un emploi! Après avoir fait quinze jours de ce que j'appellerais du travail dure (bien que ce ne puisse pas sembler être le cas à quiconque regarde) en étudiant français dans les cafés le matin, faisant une tournée des bars le soir et être tout gentil avec des employeurs potentiels. Ma déclaration de mission était toujours à chercher un travail de serveur dans un bar – celui qui se spécialise en bière artisanale bien sûr – afin de m'intégrer dans la scène de bière, se faire des amis et des contacts professionnels pour ma société de conseil et évidemment gagner un salaire. Après quatre jours de formation à Le Saint Bock, je crois que j'ai décrochée le jack-pot. C'est un microbrasserie/bar qui sert une quantité inépuisable des bières expérimentales brasées sur place et importées de Québec et du monde. Le personnel est très patient et chaleureux; je ne suis pas sûr si j’aurais réagi aussi positivement à « un expert de bière qui parle français respectable » comme j’étais présenté sur le groupe Facebook. Elles sont aussi mignonnes ce qui n'est pas évidemment nécessaire mais c'est un bonus quand même…Les gérants sont cool, l'environnement de travail et les clients en plus sont presque exclusivement francophone et j'aurai la possibilité de travailler les festivals de bière au cours de l'été ce qui devrait me permettre semer les grains beaucoup avec des autres brasseries. Je m’engage à travailler l’été entier dans le rôle de « gérant de plancher » en vue de réexaminer quand le soleil disparaitra, quand j’espère gagner dans une certaine mesure via drink-quality.com! Pour être honnête, après juste quatre équipes de formation du service, les deux ou je parlais cinq heures consécutivement de français, je me sens fucking génial a propos de comment les choses s’annoncent si tôt.
Quelques observations de mon nouveau domicile : d'abord et pertinent au travail susmentionné, c'est impossible de ne constate pas la différence énorme en culture de service. Les serveurs ici gagnent un pourboire minimum de quinze pourcents sur chaque facture, souvent beaucoup plus. Ainsi, n'importe où j'ai visité j'ai été salué et assis avec un sourire, servis complètement et témoignée de nombreux exemples ou le personnel se dépasse pour moi et les autres clients. Hier, un gars de mon café habituel Lili & Oli a insisté que j'emprunte un livre de poésie pour apprendre en manière plus divers, et la fille que dirige ma gym n'a pas encore pris un cent lorsque je démarre mon compte bancaire, seulement basée sur la confiance. Ceci n'arriverait jamais dans la culture « ne ferez pas confiance à personne, suspectez tout le monde du mal » de Londres. En fait c'est assez difficile de vérifier si je suis très chanceux en rencontrant des individus excellents ou si tout cela est symptomatique d'une culture en meilleure santé. Tout le monde est payé plus et travail moins en général, alors c'est quelque peu un scénario de « la poule et de l'œuf » si on compare les deux villes. Est-ce que les serveurs sous-payés et surchargés de travail à Londres méritent de gagner salaire minimum et rien comme pourboire par conséquent du service terrible globale? Ou est-ce que les anglais ne laissent pas un pourboire à d'un manque de respect endémique et profondément enraciné pour une industrie qui est en réalité le moyen des vies sociales des Londoniens? J'ai de nombreux éditoriaux en moi sur la myriade de façons dans lequel le système au Royaume-Uni est cassé (attendez jusqu'à Brexit pour vraiment voir ce que va arriver quand la colonne vertébrale des travailleurs immigrés et peu apprécié est forcé à jeter l'éponge) mais ce n'est pas le moment.
C'est toujours le moment, heureusement, de discuter de la bouffe et les boissons. On m'a rappelé par ma propre révérence de ma nouvelle ville que je suis devenu déséquilibré. Cependant, je viens de manger un sandwich scandaleusement farci au viande fumée, acheté a l'iconique Schwartz Deli (photo attachée) et franchement je suis au paradis. Les bagels, aussi, sont quelque chose d'une spécialité de Montréal. J'ai été recommandé deux ou trois « meilleurs bagel au Montréal » jusqu'à ce moment et mon expérience de St Viateur Bagel Shop était assez spécial. Entourés de fours rugissants et les sacs de farines empilé à six pieds, on m'a donné un sac en papier des bagues brulants et frais, a dit d'aller te faire foutre a dehors et hors du chemin. Je les ai appréciés sur un banc avec le Philadelphia...Réellement seulement être capable d'en commander une n'importe où comme plat d'accompagnement est incroyable. La zone de la ville d'où je n'ai pas s'écarter, le Plateau Mont Royal est similaire d'un East London français, dont Mile End équivaut à peu près Shoreditch (pour l'instant avec moins de cons) et ainsi le monde de café indépendant est fort. Voyez attaché seulement un exemple de l'art de rue abondant ce qu'on trouve là-bas. Beaucoup de Montréalers travaillent a distance, donc leur besoin de Wi-fi rapide et servi par une pléthore de cafés origine-unique-Guaté-ragueyenne-noix-et-abricots-montagnes-brumeuses-roti. Je n'ai vu aucun des « flat white » alors il faut conclure qu'il n'est pas un vrai style de café, idiots prétentieux anglais.
