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.