So, a week late isn’t too late, right? As you may have recalled from a few posts leading up to it, January 24-26 was Le festibière d’hiver … the Winter BeerFest.
This was Gatineau’s follow up to their inaugaral winter event a year ago which I didn’t find out about until too late.
This year, it was on my radar and having this blog probably didn’t hurt because everyone around me has beer on the brain now too: and Anne is the one that heard the promotions and reminded me it was coming. This would be one of my critiques to the organizers – they could do a lot better job promoting it, especially in the bilingual National Capital Region.
My blog didn’t hurt in my ability to convince a few friends, who are also beer drinking followers, to also be my wingmen. In truth, Brent became the de facto pilot (or the best wingman possible) when at the ticket desk I realized I had forgotten my wallet back home in Ottawa. Let’s just say I became a very agreeable ‘date’ after that …. (‘nough said).
We arrived around 6pm on the Friday night, and the place was largely empty and we were free to go anywhere we wanted. There were no lineups and the beer flowed well. Each half hour, however, the place kept filling up, and by 9pm it was packed and people were lined up for 1/2 hour to get in … which was fine, because we were likewise packed with beer and food and ready to cab it home. So this is a note and hint to those serious beer drinkers who want to sample in relative peace in ensuing years: come early, and, instead, enjoy the relative quiet, and avoid those who are coming later to watch and be seen. (Ok, that probably makes me sound old … but really – really – I was doing research.)
The beer selection was good – but given what I’ve been witnessing of late at Broue Ha Ha, I was expecting to see Quebec microbrews in all their glory. In terms of selections of brewers, I must say I was disappointed at the dozen or so brewers represented. Sure this made up considerably more beers than we could try, but it was still, disappointing especially since Unibroue, the maker of Sapporo, Leffe Brune, and many other great (but ubiquitous) beers including the infamous Fin du Monde, was by far over represented.
It also quickly became clear why this was a “winter” beer festival and it wasn’t because of the season: it was because of the stouts, porters, browns, bocks, ales, and generally ‘strong’ beers. He said “Duh,” repentantly.
The food was excellent; however, it suffered from many fesitival faults of being overpriced for the portions. The highlights were surely Brent’s gnocchi ‘poutine’ covered in lobster and cambozola sauce and a poutine I had from Le St-Estèphe Restaurant: shoestring fries covered in port sauce, and topped with filet mignon and Brie. Now that was some kind of yummy ….
In terms of ambience, the festival did a great job using the Chateau Cartier’s expansive landscape (golf course) to set up an ice rink, icebar (yes, a bar made of ice), and an outdoor pavilion. Indoors, it was a bit dark, oddly “cabin’ish,” and even more odd was the servers in oversized cotton t-shirts. I say “odd,” because most of those who arrived were more dressed up than the people serving the beer. I also didn’t get the impression that many of the servers really knew their products – and for a festival devoted to “artisan” beers, I would have expect that the actual artisans to be there talking about their creations. Disappointing. It all became very ‘odd’ when the band that came on around 8:30 made talking nearly impossible and the atmosphere changed from a festival trying to be artisan into a Molson rock performance. Can’t quite figure that one out — which is nothing against the band. They just were out of place.
As for the beer — yeah, don’t forget the beer — it was fun. I definitely had a few good tastes. I started off with Pit Caribou’s “La Bonne Aventure Rousse,” a nice amber ale with a decent creaminess, a bit too much carbonation, and a clean, slightly bitter finish (75 points). I then spied McAuslan’s “St-Ambroise Maple Ale,” a beer I should have started with but didn’t see. Given my previously self-professed adoration of all things maple, you will understand why I gravitated to this one – but it also owed a lot to how much I like all things McAuslan … and the fact that a few weeks before I had just reviewed two other maple ales. This one was not nearly as ‘sweet’ or maple-ly, which some find cloying. McAuslan’s had a nice balance between the carbonation and the hops which left a nice overall dryness that reminded me a lot of their Apricot Wheat Ale. I also jumped on it because it is clearly a very seasonal brew not to be found for long (80 points). Next up was Micro-Brasserie L’Alchimiste’s “Eisbock,” a very strong (9.4%) brew with a ton of malty caramel, toffee, and a whole lot of flavour – creamy, yes, but it was a tough slog to finish. The alcohol was far from hidden and I haven’t felt as embattled by a beer since Fin du Monde. A sipping beer if ever there was one (79 points). I then had Gainsbourg’s “La Noble,” a deep dark stout with some of the most unusual flavours I’ve encountered in a beer: chocolate, a bunch of anise (the labeled absinthe), and some combination of herbs and roots that gave it it a discernable (and very delicious) root-beer flavour. This is a courageous and very compelling winter beers (88 points). Finally, with the beer and the crowds getting the better of us, I concluded the night with an extra large pour of La Vache Folle – Milk Stout from the Microbrasserie Charlevoix. This certainly fit the adage of saving best for last and it was also Brent’s favourite of the night. This Imperial (American Double) Stout is amazing and at 9%, it puts L’Alchimiste’s to serious shame for its inability to hide that much alcohol. Nice roasted flavours and some definite coffee, but what really shines is the easy tasting creaminess (hence the reason they named it thus?) that made this infinitely smooth and drinkable. Especially with the low carbonation, this beer just kept washing down and down. This is one I’ll have to buy en bouteille soon and do a full review of it because, at the end of a night of many other beers, it still stood head and shoulders tall (91 points).
All in all, a great night, some very good food, some great beers, a funky festival, and great friends. Can’t wait to do it again.