Suite à mon article précèdent, je vois beaucoup d'expérimentation au monde de bière, mais sans la chute de la qualité ce qui l'accompagne souvent. J'accuserais les brasseries anglaises d'essayer de courir avant de pouvoir ramper, en fournissant quarante nouveaux styles et collabos conçu pour le 1% des geeks les plus hauts et les médias sociaux pendant leur première année, tous tandis que leur IPA principal explose des cannettes dans les caves autour du pays et goûte diffèrent chaque fois qu'on l'essai. Ici a l'inverse, on trouvera peut-être deux ou trois blondes populaires, à côté de dix à quinze curiosités de bonnes factures. Les bières brunes brassées avec du beurre d'arachide et framboise, les saisons de l'herbe de bison sentant fortement de la tarte aux pommes de McDonald's et en plus – grâce à la légalisation de l'année prochaine – un nombre croissant des exemples aromatisés avec de Cannabis (sans Cannabinoïdes) qui sentent quant à moi un peu du gingembre, du persil et l'anis faible. L’assemblage et le vieillissement en barrique sont très à la mode, et la rousse et un favori de la foule. Une brasserie éminente Dieu du Ciel! A reçu la Journée Péché Mortel pour que célébrer leur stout impérial phare en plus de dix variants, ce qui était un cadeau génial.
Pour le moment, je suis très bien installé. L’incertitude qui est arrivée à cause d’un manque d’un emploi et maison est maintenant replacée par un inconfort plus agréable provoqué de mon besoin naturel à devenir super-impressionnant au boulot. Je suis confiant que comme normal si je travaille extrêmement dur (quelque chose avec qui je n’ai pas jamais mal) tout ce que j’espère va se produire. Merci à Astrid pour m’avoir prêté son appartement ces trois semaines dernières, je te rembourserai en amitié et en cuisine!
Three weeks has flown by, and already I feel at home. After 15 days of what I call hard work (though it might not seem so to anyone watching) studying French in coffee shops by morning and trawling bars by night, sweet-talking potential employers, I have a job! My stated mission was always to find a service role in a bar - one that specialised in “artisanal” beer of course - so as to get my bearings in the city, to make some friends and professional contacts for the consultancy AND obviously to earn some money. After four days of training at Le Saint Bock, I feel I’ve hit the jackpot...
It’s a micro-brewery/brewpub with an endless supply of experimental beers made in house and shipped in from state/world-wide. The staff are super-patient and friendly; I’m not sure I’d react as positively to a “beer expert with respectable French” as I was introduced on the Facebook group. They’re also cute, which while not necessary is definitely a bonus... The managers are cool, the working environment is almost exclusively francophone, as are the guests, and I’ll get the chance to work beer festivals throughout the summer which should let me sew my seed aplenty around the scene. I’ve given my word that I’ll work through the summer in the floor manager role, with a view to reassessing when the sun disappears, hopefully to bringing in part of my income through drink-quality.com. To be honest, after two shifts of learning the ropes on the busy restaurant floor, where I spoke 5 hours a night of straight French, I feel fucking great about how things are shaping up this early.
