La Cuvée 2014 – A Night of Great Beers & Great Beards

IMG_1639Saturday morning I sat on my couch with my two year old son, watching Caillou and reflecting on the beer-soaked evening from the night before (not to mention also reflecting on why this cartoon kid has no hair). This weekend was the second annual “La Cuvée” in Montreal, and I had a chance to step out and join in the festivities. I highly recommend checking it out next year if you can make it. While sitting on the couch, watching this bizarrely bald boy, I was debating whether or not to write something about the event, as I didn’t really take any notes, or take very many pictures either. This was largely because I was having such great time, and didn’t so much want to taint it by staring at my phone all night, typing ridiculous phrases like “I’m getting a ton of barnyard funk, some vinegar, and lots of horse blanket.” However, because I did have such a good time, I felt I needed to spread the word (not to mention that they were kind enough to give me a media pass).

Located in the heart of the Mile End (Montreal Borough), “La Cuvée” is held in the basement of a church, and this of course gives it quite a lot of charm. And although the layout and general structure mimics a traditional beer event in many ways, “La Cuvée” has a vibe like no other.  Not having attended last year, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, and from a basic style and design perspective alone, this event is miles above anything else I’ve experienced. From the minimalistic logo, to the simple white shirt and black suspenders that the volunteer staff wear, to the wood booths, all the way to the live performances, this event really manages to be modern, relevant, and hip, without coming off as pretentious or “douchey” in the least – which is not always an easy feat.

Maybe it’s because I’m starting to get more and more connected to the Montreal/Quebec beer scene – especially the people within it – but the energy, warmth, and general camaraderie was like a refreshing, unexpected warm hug. The servers were all faces I recognized from from the various online beer geek circles I frequent. They were all extremely knowledgeable and quite jolly (perhaps from the free beer they were downing). The patrons were diverse, consisting of seasoned, as well as budding beer geeks, bearded hipsters in skinny jeans (including myself here), young & old folk alike, and everyday Joes as well. No one was belligerent, and everyone seemed to be on the same page; let’s have fun, be enthusiastic, drink amazing beer, and just relax.

The Highlights: My Top 5!

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t take any notes, so this will have to be drunken muscle memory. A few beers had been sold out by Friday, and a lot hadn’t been tapped yet, so I obviously didn’t try everything that was available. This “top 5” is just the best of what I happened to taste in one evening.  As you might presume, all the usual Quebec players were there. My favorites in no particular order are: Le Trou du Diable, Les Trois Mousquetaires, À la fût, Brasserie Dieu du ciel!, Pit Caribou, Brasserie Dunham, MicroBrasserie Charlevoix, Microbrasserie du Lac Saint-Jean, and Microbrasserie Le Castor. There were certainly many other great breweries there as well, along with an array of whiskeys and some delicious food (I had some amazing pan-fried halloumi cheese with mango chutney, and a massive pulled pork sandwich to sop up the booze at the end of the night).

droolLes Trois Mousquetaires: Without a doubt, the beer highlight of Friday evening was when Alex (head brewer from LTM) tapped the Saison Brett cask. It was a bit of a spectacle as everyone cheered in anticipation of trying this sexy brew. And although it’s hard to see the droplets of drool pouring from my mouth in the photo to your right, I can assure you that myself, the Malty Tasker, T.J., and my new friend Remi were certainly salivating as we waited.

The Saison Brett poured a foggy amber orange with loads of fresh fruit on the nose. It was yeasty and only slightly tart, but carried a zesty fruit-filled complexity that provided an amazing balance against all the gigantic viscous beers I sampled leading up to it. I’m fairly certain this is a one off, but one can hope that Brett yeast will see its way into more LTM beers soon!

Brasseries Dunham: Their imperial IPA, which I believe is also called their double galaxy IPA, was a beautiful fruity wonder that I went back for a few times throughout the night. Tropical zesty hops dominated the nose, and the caramel malt backdrop balanced everything beautifully. Well-crafted as usual, every new Dunham beer continues to help prove that they are one of the best breweries out there.

Microbrasserie du Lac Saint-Jean: There was a lot of hype surrounding their Tante Tricante Chardonnay, a Belgian style Tripel aged in barrels previously containing Chardonnay wine. I have a couple of bottles in my cellar, but have yet to crack one open. This was my first beer of the event, and at 10%, you can only imagine how the rest of the night went. It poured out a foggy yellow orange colour, aromas of spicy Belgian yeast came forth with a woody oak backdrop. The taste mimicked the nose, carrying a perfectly balanced Belgian tripel flavor profile with some subtle but pronounced vinous barrel aged elements. I see why this one started to turn heads, it is a balanced, delicious beer, that carries a certain class, without any bells or whistles.

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Le Castor: Another one I was excited to try was Le Castor’s Catherine, an 11.5% Russian Imperial Stout aged in rye barrels. This would be my first rye barrel aged beer, and I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. As you might think, it pours out jet black with an appealing level of viscoscity. The nose blew me away with some strikingly apparent oak, mixed with aromas from the rye that previously housed the barrels it was aged in. The taste was just as complex, with dark roasted coffee, dark fruits, vanilla, oats, and wood, finishing with warmth from the rye that lingered nicely.

Boquébiere: Although I’ve had this one several times before, I still felt the need to go and grab at least two glasses while I was there. Of course, I’m talking about Rouges de Canton, a Flanders Red that I’d say is the best of its style to date in Quebec (although I will soon be cracking open “Les Limbes,” a collaboration between Dieu du Ciel and Le Trouble du Diable, which will likely provide some tough competition). Just like the style calls for, this sour beer spends a great deal of time in oak barrels before being bottled. It pours out a dark blood red colour with some maroon highlights. The nose is complex with lots of fruit, vinegar, oak, and some yeast funk as well. On the the taste front it’s quite sour, with a good level of acidity, flavors of vinegar and tart cherries play a large role, while it finishes with some subtle sweetness. A great beer, and it’s pretty available at the moment in bottles in and around Montreal.

So there it is, my evening at “La Cuvee.” Montreal is cold and bleak right now; this can be quite depressing, demotivating and just plain awful. But I have to say that events such as this can help you get through these times, and warm you from the inside out. Please check it out next year, I can’t see how anyone could be disappointed. Oh, and I just looked up why Caillou is bald. Apparently they did it on purpose as an effort to display to children that all people have different appearances, and we should treat everyone equally. I think they just forgot to give him hair, and then rolled with it.

An Article by Noah Forrest