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!