Observations of my new home; first up and tied into the aforementioned job, it’s impossible not to notice the huge difference in service culture here. Servers make at minimum a 15% gratuity on every bill, and often much more. Thus, wherever I’ve gone, I’ve been greeted and seated with a smile, fully waited upon, and witnessed endless examples of staff going the extra mile for me and the other clients. Yesterday, a chap in my regular coffee house Lili & Oli foisted upon me a book of French poetry classics to help make my studies more diverse, and the girl who manages the gym I joined has yet to take a dime from me until I get my bank account in order, solely based on trust. That would never have flown in London’s culture of “trust nobody, suspect malicious intent at every turn”. It’s actually pretty hard to tell if I’m just getting really lucky meeting awesome people, or if it’s a symptom of a more healthy hospitality culture. Everyone IS paid more and works less, so it’s somewhat of a “Chicken or Egg” conundrum in comparing the two cities. Do the underpaid, over-worked staff in London genuinely deserve to make no tips on top of their minimum wage as a result of blanket terrible service? Or do the English not tip due to a rampant, deep-rooted lack of respect for an industry which is in reality the medium by which the majority of all Londoner’s conduct their social lives? I have many columns in me on the myriad of ways in which the UK system is broken (just wait until Brexit to really see what happens when the backbone of under-appreciated migrants are forced to throw in the towel) but this isn’t the time!
It’s always the time, thankfully, for food and drink chat! I’m reminded by my own reverence for my new home that I’ve become a bit like that Stewart Lee “the size of the prawns, Stew…they’re massive!” ex-pat sketch…but I HAVE just eaten an obnoxiously stuffed smoked meat sandwich from the iconic Schwartz’s Deli (see the attached photo) and frankly I’m in heaven. Bagels, also, are something of a speciality of Montréal. I’ve been recommended a couple of “best bagel in the city” candidates so far, and my experience at St Viateur Bagel Shop was pretty special. Surrounded by roaring ovens and sacks of flour stacked 6 foot high, I was handed a paper bag of piping hot doughy delights and a single-serve Philadelphia, and told to fuck off outside and out of the way! I very much enjoyed them on a park bench. Really though, just being able to add a cream-cheese bagel to any order, any place is a god-send for me. The area I’ve kept to so far, the Plateau Mont-Royal is kind of like a French East London, with Mile End roughly equating to Shoreditch (so far with fewer wankers) and thus the independent coffee culture is strong. See also just one example of the amazing street art on every corner. Many Montréalers work remotely, so their need for fast wi-fi and caffeine is served by a plethora single-origin-Guata-raguan-nutty&apricotty-misty-mountain-roast serving spaces. I’m yet to see a Flat White, which I’m taking as confirmation that in fact it isn’t really a thing, fools.
Further to my previous post, I’m seeing a lot of beery experimentation but without the drop in quality that can sometimes accompany it. I’d accuse many UK brewers of trying to sprint before they can even crawl, pumping out 40 new styles and social-media-satisfying collabs in their first year, all while their core pale ale explodes from it’s cans in cellars across the country, tasting different at every pint. Here conversely, you’ll find perhaps a couple of mainstream lagers (instead of 5 or 6) accompanied by 15 or so oddities. Peanut- Butter & Jelly Porters, bison-grass saisons reeking of McDonalds hot apple pie, and, thanks to last year’s legalization, many styles flavoured with cannabis (no cannabinoids) which to me tastes like ginger, nasturtiums and faint anise. Blending and barrel-aging are très a la mode, and the red ale is a crowd favourite (the traditional, toasted nutty, Irish style, NOT the “let’s make it taste like everything” mess that is Liquid Mistress). Leading brewery Dieu du Ciel’s “Péché Mortel” day, completely dedicated to 10+ variants of their award-winning imperial stout, was an insane treat too, once I parted the crowds.
For now then, I’m set up nicely. The uncertainty of waiting for a house and work confirmation has been replaced with a more palatable discomfort around wanting to impress at my new job, which I’ll overcome by just working really, really hard – something I’ve not struggled with since leaving the education system and exercising some free will. Thanks to Astrid for loaning me her flat this past three weeks….I’ll pay you in friendship and cooking.
