Amazingly, the Clockwatching Tart and I had never been to Montreal together and I hadn’t been to the city myself since the Unity Rally on October 27, 1995. My absence came down to matters of the heart, as I was heartbroken over the departure of the Montreal Expos while also becoming smitten with Chicago and Lexington, both of which are more or less equidistant to Montreal. So, with an open mind, an empty stomach and a deep thirst, it was time to revisit Montreal.
Since it was easily accessible right off the highway, our very first stop was the Terrasse St-Ambroise, a brand new and absolutely beautiful patio bar. Although many St. Ambroise beers are ubiquitous in Ontario (including their wonderful Oatmeal Stout), I was able to try a lovely Double IPA that was a perfect start to our trip.
Before we checked into our hotel, we made one more stop, this time at La Fromagerie Atwater, which was an amazing cheese shop at the Atwater Market that also happened to have a little room bursting at the seams with a wonderful selection of beer and cider from Quebec. I grabbed a Coco Chipotle Porter from Brasserie Dunham that was lush and rich with deep notes of chocolate chocolaty notes playing off of lighter and brighter spicy and smoky notes from the chipotle.
To cap off a perfect first day of culinary and craft beer adventure, we visited Vices et Versa, which is the top-rated bar in Montreal for craft beer according to RateBeer. The bar itself was small but full of both character and characters – the type of vibrant mix of hipsters and bon vivants of all ages that genuinely awesome craft beer bars tend to attract. As you can see, the draft menu was superb and was matched by friendly and welcoming service.
Speaking of service, one of the highlights for me was lunch at a little restaurant near Old Montreal called Les 400 Coups. Not only was the food spectacular and affordable, but the waiter recommended Yakima IPA from Le Castor Brewing Company and it was ridiculously good. I fully expected the Montreal craft beer scene to be good, especially when it came to styles of beers Quebec brewers traditionally excel at like stouts and Belgian-style ales, but the quality of the IPAs I tried was a pleasant surprise.
Speaking of stouts, no trip to Montreal would be complete without having some of the amazing stout brewed by Dieu du Ciel, one of the most impressive full-range brewers I can think of in Canada. I recently lucked into some of their brilliant Peche Mortel at home, so gladly picked up Aphrodisiaque, a luscious cocoa and vanilla stout that is more difficult to come by.
Between the summertime heat, the rich but incredible food and the plethora of different drinks, we did need a little breather, so we took a little walk down to the Latin Quarter and ended up checking out another highly rated spot, Le Saint-Bock, before renting BIXI bikes to head home. Saint Bock is a brewpub and their Session IPA was just the thing to beat the heat while still packing enough flavour to be satisfying.
Before we had to head back home, we found a great little bottle shop right near some world-class bagels, so the Clockwatching Tart and I could both do a little shopping. I picked up a really nice selection of ciders you can’t find in Ontario along with some wonderful stouts so I could keep enjoying the tastes of Montreal at home.
One thing that makes Montreal cider special is that Quebec laws prohibit ciders made from concentrate, which means there are no mass-produced ciders like Strongbow available. Any cider you find in Quebec is made from fresh apple juice, which makes for a little bit more expensive but really wonderful product. With everything from still cider to different levels of sparkling or crackling ciders available tiny bottles, wine bottles and champagne-style bottles, the Montreal cider scene was unique and well worth investigating.
I will always miss the Expos and love exploring other cities too, but thanks to its friendly people, vibrant culture, world-class food and really amazing beer and cider scene, it is safe to say my love of Montreal has been rekindled.