It’s always exciting for beer geeks to hear that a new bar has opened where microbrews are not only welcomed, but are part of the main attraction. The news becomes even more interesting when you also hear that the new watering hole lies outside the usual local spots. Most interested readers of this blog know to find good craft beers on tap in a handful of locations around the city: Mile End, downtown, the Latin Quarter, Rosemount, and – mercifully for this writer – Verdun. With a few exceptions to the rule, these are the concentrations of hop-interest. This leaves a lot of grey zone when looking at a map of the city. That is why Pub BreWskey in the Old Port of Montreal is a very welcomed addition to the scene.
The Old Port of Montreal has long been a micro beer-free zone, or – if my foodie friends will allow me to borrow their term – a beer desert. Historical districts are always designed to win over the hearts and palates of tourists, and Montreal’s cobblestone street attractions are no different. For a long time, the idea that visitors to this romantic location would only want to drink cheap and flavorless macro lagers reigned supreme. However, the craft beer revolution has slowly infiltrated even these established enclaves traditionally reserved for high-end steakhouses. Philadelphia’s Old City and San Francisco’s Mission district have been attracting tourists with microbreweries for years, right in the center of the action. The reasoning is the same here in Montreal: while locals don’t often visit the city’s most tourist-y area, when they do, they would like to find the same comforts that they have in the rest of the city. Not to mention, more and more travelers are craft beer drinkers who need to be accommodated. Les Soeurs Grises laid the ground work with its brewpub and now, a second option has opened closer to the action.
Pub BreWskey near Champ de Mars metro station is attached to the back of the most recognizable building in Old Montreal, the Bonsecour market. Located on the east end of the strip, the first thing that you notice walking up towards the bar is a large covered terrace. A unique feature was the stand-up bar outside. The railing that encloses the space has a nice, flat top at chest height that is perfect to lean on while people-watching in the summer, and wide enough to accommodate a beer and a plate when the outside seating is full.
A few steps down from street level, the space transforms into a 30s-style speakeasy. First impressions were that it felt like a hideaway, an intimate place to bring a new date. There I met with Derrick, one of the co-owners of the bar and my host for the evening. As we found our seat under the feature wall, I couldn’t help but admire the décor: the re-purposed wood, the live edge bar, the exposed pipes feature, and the Edison-era incandescent light bulbs. The place had a craft beer aesthetic. It was practical with rustic charm, comfortable and well-appointed without being too distracting and, most importantly, it was very inviting. Much to my delight, Derrick explained to me that the selection of beers on tap undergoes the same scrutiny as the bar’s style.
Pub BreWskey’s namesake plays on its two passions: brews, as in craft beers, and whiskeys. The co-owners of the bar each contribute their know-how to maintain a carefully selected menu of alcohol from beer, scotch and whiskey, to gin, and a small selection of wines and other cocktails. The bar’s square footage is small and intimate, which Derrick explained has its limitation for storage. With 12 guaranteed taps for beer and cider, the small kegs that fit more easily in the compact space will often be replaced rather than be replenished. This has the benefit of assuring patrons fresh beers, which will make IPA drinkers happy. However, it also means that if a keg gets tapped, it may lead to that beer’s name being crossed off the menu.
A few weeks ago, BreWskey popped up on my radar when I saw a friend’s shared picture on Facebook of the drool-worthy double IPA from Les Trois Mousquetaires on tap at this new underground hideout. Alright, they had my attention. Once in the bar, my attention turned immediately to the tap menu. On tap for $8 that evening were what I found to be a nice choice of beers for any mood: Charles Henri Ambre and Porter Baltique from 2 Freres, Cyclop Delta IPA from Dunham, Doppelbock and Kellerbier from LTM, Magouille from Simple Malt, Célébrante from Brasseurs du Monde, Sang D’Encre and Apocalypso from Trou Du Diable, Hoppenweissen from Frampton Brasse, and a Black IPA from Ras L’Bock. A glowing beacon of light at the end of the bar illuminated a selection of special edition and imported beers, most noticeably Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo Extra IPA (a favorite of my host), Cantillion’s Gueuze Classic Organic, and ST. Bernardus’ Triple, to name a few. I’m also told that in the coming weeks, the pub will start serving their own beers brewed in collaboration with Loup Rouge.
Speaking with the co-owner of the bar and manager of the beer selection, my questions began with logistics. Just as wine drinkers look for certain consistencies in wine storage and presentation, so to do craft beer drinkers like to see their beverages treated with care. First up, how are the IPAs stored? The CEO of Sam Adams recently made headlines when they hinted at wanting all the retailers selling its new double IPA to store it in the cold, so as to maintain the freshest taste. That freshness is important in a hop-forward IPA and Derrick assured me that any brewery that provides him with fresh, cold kegs will be kept that way.
Next, to the glassware. While the various sexy shapes of beer glasses look great on Instagram-able pics, they serve an important purpose for taste as well. Here, Derrick had a little bit of show and tell. My first beer choice, Trou du Diable’s Apocalypso, arrived in what looked a lot like a Spiegelau IPA glass, nicely imprinted with the bar’s logo. Tommy, my guest and photographer for this article, was served a Black IPA from Ras L’Bock in a long-stemmed Teku glass that looked quite distinguished, and is a great delivery system for beers over the 7-8% mark. For a limited space, I’d say that these two choices are perfect. To finish off the night, our kind host brought out Simple Malt’s Maltus, served in a small, shot-glass looking shape, used for those special rarities as well the pub’s Flights for tastings.
Finally, a word on the food. Though Beerism’s main focus is on beer, most of the dishes served at BreWskey are actually prepared with beer and other alcohols in them. The chef prepares pub fare with an emphasis on hearty goodies to accompany stiff drinks. For our part, we tried the thick cut bacon with a chilli & maple glaze, beer battered onion rings, and Bourbon chicken “wangs.” Like the décor, everything was rustic and done with style. Though I didn’t try it myself, there was a waffle with optional dark beer caramel that sounded amazing, and a few healthier options as well. It’s also worth noting that the kitchen will continue serving up this delicious, beer-soaked goodness until 2am on busy nights.
Pub BreWskey is definitely a great location on its own to check out. More importantly, it fills in a spot on the city’s beer bar map that was left void for far too long. Cheers for another reason to visit the Old Port!
An Article by: T.J. Blinn
Photography by: Tommy Levan