Alors, c’est maintenant sept jours depuis je suis arrivé a Montréal avec l’intention vague a m’intégrer – par force de personnalité et subtilement en démontrant mes connaissances de la bière – dans ce que j’ai entendu est vraiment un scène de bière artisanale fascinant et vibrant. Je suis content (ou plus précisément ravi et soulagé) a découvre que Montréal et effectivement une cité de bière merveilleuse. J’ai ressenti des nombreux petits moments (en addition de l’ampleur et qualité général des bières brassées de façon indépendant disponibles) qui ont démontré agréablement le niveau de compétition. Le deuxième bar que je suis entré par exemple a offert une sélection de treize bières de Pohjala de l’Estonie en plus de 31 produits brasés en site ou Québécois. Le sixième a proposé à la carte une sélection de quatre fromages complétés par quatre bières ou un « plateau dégustation » au même pris que seulement deux fromages et aucun de bières à Londres. Finalement, j’ai une poche qui déborde des morceaux de papier plein de suggestions des bars, activités, chansons et amis cherchant un colocataire, grâce a chaque serveur charmant que j’ai rencontré, fervent à aider un seul voyageur anglais. En fait, lorsque je cherche un emploi et une chambre dans un voisinage idyllique, j’ai gouté et bavardé maladroitement à travers de douze bars ou microbrasseries et en outre un « dépanneur » (le réponse Québécois d’un ‘corner shop’) vachement plein de bières délicieux. Tous avaient un minimum de dix bières brassées sur site, et les personnels complètement entrainé et enthousiaste à les vendre. J’ai découvert ça quand les serveurs de deux bars diffèrent avec obligeance ont produit leurs notes de dégustation du maison – normalement réservé pour les serveurs – pour améliorer mon vocabulaire de la bière bilingue. Cela a été un génie brise-glace : « excusez-moi, est-ce que celui-ci le bon mot pour ‘désaltérant’? ».
Tous ces lieus ont varié en ce qui concerne l’ambiance – du traditionnel au branché – et celui-ci est naturellement une bonne chose; l’uniformité n’est quasiment jamais bénéfique. Certains présentent une sensibilité artistique des années quatre-vingt-dix, alors que les autres semblent d’avoir commencé avec les badges et les emballages, en travaillant en arrière a partir de là. Certains jouent la musique ultra-cool de Lo-fi Jazz-hop (ce que ma sœur appellerait la musique de l’ascenseur) pendant qu’un autre a beuglé les anciens enregistrements des Beatles, et en ce moment-là Le Saint Bock fait un bœuf aux tracks RnB des années 2000. Certains abordent les meubles de cuivre brillant, des autres du bois de l’aspect vieilli et des autres toujours du plastique facile a essuyer. Cependant, je me concerne plus des points communs – ce qui peut être dit pour la scène entière. Alors que je regarde autour de moi, je constate un groupe des filles qui portent des pulls verts tout juste parti d’une parada de St Patrick, un couple sexagénaire, quelques laptop-jockeys et un habitué qui tient le crachoir d’une serveuse patiente en accent Québécois trop fort que je ne comprends pas encore. Pour les anglais il faut imaginer l’accent plus fort d’un Irlandais or Écossais, mais en parlant ma deuxième langue.
Tout le monde boit la bière! Je ne veux pas généraliser, mais si j’étais à Londres a ce moment la ces gens nageraient au vin rosé provençale et des ‘Skinny G&Ts’. Je n’ai pas aucun problème avec ça, en fait vendredi j’ai bu un gin français exquis chez une fille chinoise très accueillant. Ce qui me rend consterné c’est la certitude avec que comme serveur je peux presque sans erreur prévoir les choix de ces gens; un phénomène qui n’existe jusqu’ici à Montréal. Dans la mesure que comme Millénaire je sens que je dois avoir une raison d’être professionnellement, je dirais que le mien c’est d’aider des gens qui prétendent qu’ils adorent manger et boire à élargir leurs horizons et être sensibles aux boissons et combinaisons des saveurs nouveaux. Vrai, on pourrait dire que si je chasse les convertis certainement je serais mieux en travaillant au monde de Pinot Grigio et Aperol Spritz ou j’ai commencé…comment peux-je gagner en prêchant aux convertis? En fait c’est trop tôt à dire, et après juste une semaine je suis simplement aux anges de flâner (ou faire marche sportive lorsqu’il fait -10oC) entre les bars dont les robinets, les employés et les clients satisfont ma soif de saveur, conversation sympa et Hip-Hop.
FRENCH TO FOLLOW
So it’s been a week since I touched down in Montreal with a vague plan to somehow – through force of personality and humble bragging about my beer knowledge – inveigle my way into what I’d heard was a fascinating, lively beer scene. I’m glad (or more accurately thrilled and relieved, given my decision to commit to a two year visa without ever having visited the country) to discover that Montreal does indeed appear to be a wonderful beer city. I’ve had several small moments (on top of the general breadth and quality of independently made beer on offer) which have pleasantly demonstrated the level of game. Just the second bar I entered for a speculative sip was with very little fanfare, hosting a 13 line tap takeover of Estonia’s Pohjala brewery, in addition to its other 31 lines. The price of a 4 cheese cheese-board paired with a flight of 4 beers at a swanky brasserie came in at less than 2 cheeses on one of my favourite pubs in London. Finally I have a pocket overflowing with receipt paper scrawled with recommendations of other bars, live music events, book shops and walks, from staff eager to help out a solitary English explorer.
