Recently, I drew surprise from a member of the Québec gastronomie scene when I mentioned that I had excitedly flocked not once; but – gasp! – twice to Brasserie Artisanale Dieu du Ciel up on Le Plateau in Montréal on my four day jam-packed trip to the city.
It was a frigid weekend, with temperatures bottoming out below -25C and though admittedly I was staying close to the brewpub – at the flat of a friend in her final semester of National Theatre School – I would have trudged happily up Mt Royal itself to visit the home of brews that are becoming legendary in Toronto’s beer nerd community – and beyond.
Launched in Ontario and the LCBO through multiple events this past September, the Dieu du Ciel family and their local representatives ( @hmhnegotiants / Bar Volo ) made their presence known just prior to Toronto Beer Week. I attended a tasting at Frank Restaurant located within the Art Gallery of Ontario; and a portion of the pub crawl where their standard-bearer Péché Mortel (a 9.5% Espresso Imperial Stout) was quite literally running out of the taps all night to the frenzy of patrons. The camaraderie of those in attendance – and quality of the product – was love at first sip for me – and I immediately resolved to make the pilgrimage to the brewpub next time I was in Montréal.
So, there was no question when I arrived in the city just before midnight where I would be having my first libation; and within an hour I found myself leading three others down avenue Laurier Ouest on foot in a quest that was far more than personal.
It wasn’t just the presence of an equally anxious Toronto bartender pal that was with me, or the random friend-of-a-friend from Ottawa that was thrilled to be part of the search for this ‘Beer Mecca’ of Montreal that kept my adrenaline pumping as we caught sight of our destination.
In the weeks previous I had been chatting with virtually everyone in Ontario that would listen about this intended Québec beer
pilgrimage – and with astonishing results. Some folks wanted me to write down directions (even though I had not been there yet); some asked that I list Dieu du Ciel beers that could be purchased in our province; others still were sparked to debate nationwide import and availability issues – and then there were the texts, Tweets and Facebook comments! And I carried the weight of this invisible pressure as I pulled open the glass door and stepped inside just after 01:00hrs.
The room was dark; but packed with intimate tables of friends and the odd couple. The music was not particularly noticeable because the swirl of conversation provided the atmosphere. Good sign. We walked to the bar and noticed to the right large glass windows that displayed the tanks where the joyous liquid was prepared. In front, a row – almost the length of the entire bar – of unmarked small black handles signaled the vast selection of the evening; while two huge chalkboards hung – at the entrance and on the back wall – listing the varied fare with spaces created only when a keg ran out. We took a table and began to order half pints. However, serious debate and evaluation was quickly eroded by giddy excitement and mild intoxication; not to mention a personal lesson in craft beer for the Ottawa visitor.
It seemed only right, then, 48 hours later to return for a more throughout examination of place and product while the Montréal weather agreed; deeming it necessary to warm up in the late afternoon when ‘Bartender Steph’ and I found ourselves with a few hours of freedom.
Equally as busy as the Friday, we sat at the bar and this time noticed the shelves behind decorated with empty Belgian Trappist bottles from the likes of our favourites: Rochefort, Westmalle and Chimay; and a larger than life Orval glass! The staff, almost entirely male, entertained and explained – but above all demonstrated a key passion for their product and positions – as one, Kevin, insisted with access to such a rotating variety no single style of beer could be his true favourite – and we agreed.
Further demonstrating success – and leading to Steph’s declaration that she desired to move into the apartment above the brewpub directly – we ordered and received the house cheese plate, served with warm bread, olives, dried fruit, and nuts at a cost of $11.50. I cannot tell you where in Ontario you can get four varieties of cheese of respectable weights – most of local origin – and with their accompaniments for under $16-25?!
Finally, and most importantly, between our two visits we experimented with a much larger portion of Dieu du Ciel’s portfolio than we have access to in Ontario – even from their associates at Bar Volo. The ‘Penombre’ Black IPA 6% was hoppy and bitter, yet with an easy-drinking richness; the balance of flavour in the ‘Caserne’ Smoked Weizen 5% was remarkable; the caramel/floral notes of ‘Mea Culpa’ India Cream Ale cask 5.8% (a hybrid of Irish cream and IPA styles) were luxurious; and the ‘6e Soir’ 7.8% Imperial Pilsner made a believer out of this Belgian lover. And though some, like the ‘Premiere Neige’ Anise and Nutmeg Wit 5.5% were not our favourites – there are flavours here for every beer drinkers’ palate – changing almost daily.
The capacity of this small brewpub – with one other location in Québec (St-Jérôme) – to produce a wide variety of styles, and craft them with such success is more than worth our applause and appreciation. However, it is the execution of the pub itself and the environment sustained there that fosters their passion allowing visitors like myself to surprise local industry insiders with my affections and praise, while returning home to Ontario with a knowing smile, and triumphant craft beer tales to tell those who await.
Some of our favs, though we haven’t had them all…yet:
- Solstice d’hiver, 9% Barley Wine
- Mea Culpa, cask 5.8%, India Cream Ale
- Équinoxe du Printemps, 8% Maple Scotch Ale
- Péché Mortel, 9.5% Imperial Espresso Stout
- Aphrodisiaque, 5% Cocoa-Vanilla Stout
- Dernière Volonte, 6.5% Abbey Blond
- Corne du Diable, 6.5% American IPA
- Rigor Mortis, 10.5% ABT Quad
Dieu du Ciel’s: Online Beer Portfolio
See how many are from Dieu du Ciel: 2011 Best Beers of Canada