54. A Virtual Beercation to Quebec with Likam Kyanzaire
Hugging the Bar's third guest contributor talks beer in Quebec (and Ontario), plus tarot for manifesting those wants, needs, and goals.
A Peek at Beer in Canada with Likam Kyanzaire
I am so thrilled to feature Hugging the Bar’s third guest contributor this week! Likam Kyanzaire is a freelance writer and nonprofit worker living in Montreal, Canada. A fan of saisons and brown ales, he writes about culture, history and communities. You can read/learn more at www.likamk.com.
Moving from Ontario to Quebec means changing lots of things. The main language for one, road rules, and also an appreciation for craft beer. This story highlights the province of Quebec, in Canada, and how it finds a way to meld the best of European and North American beer culture into some of the best bars, beers and breweries anywhere.
Following what I find interesting about beer in other regions, this story reads like a travel itinerary of craft beer in the french province. Written for aficionados and casual fans, this piece takes readers around the world and back again to Quebec, and how its multiculturalism has spawned the best beer anywhere.
There is Something About Quebec Beer
Before I start I just want to say how thankful I am that I can write this article. Alive in the digital age, my work is based on the internet, and because of that, I can live wherever I choose. Born in a small town outside of Toronto, I was raised right in the middle of the city. But change is necessary every now and again, so I took the most significant health pandemic as an opportune time to move a breezy six-hour bus ride to Montreal, the largest city in the province of Quebec.
There is a severe rivalry between Montreal and Toronto. The two major urban centers have fought for control of the country. Toronto, the largest city in Canada, only took that title in the seventies from Montreal. Home to the St. Lawrence Iroquoians, Montreal was founded by the French around the 16th century but later fell into British hands with the Treaty of Paris. Compared to the much younger and British-dominated Toronto, Montreal—and Quebec, in general—has a culture that makes this city a beer wonderland.
Beer was never my main reason for leaving Toronto, but having lived in Montreal, the province and city's ‘laissez-faire’ attitude to drinking has made it a great place where local neighborhoods, large bars, and microbreweries play together, giving us as consumers a friendly and healthy lifestyle to enjoy our favorite Quebecois bier!
Having both been colonized and controlled by the French and British, Montreal has adopted characteristics of both European nations. There is a combined history of British, French, and Indigenous cultures. The first breweries in New France, the French new-world colony that included a large chunk of Quebec, eastern and southern US, were founded in the early 17th century. Still nascent, it wasn’t until the French handover of the territories of Quebec that breweries grew with British know-how and patronage. In 1786 it was actually an Englishman that founded what is now Canada’s most famous beer, Molson Canadian.
The ‘End of The World’ Type Beers
The first time I had a beer from Quebec I was actually not even in Quebec! Friends and I were in this little Cuban bar, in Paris’ Latin Quarter, that featured a beer called ‘La Fin Du Monde’. You see, being in France seeing a French name was not strange, and I figured it was made here. But when I looked at the menu it read ‘Quebec, Canada’. Part of the Unibroue line of award-winning beers, the taste was refreshing like German witbiers or Belgian blondes. There was something very continental-Europe about this beer and many others from Quebec. And that is not by accident; French Canadian Andre Dion, one of the founders of Unibroue, quit his job at a major hardware store to make one of North America’s first Belgian-style beers. While we generalize, the Belgian style I'm speaking of is inspired by the Walloons of Belgium. Another French-speaking minority, both regions are dominated by the larger English populations in Canada and Flemish in Belgium. Something about being a linguistic and cultural minority gives both these groups an affinity for hoppy ales and satisfying saisons.