In fact, while searching for a home in a suitably idyllic neighbourhood, and just as importantly for me, a job, I’ve tasted and clumsily French-chatted my way through 12 bars already, as well as one insanely stocked ‘Dépanneur’, Quebec’s answer to the corner shop. All had a minimum of 10 site-brewed lines, and staff fully trained and keen to sell them. I found this out as not one but two helpful bartenders handed over their in-house tasting cheat sheets for me to up me French beer vocabulary skill level. This, incidentally, has been a great icebreaker as I pull up a stool and produce my notebook at each bar counter…”is this really the word you’d use for drinkable?”.
The venues hitherto have varied in terms of vibe – from the traditional to the trendy to the quasi-corporate – and this is naturally a good thing. Rarely if ever if uniformity a good thing. Some have a kind of 90s clipart style branding that would get laughed out of a Shoreditch bottleshop, while some appear to have started with the badges and social media account, working backwards from there. Some play painfully cool Lo-fi Jazz-hop (what my sister refers to as elevator music), one blared the Beatles back catalogue the whole two hours I was there, and currently the staff in the Saint Bock are jamming to noughties RnB classics. Some sport gleaming brass, some distressed wood, and others wipe-clean plastic. For the moment though, I’m more interested in the commonalities; what can be said for the ‘scene’ so far as a whole? What occurs to me is the following: as I look around this bar, as I have each one, there’s a group of green-sweatered young women fresh from St Patrick’s day parade, two couples in their sixties, some trendy looking laptop-jockeys furiously typing in their corners, a group of businessmen and of course, an old-boy propping up the bar, chewing off the bartender’s ear in a Quebecois accent I’m not yet familiar enough to understand. The best way I can put it for an Englishman is that it’s like a very strong Irish or Scottish accent, but speaking French with local slang. Everyone in all of these places is drinking beer. Not to paint with too broad a brush, but if this were London, the same clientele would be clutching pale Provencal rosé, Gin & Tonic and Aperol Spritz. There’s nothing wrong with any of these drinks, to each their own – just this Friday I had an exquisite French gin in a very hospitable Chinese lady’s flat. It is, however, the certainty with which, as a bartender it’s possible to predict these orders based on guest profile. This seems mercifully lacking here!
Anyway, as a far as I suffer from a supposedly Millennial quest for “purpose” in my professional life, I feel that mine is to help those who love food and drink expand their horizons to try different beverages and flavour combinations. One could say though, that if it’s the inexperienced I’m after, surely I’d be better off where I started in the land of default Pinot Grigio orderers and Soda with fresh lime...*pause to roll eyes*…. How indeed do I plan to make a living preaching to the converted? There might be something to that, or it might be that I’ve so far sought out the pinnacle of what I deem good bars. After one week however, I’m just buzzing to drift (or powerwalk if like today its -10oC) between bars where the taps, staff and guests are satisfying my thirst for flavour, genial chat and plentiful Hip-Hop.
I was always frustrated with beer-related social media. Essentially consisting of "look what I've got" photos of beer geeks showing off their latest haul, with no information from which the viewer can benefit, I stayed away. However, with a sort of "be the change you want to see in the world" epiphany, I've joined the ranks. Some basic photography skills picked up from a cursory Google, combined with the fridge full of nice beers I get to drink have yielded so far 8 individual beer reviews to get you started, with many more in the pipeline. The general idea is that rather than just a high-def snap of some orange-juice looking New England IPA and it's sexy can (on whose account the beer was probably purchased in the first place) accompanied by simply it's name, and some sort of vaguely sickening "My Tuesday :P" caption, I include full reviews of the most interesting but accessible beers I taste. These are made up of a) a photo of the beer surrounded by foodstuffs designed to call to mind the flavours I experienced when drinking it b) a detailed tasting note c) a similar drink you might have tried d) a food pairing suggestion and the reasons behind and finally e) an honest verdict, tagging the brewery regardless of positivity! It's no substitute for my Beer Education Levels 1-3 courses (see SERVICES page) but as a snapshot into a product you might want to try, I think they're pretty cool. Click, follow, and comment with your thoughts, a beer you'd like me to seek out, or photography tips! Search "drinkqualitydave" or click the link below to check it out!