Ahhh, Québec! La Belle Province! Home to one of Canada’s finest—heck—one of the world’s finest beer scenes. We got a chance to speak with two of the most recognized and celebrated breweries in Québec about the province’s original foray into beer and learn more about what makes their brew so distinctive.
“Brewing in Québec started just like everywhere else: some very small brewers in villages and cities. Some became small breweries and then industrialization arrived with bigger breweries who swallowed them up,” Isaac Trembley, Director of Business Development at Le Trou du Diable, explains.
And it’s true; in the 1980’s Labatt, Molson, and Carling-O’Keefe dominated the market before the latter two merged in 1989. Things started to improve in the early 90’s when the first wave of microbreweries arrived with Boreale, MacAuslan and Unibroue. When other brewers saw the success of these craft beer champions, a second wave entered, including Dieu du Ciel! and Le Trou du Diable.
These breweries weren’t just serving up your standard fare; they were doing something different. Jean-Francios Gravel, Brewmaster and Co-Founder at Dieu du Ciel!,explains that while British beer was available on a small scale, French Canadians “traveled more in France and Belgium, so imported beer was some of the first we could find in Québec. So even though the first micro brewers in Québec were inspired by British brewing techniques (because it was easier to produce), they looked at Belgian beer to get inspiration.”
Something both Gravel and Trembley can agree on is that at some point, brewers in Québec decided to push the boundaries of what was considered beer. Trembley credits brewers in Québec who believe “it’s not about fitting in the mold. It’s about exploding the mold. Styles are mixed together and boundaries are broken all the time. Québec brewers excel in brewing English, Belgian or German styles. But most of the time add a little (or big) touch of something because they have no strings attached to any style.”
At Dieu du Ciel!, Gravel explains: “We started doing traditional beer styles, but instead of doing only one type of beer—like British style beer—we were doing beer styles from every beer culture. With time, we started to do hybrid styles and what we call ‘new world style’ beer, or beers with no link to traditional beer, like the hibiscus beer. I followed pioneers like McAuslan, Cheval Blanc, Unibroue and Greg Noonan, so when we arrived on the market I had to push the envelope. Dieu du Ciel! became a reference and inspires a lot of new breweries to do the same.”
At Trou du Diable, they don’t believe in settling for average: “We make no compromise. When André (brewmaster at TDD) thinks of a recipe, we make it happen. We play with a lot of different yeast, malt, and hops. We were one of the Canadian pioneers in barrel aging. We also love art in every way and it shows in our labeling and events we organize. We are creative and we like taking risks. I think it’s acknowledged by beer fans but also by the ‘regular people’ who see us as concrete dreamers. Like the old saying: we don’t take ourselves seriously but we take what we do seriously.”
All of this creativity has not gone unnoticed. You can find beer from Québec around the world, including in the über competitive US market where the craft beer boom has made it tough for Canadian microbreweries to infiltrate. To top it off, breweries from Québec were recipients of 12 medals at the World Beer Awards in 2013.
While certain of his province’s reputation, Trembley is the first to admit that they’re not without competition, even in Canada.
“I think Québec has a reputation of creativeness and it has been a destination for beer travelers in the last 10 years. It’s still true; but quite frankly, the other provinces have caught up very quickly in the last 2-3 years. The quality and pleasure of drinking beer all over Canada is now amazing.”
When asked about their favourite beer from Québec—apart from their own—both Trembley and Gravel looked to each other’s concoctions. Trembley’s choice: “If I was stranded on an island, I would choose Dieu du Ciel!’s Voyageur Des Brumes on cask. A really clean, nice, satisfying and easy going bitter.” Gravel counters: “It is very hard to spot a favorite beer, but I would say that La Saison du Tracteur brewed by my friend André from Le Trou du Diable always has a place in my fridge.”
Don’t waste any time, folks. Get out there and enjoy some of the world’s best, brewed by a province of brewers who don’t settle for the norm.
Feature image shot by Tej Sandhu.