Seeped into the Quebec culture, the beer here takes on a flavor that is Quebecois, Walloon, and Canadian. Taking pride in their provincially produced beers, you can get quality ales and lagers at your local dep. Short for depanneurs, deps are local Montreal corner stores normally run by local people that act as community hubs and the most clutch spots for that last-minute craving for a cold one. Ubiquitous like New York bodegas, deps take advantage of city laws that are relatively lax on the distribution of alcohol. According to Andre Mayer at the CBC News:
“Quebec, for example, has always taken a more laissez-faire attitude to alcohol. It was the only jurisdiction in Canada or the U.S. that did not impose complete Prohibition and it remains more relaxed on two key issues. The first is the age of consent—in Quebec, the legal drinking age is 18.”
It is 19 in Ontario, the province of Toronto. He continued:
“The other is the general availability of booze. In Quebec, you can buy beer in corner stores and grocery stores, whereas in Ontario you can only buy it at the Beer Store and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.”
Without easier access, drinking in Toronto has become something you do in private. Save some young people in areas like Trinity-Bellwoods or Riverdale, it's not common to see people drinking. Compare this to Montreal. Among the many green spaces, people drink in the summer, spring, winter, or fall; only the worst of storms deters Montrealers.
The Remote Beer Aficionado
As a remote, and partly freelance worker, my drinking habits have dramatically changed. No longer working for the weekend, I'm not forced inside an office until happy hour. In Montreal, happy hour is whenever you get to your local dep and buy some cold tall cans of beer. Walking through the famous multiplex apartments, the city is always exciting. And the city leaves a lot to be excited for. For one, Montreal is filled with huge and brilliant parks. Part of their French culture, places like La Fountaine or Parc Jarry have both internet access and a ‘que sera sera’ vibe for drinking at parks. Unlike most places in North America, there is real Montreal chill, and it’s an international affair.
My own background is from Rwanda, a small country in eastern Africa. Also a French colony, many family members and Rwandan diaspora moved to Montreal. Not among them was my uncle, who spoke better English, so he settled in Toronto like my mother. When he heard I was moving to Montreal he told me this:
“You know I like Montreal! My friends that live there are happy. To relax outside, and hang out with friends is very African. Being there reminds me of home. That is not Toronto. ”
My first apartment north of Mt. Royal (the city's namesake) was in a little immigrant enclave known as Parc-Extension. A mix of South Asian, Greek, West African, and Arabic people, my uncle's point was clear in the town square. A hodgepodge of different ethnicities, ages, and groups, the small little town square is always crowded with old men in turbans, wearing Islamic garbs, old man slippers, sitting around each other, many with a drink in their hands trading stories. This is even with an excessive police presence in the area. While Montreal police have a bad rep, and deservedly, the whole province is pretty lax. A confusing set of drinking policies, this is how one commentator explained public drinking in Montreal:
“This city’s laws are perhaps the most confusing. Legally, consuming alcoholic beverages in public spaces is ‘strictly prohibited.’ However, there’s a caveat: if you’re in a picnic area and consuming a meal, drinking is permitted. But what constitutes a meal? Is a baguette with some paté sufficient? Or something more like a hearty steak frites (fries)? Well, the law does not say.”
That is why I always travel with a packet of gum, in case I get stopped, HAHA. Meanwhile, Toronto recently struck down a vote to allow public drinking in parks. With some of the longest lockdowns anywhere, it became impossible to go out for a drink, and having to keep one eye on the cops is annoying as ever. This time history has nothing to do with it. While I have drawn conclusions based on Montreal's history as a French colony, and Toronto as mainly British, even London has an open drinking policy! This is hands down a problem of horrid municipal governance on Toronto’s side. Due to that, people in Toronto, if they do drink outside, have to be excessively secretive. There is a silver lining though…
Toronto has so many great microbreweries. A much bigger city, Toronto is about six million people strong to Montreal’s almost two million citizens. That advantage means Toronto has a massive amount of breweries and microbreweries right in the city. Places like Louis Cifer, Collective Arts, and Bellwoods Brewery fill the streets of ‘the 6ix’ with hops—IPAs and all other types of beers. But my favorite by far is 3 Brewers. Scattered around the city, 3 Brewers have great beers, wonderful food, and giant mugs that have you feeling like you are at Oktoberfest (they do a great Oktoberfest special too!). A chain from northern France, 3 Brewers comes from a region right at the border with Belgium. But its first and foremost foray into Canada is through Montreal, first opening on St. Denis, a popular Montreal street. It has since then expanded to 22 locations in both Quebec and Ontario. But Montreal is no slouch when it comes to microbreweries either; places like Siboire and Dieu du Ciel offer great kinds of beer too. In fact, I am writing part of this article from Siboire. Even at midday, the place is relatively packed. With all the laptops and papers you would think this was a Starbucks.
