Sometimes, when it’s been constantly rainy for a week and you’ve developed a slight case of the sniffles from being outside signing up pubs for Toronto Beer Week in the pouring rain (some pubs don’t really check their email with the frequency that you might wish. That’s alright. They’re busy folks.) you develop a small amount of melancholy. It’s the kind of blue funk that sits over your head when circumstances you have no control over contrive to make life more difficult than it actually needs to be. It might manifest in any number of ways: Shouting profanities at commercials that use Buffalo Springfield songs to promote yogurt. Writing angry letters to the manufacturers of a store bought peanut sauce because it ruined your stir fry. Shaking your fist at a vast, indifferent sky that responds only with light drizzle and sheet lightning.
It’s at times like this that I like to break out the ol’ Mondial beer list. It serves to remind me that in a couple of weeks I’ll be in the land of saison and poutine, gladhanding French-Canadians and enjoying an extremely conservative amount of debauchery.
As everyone knows, the Mondiale de la Biere in Montreal is justifiably regarded as the premiere beer event in Canada. What no one really knows yet are how the changes that they’ve made will affect the festival. For one thing, they’ve moved it indoors. I’ve gone for the last two years and was just getting comfortable with the outdoor layout. For another thing, it’s the same weekend as the F-1, so it’s hard to say exactly what that’ll do for attendance at the beer festival. It could be worse. Last year the Habs did pretty well in the playoffs and it looked for a while like Montrealers would either be drowning their sorrows or toasting their victory in absurd numbers.
Since it remains to be seen how those variables will change the event, I can really only give you a few pieces of helpful information.
1) Drink early.
It’s important to show up early in the day if you have your heart set on trying a lot of different beers. By about five, the place is usually jammed pretty solid and lineups become difficult to navigate often reaching the point where it’s impossible to tell which lineup is for which booth. If you’re like me your favored size of humanity is considerably smaller than throng, and you’ll want to be able to actually see into the booths to gauge what’s on tap. It’s best to show up when the festival opens on the Wednesday, walk around and figure out where everything is.
2) Start slow.
This is really important. You don’t want to walk up to the beer tent and order the highest octane product right off the bat. Chances are it’ll be incredibly flavourful and potentially boozy and it’ll ruin your palate completely for the next couple of samples. You also don’t want to run the risk of passing out in front of the Quebecers in the middle of the afternoon. I usually look for the Hopfenstark stand in order to see if they have their Berliner Weisse. Sorta wakes up the palate, plus it’s actually good enough that you might decide to stay there for the rest of the day.
3) Proper Preparation
The PDF listing all of the beers that are available at the festival is incomplete and contains much that is apocryphal. There is no way that you’re going to be able to try everything that you want to try. It’s hard to tell how many tickets each sample will cost, so you can’t even plan monetarily. The Quebec brewers are by and large a talented bunch of folks and they will just whip out beers that you have never heard of. It’s a marquee event and they like to show off their skill. There’s a lot of pride, but in a very sort of laid back way.
The best thing to do is to print out the PDF and cross off every macro product you see. Then cross out everything you can buy in whatever province you’re from. Then cross out everything you’ve tried before (maybe creating a top ten list of things you’d want to try again as you go along.) In my case, this has allowed me to winnow the list down to about 60%.
From that point it’s personal preference. You might like a certain style. There are a lot of English ales this year, so I’m going to be looking at Milds, which is a style that fascinates me. Maybe you want the best of everything. You want to try only the beers that score 99 or higher on ratebeer? You’ve got some internet surfing to occupy you at work for the next week. And it won’t help you. The selection this year is so good that even that criteria applies to about 15% of the beers on offer. Try to get through all of those in one sitting and you’re likely to end up staggering through Westmount at 5AM with your shirt tied around your head, loudly proclaiming yourself the King of Smoked Meat to anyone who will listen.
Make sure you’ve got a couple of days. Go slowly and be prepared to fail utterly at trying everything.
4) After Parties
If you’re a sensible adult person, you’re going to want to put in maybe three hours at the festival itself during the day. There’s a lot of stuff to do in Montreal, and a lot of good food. There’s great opportunity for people watching. Since you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you’re not a sensible adult person, but rather some kind of beer-obsessed party-Viking who believes themselves indestructible.
If you’re going to go out and check out brew pubs, there are always some that put on events. Dieu Du Ciel usually has something going on the first night of the festival. The event usually starts at nine and while I don’t know what it will be this year, I can tell you to get there three hours early. Just absolutely jammed with people. Benelux has an interesting looking one on the Saturday featuring beers from Vermont (I hear great things about Alchemist).
I like Broue-Ha-ha. Not just because the Thursday is the anniversary party for their brew pub. Not just because they serve a wide variety of Quebec beers and last year they passed around duck legs as a bar snack to celebrate. Not because they have a damn beer Winnebago. Not even because they show ridiculous 1980’s Andy Sidaris action movies. I like it because the combination of all those things is so overwhelmingly weird that it’s impossible not to just give up and enjoy the place.
5) Bring Water
Oh, for the love of God. Please. Bring a two liter bottle of water with you to the festival. Your immediate future will be much improved. You might need a palate cleanser or a rinsed glass. You will certainly need to hydrate.