LES BIERES DE MONTREAL
Molly has commented on how impressed she was with the microbrewery scene in Montreal, particularly as she comes from an area of the country where beer diversity is pretty sparse. Well, in the interest of the sacred icon of "objectivity" she went a searching for a reference about matters beer that could give at least an impressionistic overview of the Canadian situation. She found it over at the Real Beer.Com site. Real Beer is actually a world guide, but you can find references to the situation in a vast number of countries there, including Canada and all of its provinces and territories, excluding Nunavut. The listings will, of course, be somewhat out of date. The microbrewery and brew pubs scene is fluid, maybe not as fluid as the restaurant industry but fluid nonetheless. Some of the liquids that Molly dived into in her degenerate tour of Montreal's scene are not listed on this site.
But Molly was somewhat surprised by the fact that Quebec is only #3 in the Canadian pantheon. Ontario comes first, with 24 brewpubs, 37 microbreweries and 47 "other" listings. My ignorance may be forgiven. Aside from Ottawa, which I visited earlier this year and where I did find some good artisan beers, Ontario is a giant black blob on Molly's mental map of Canada. Northwest Ontario, which lies close to my home province of Manitoba, is a world away from the main centres of population in the south. To a large extent it is more like Manitoba with more trees, less money and even more depressing-if that is possible. It doesn't contribute to the artisan brew industry in any real way.
What is less forgivable is my ignorance of the fact that BC is # 2 in the Canadian brewing scene(19 brewpubs,30 microbreweries, and 19 "others"). I visited Victoria only last year, and found many good microbreweries and brew pubs. But the fact that the land of lotus eaters (and lotus smokers ?) might be vibrant across the whole province never settled fully into my mind. Perhaps this is because I am a confirmed francophile, and am more than willing to praise Quebec over other provinces without searching out the facts. As to whether Quebec beers are better than those of BC I will leave to more experienced connoisseurs than myself. I liked both. The yeast content of many of the brews that I sampled in Montreal threw me not a whit. The taste was not overpowering. I can't remember this sort of experience in BC.
What was not surprising was that Manitoba ranked second from last amongst Canadian provinces. Only PEI, with perhaps 1/5th the population of Winnipeg ranked lower in total listings. This place is not the centre of the universe in too many ways to count. We do have the highest concentration of dollar stores and payday loan shark outlets of any city that I have ever seen anywhere in the world, but that may not be something to be proud of. It's great if you want to buy cheap Halloween decorations for $1 each, but has little else to recommend it. What did astonish me was how much further ahead Saskatchewan was as compared to Manitoba. Closing in on Alberta as a matter of fact, despite the fact that Alberta has two real cities and Saskatchewan has none. The last time that I disgraced Saskatchewan with my presence, for the marriage of one of my grandnieces last summer, I did find a brew pub in Regina where I spent some happy times. At the time I put it down to yet another example of Saskatchewan's rather pathetic attempts to appear "trendy" and thought little of it. For all I know the place that I visited in Regina is the one and only, and all the others are located in Saskatoon, a city that has always been more pleasant in so many ways than Regina. Yet from what I saw there and what I see on the Real Beer site Saskatchewan is indeed far better than Manitoba in this regard.
Anyways, the microbrewery and brew pub phenonenum is always refreshing anywhere you go. It is the opposition to the standardization and corporate consolidation of far too much of the brewing industry today. Think of the fate of Molson's. It offers an alternative to we epicures that realize our time on earth is brief and want to spend it in pleasure and variety. Go to the Real Beer.Com site for the international listings, as dated as they may be.