“I have to keep coming back to Montreal to renew my neurotic affiliations.”
– Leonard Cohen
I was crazy enough to go to Montreal on the coldest days of the winter so far. It wasn’t cold enough in New Jersey, so I chose to head somewhere even colder. Fortunately, I found beer along the way.
Other than watching the New Year’s Eve fireworks, my goal for the few days in Montreal was to eat and drink. My previous visit to the city didn’t include much drinking–I searched for bars in the wrong neighborhood on that trip. This time around I had a list of brewpubs and bars to check out. Of course, most of them were closed New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Most of the beer I had in Montreal was a bit disappointing. I found much of it to be a rather light on flavor–more malty than hoppy in most cases. There was also a lack of stouts and porters for frigid weather (maybe I should’ve switched to whiskey).
Priorities in Montreal
I began my Canadian beer adventure at La Cage because it had the Penn State bowl game on and it was near my hotel. I arrived a bit too late to go searching for a decent sports bar, and at least this gave me a sense of my immediate vicinity.
At La Cage, I tried Archibald Microbrasserie’s Groupie and Unibroue A Tout Le Monde. There wasn’t much on the menu that I hadn’t had or that wasn’t a lager. Groupie was a bit of a malty pale ale and A Tout Le Monde was a very light saison. I wouldn’t recommend either.
At halftime I headed to Champs on St. Laurent Blvd. because someone on Reddit had recommended it. Why? I really don’t know. This is a dive bar and it had no redeeming qualities other than the Penn State game. I ordered St. Ambroise IPA and Griffon Red Ale, both from Brasserie McAuslan. Neither beer was impressive and the IPA was a bit soapy.
Fortunately, this bar wasn’t far from the better establishments of Montreal. The first stop was at Brasserie Dieu du Ciel! This brew pub is highly recommended and worth visiting. If I had arrived any later, I probably would not have gotten a seat at the small bar. As it was, all the tables were full.
Finally, I had found the beer I wanted. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of leaving for other options instead of getting one more before freezing my butt off on the walk back. This bar has it all–great ambiance, nice crowd, and a great selection of beer.
I began with Chemin de Croix, which is a smoky, smooth porter. This was perfect for the extra-cold holiday weekend. And at 6.3%, it wasn’t going to make me fall off the barstool. Of course, I still ordered some food because I had only eaten a late lunch at La Cage.
I decided to go light after that rich porter–I wanted to be able to stay out and try more beer since most of the best bars would be closed on New Year’s Eve and Day. I ordered the Décibel session IPA. I chose poorly as they had a few more stronger dark beers, but I was in the mood for a decent IPA and this fit the bill.
As I wandered halfway down St. Laurent toward my hotel, I peeked into a few bars. There were far too many with doormen and cover charges. This was not the atmosphere I wanted for a final drink or two to end the evening. Of course, checking out these bars before being asked for the cover meant that I could absorb a moment of warmth before walking on.
That’s when I came across Ye Olde Orchard Pub–a friendly Irish pub that gave me more than just a moment of warmth. The only beer they had that I hadn’t already tried that day was Archibald’s Le Infidéles, which is a pilsner but tastes a bit more like a sweet and light IPA. Considering I don’t particularly enjoy pilsners, this was a decent choice.
For some reason, I headed to Benelux for a final beer before going to sleep at the hotel. It wasn’t far from the hotel and I knew it’d be closed the next two days. It was nearly empty when I arrived and it brought on a bit of déjà vu as I’m fairly sure I had a drink there years ago on my first visit to Montreal. I could be wrong, but it sure felt familiar. I ordered the Topaz IPA, which was a bit earthy yet sweet with mellow hoppiness. Of course, at this point in the evening, it probably didn’t matter what I ordered.
Finding Beer on New Year’s Eve
The next day was better than expected. I wandered the quiet streets of Old Montreal during the day and stopped in the Contemporary Art Museum for a exhibition on Leonard Cohen. It was frigid outside, but at least it was sunny.
As dinner time approached, I headed back toward the Latin Quarter along St. Denis in search of a restaurant. I found another bar instead. Saint-Houblon is a quaint gastropub with a great beer selection and interesting menu. I found the best beer here and probably should’ve stayed for a second.
I ordered a Simple Malt Stout–it was a local brew that the server couldn’t quite explain (it took a long time to figure out the brewery). It had a roasted aroma with a hint of chocolate. It was smooth and a little sweet up front with the roasted flavor coming at the back.
That beer paired well with my order of roasted Brussels sprouts with bleu cheese, pumpkin seeds, apple, and chunks of thick-cut bacon drizzled with honey. This dish had everything–a little bitter, sweet, salty, savory, and crunchy all at once. It was the most interesting item on the menu and made for a wonderful starter to the evening.
I felt like I need to move around a bit before drinking more, so I headed back out into the streets of what I assume to be Pluto based on the temperature.
It was too cold and ducked inside 3 Brasseurs, a local brewpub chain to warm up with a beer. They even served 10 oz beers, which is great for drinking a bit more variety. The bartender gave me a couple tastes and settled on Dorchester, which is a ginger beer of sorts–it has some interesting spices in brew that I couldn’t single out. It was a worthwhile seasonal beer, but I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed more than one.
After departing 3 Brasseurs, I found Le Moose Garden. How could I not go into such a Canadian bar? It’s relatively new with a modern rustic design. Unfortunately, it was also empty. But the bartender was friendly and offered some suggestions for freezing my butt off for the fireworks.
Of course, I had forgotten my pocket warmers in my room (how is that even possible when it’s -9°F?). Rather than walk in the opposite direction of the fireworks later in the evening, I rested a bit in my room before heading out to Old Montreal. I attempted to get in a bar near the festivities, but it was too crowded, so I hung out by the door to warm up for a few minutes.
There was certainly more that I missed out on during my trip, mostly because so many bars and restaurants are closed for the holiday. It gives me a reason to drive up again when the weather is warmer.