Monday, August 27, 2012

Beer O'Clock: Cross-Border Shopping... Sort Of

I love living on the border of Ontario and Québec: not only do I have exposure to Canada's two official languages, I get to sample beer from both sides. And because I live in Ontario but work in Québec, I cross the border several times each week.

Both Ontario and La belle province have a thriving beer industry, as was evidenced at last weekend's Craft Beer Week festival. While the majority of the breweries that attended the nine-day event were from Ontario, one brewery is based in Montréal: McAuslan.

I've been drinking McAuslan's beer for years. Their St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout is my all-time favourite stout. I love the smokey flavour and hints of dark chocolate intertwined. It's not a creamy, smooth-drinking stout, but I'm not known for consuming easy-drinking beer. I love that in-your-face flavour. I guess that's why I also love the smokey, peatiness of a good Islay single-malt scotch (FYI: Laphroaig and St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout are an excellent combination).

When I saw the McAuslan tent at the beer festival, I went straight up to it, said hello to their lovely rep, Hollisha Francis, and was quick to let her know of my love for her company's dark ale. She, in return, poured me a sample to enjoy while we chatted.

McAuslan had three taps on offer at the festival: the oatmeal stout and their pale ale (which I've had once before: it's a nice, easy-drinking, medium-bodied ale. I've already told you I prefer more flavour in my beer, so it should be no surprise that I haven't gone back for more), but I saw a green tap that I didn't recognize.

"I didn't know you made an IPA," I said, showing a keen interest.

"It's a seasonal," Hollisha informed me. With my stout finished, I was eager to try the IPA.

And as soon as I had it, I wanted more. Much more. I asked her where I could obtain some for my personal collection. Sadly, Hollisha dashed my hopes, saying it wasn't at the LCBO, that it would only be available on tap at select pubs. The only one she knew of in the Ottawa area was the Arrow & Loon.

I love the Arrow & Loon, but unfortunately I don't get out to it very often. Not nearly often enough to take advantage of a seasonal.

Fortunately, for me, I don't give up easily. Especially, since I live on the border with Québec. Sure, it wasn't available at the LCBO, but maybe a dépanneur would have it*.

Not only did I find the St-Ambroise IPA in a Gatineau store (McAuslan's Web site shows who carries their beer), it was an awesome store, and it was only a two-minute drive from my office.

La trappe à fromage (The Cheese Trap) is a gorgeous épicerie that offers (obviously) cheeses of every ilk plus deli meats, specialty jams, jellies, and spreads, and more. And it has a great beer selection.

It's beer heaven. There are lots of microbreweries: from Unibroue to Gatineau's microbrewery, BDT. There were labels that I didn't recognize but am eager to try. And I found McAuslan's IPA.

So I cleared the store out of their supply.

Here is the low-down on this ale.
St-Ambroise India Pale Ale
Brasserie McAuslan
Montréal, QC
La trappe à fromage: $9.99, 4 x 341 ml; 6.2% ABV
Made with pale, Crystal, and Munich malts, and with both Willamette and Golding hops, this is a traditional English IPA. The colour is a brilliant copper-amber; the head, a white foam that dissipates shortly after the pour. The nose is aromatic: I could sit and breathe the fresh citrus bouquet all day, but I really wanted to get to the drinking part.

On the palate, you are hit immediately with intense hops, but the flavour of bold, fresh orange and spice almost instantly washes the tannin-like taste away in a clean, short finish. I was reminded of a cold orange pekoe tea as I drank. This IPA is immensely refreshing. The flavour hits you, goes away, and has you craving more.

St-Ambroise IPA may very well be the best IPA I've ever had. There is a nice balance between the flavours and alcohol. Though it is a strong beer, it doesn't drink like one.

I'm hoping that even though this beer is a seasonal that it sticks around for a while. And I hope that La trappe à fromage gets more.

But if you want to get some, you'd better act fast: as I said, I'm only a two-minute drive from one of Gatineau's two locations. Maybe you'd be best to try the Arrow & Loon.

* I know, I know. It's currently unlawful to transport alcohol over provincial borders. But the law will be changing soon and I'm counting on the belief that authorities have bigger fish to fry. So shh... 

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