Propelled by international culture, Montreal gives people the best of Canada’s beer culture. A recent transplant to the city, there are real positives to living here as a beer drinker, especially if you like your Walloon beers. Seeing the city through the beer goggles and lens of history, I'm now excited to check out the rest of the province. I guess I will need to do some more research, but maybe not on an empty stomach next time!
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This week, I pulled The Magician.
This card speaks to power, resourcefulness, and manifesting things into the universe. “Number one” in the deck, The Magician also symbolizes new beginnings, and a strong, balanced connection between the earthly and spiritual realms.
The Magician comes up to show you you have all the tools you need to move forward, achieve some goals, get that life you want, make an impact, etc. The stars are aligned and everything is ready to work in your favor if you’re ready to act. Get in touch with your creativity, and stay in touch with yourself—keep checking in with what makes you happy and what fulfills you, what feels like it’s good for others around you, what seems healthy. And then take those first steps, maybe turning an idea you’ve had for a while into a reality, or, idk, raising hell against the horrific situation in this country whether it’s encouraging others to vote or starting an initiative or donating or volunteering or demonstrating—The Magician says this is a good time to take what’s been in your head and make it real, for the benefit of you and others. Again, if you’re in touch with yourself and your goals, you’ll be on the right track for a rewarding conclusion here.
Wouldn’t ya know, Short’s Brewing has a red ale called The Magician. This caramelly, raisiny, roasted toffee-esque pub ale is represented by an “eloquent, smart and skillful master who makes things happen.” Hey, The Magician tarot card says that’s you right now, so drink up!
This Week’s Boozy Media Rec
One of my favorite genres to read is the Grub Street Diet and yes, that’s a genre. Some people care about the food the diarists of note are consuming and I don’t, I just want to be a nosy little lurker and see how a week in their lives goes, good food, bad food, and all. The most recent journal is from Rachel Antonoff, a fashion designer who created a “Sopranos” toile shirt I splurged on for this summer and now treasure; she also creates a lot of dreamy food-printed pieces that reveal epicurean tendencies. I’m just recommending this Grub Street Diet for the very simple reason it’s fun to read and I think we could all use that right now—the “boozy” tie-in being Rachel’s real talk about loving wine but not knowing much about it technically speaking, which I think many of us can relate to—if we know how to describe what we’re smelling and tasting, sometimes, that’s enough, right?
Ex-BEER-ience of the Week
I finally visited Notch Brewing this week, which is more like an “ex-beer-ience” of the year. I’d been anticipating getting there so long and it did not disappoint. I know many of us are already converted, but I think Notch is up to the task of converting even the most die-hard hazebro to a lager lover. I wanted to sip those expertly made grodziskies and Czech-style pilsners forever, and of course…altbier!
I got to enjoy two beautiful examples of altbier this week, actually. Not only did I get to Notch for the first time, but I finally got back to Fox Farm, an idyllic craft beer paradise where Darby gets some much needed grassy hangs in and I can drink yet more Czech-style pilsners and altbier.
Until next week, here is a picture of the aforementioned pug with the aforementioned altbier at the aforementioned Fox Farm.
“Seeped into the Quebec culture, the beer here takes on a flavor that is Quebecois, Walloon, and Canadian.” Nice description.