Strange Brews

By / Wine + Drinks / November 23rd, 2007 / 7

“No really. We’ll taste one more thing. Do we have time? There’s this lemon beer I think you should try.”

I couldn’t believe my ears but it was true. Someone had made a beer with lemon essence and the Pavlovian reaction had caught up to me. I needed to try it out.

Microbrewers are really something. Their sense of adventure is overwhelmingly true-north-strong-and-free. Not only are these nuts crazy enough to go up against the big guys, they are doing it with a strange mix of brewing chutzpah, unusual wheat and hops, no preservatives and pasteurization to kill the taste, and a true Canadian love of beer. The Mackenzie brothers would be proud.

It’s not exactly a new trend. They can be found everywhere. Almost every major city has at least one microbrew or brewpub — from relaxed to ultra-chic. Some micros have even been making the headlines. It’s not too long ago that Creemore was snatched up by Molson while number-three Sleeman took over La Maudite’s Unibroue. The word is out and the dollars are coming out.

In light of the changing climate, some producers are sticking to their guns — making out-of-the-ordinary beer. Russell Brewing Company is no exception. Founded in 1995 by brew master Mark Russell, they’ve become the darling of Surrey, BC. The product line might not sound that stellar — cream ale, pale ale, honey blonde, extra special lager — but it is the lemon ale that really made me pucker up and salivate.

I never would have thought it would work. The lemon ale just blew me away. It was light, tangy and crisp without being too citrusy. The perfect outdoor beer for the waning summer months. The key is the wheat. It offers a lighter base for the lemon essence to sit on. Clean and refreshing.

I also went on to taste the Russell Cream Ale. Not like the usual offerings, it seems that the west side brews it different. It was a lot darker than what I am used to seeing in the east. Being slightly more full-bodied than usual, it had only a slight hoppyness (is that even a word) and a kind of creamy nuttiness (now that’s a word) that filled your mouth. It is the blend of specialty malts from Scotland that does the trick.

With more brewpubs per capita that anywhere else in Canada, Quebec has some of the most off-the-wall brew masters around. After all it is the birthplace of Cheval Blanc, Boreale and of course Unibroue — the most interesting micro success story to date. It just so happens that a bit down the road, in the off-beat town of Chambly, is a small place called Bedondaine & Bedons Ronds. The definition of small and quaint, it is a museum to beer — it literally holds thousands of bottles.

The story is typical — well maybe not. Brew master Nicolas “Bedondaine” Bourgault was looking for a place to create his strange brews. He found an old garage and started to work. He has now added a kitchen and a unique mix of beers.

From the blonde, malty la Bedaine to the Hefe Weizen-style l’Ange-Gardien (oddly enough with a touch of banana and hoppy flavours) to the coffee-nosed le Bedon, it was the Ensorceleuse which bewitched me. Rich in texture, with deep notes of hops, honey, nutmeg and coriander, the brew made a mark. Two pints in I completely forgot I ordered food. It was starting to look like it was going to be a liquid lunch. I was not about to insult my stomach with a bratwurst sandwich.

While it is almost impossible to detail all that is happening in the garages and minds of brew masters all around, one thing will always be true. Canada remains the best place to draught a pint. “How’s it goin’, eh?”


Aldo Parise is the publisher of Quench Magazine. After running 4 magazines, including Riot and men's magazine Under Pressure, he's settled nicely into his role as top drinker and food yummer guy. You can see him in the pages of Quench, Food and Drink Magazine.

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