Montreal is known for many things. And let’s face it, most of those things are what we would classify as “vice”. Sure, there’s the fascinating history, the rich and robust Quebecois culture and the many fine scholastic institutions.
But really, why do most people come to Montreal?
From hockey, to comedy, to strip clubs (let’s just admit it and move on, folks), to fine food and drink, there is a ton of exciting attractions in la Belle Province’s finest city. The list is endless.
And that’s the problem: the list really is endless. Bewildering, even.
For instance, did you know that there are 18 microbreweries in Montreal? Which one is the best? Which one has the tastiest beer? The best service? The finest – as the french say – “ambiance”.
Well I’m glad you asked. Because, brother, I got nothing to say about the strip clubs.
I spent the past year sampling many of these fine establishments, and after much arduous research and countless hours buried in my work, I determined that Montreal has three absolutely fantastic microbreweries – Benelux, Dieu du Ciel and Reservoir.
In the spirit of responsible journalism, I put these top notch establishments through the wringer. Along with my esteemed colleagues, Roland Lindala-Haumont and Steve Boudreau, we graded each pub in a variety of categories.
Most importantly, the beer. We tried stouts, blondes and India pale ales (IPAs).
The layout and atmosphere of each bar was put to the test along with the service.
Warning: Neither Roland, Steve or I have any training whatsoever in beer tasting other than the fact that we are notorious bar snobs.
First on the docket…
Reservoir – the corner Duluth and St. Laurent
The fellahs and I showed up at 2pm and the place as packed. The crowd still seemed to be eating breakfast. A good sign of a fun clientele that is clearly too busy being hung over to eat breakfast at a normal time of day.
The variety of beers was less than overwhelming and the server didn’t seem too knowledgeable about her product, but then again, when a bar is packed, it’s tough to spend time with a client.
We decided to try the “Oatmeal Stout”. Steve and I hadn’t yet eaten breakfast, so it seemed like a good choice.
Steve: “Goddamn that’s RICH”.
Chris: “Pretty damn good, but I’m not feeling it today. I think it suffers given that it’s a bit of a warm, springy day. Good, but not ideal for the weather.”
Roland: Said something about “good head”.
Overall average score: 3.25/5
The blonde “Pilsner” came next. A somewhat bland experience compared to the stout, but it did what it’s supposed to do.
Roland: “It’s a summer beer. Clean, fresh taste. But not much else.”
Chris: “It’s good for what it is”.
Steve: “My favorite so far.”
Average overall score: 3/5
When we tried the IPA, Roland and I found out that Steve has a less than able tongue when it comes to bitter beers.
Steve: “God, it tastes like bad breath.”
Roland: “I really like this. It’s crisp, it tingles in your mouth. Does everything that it’s supposed to do.”
Chris: “Aromatic, a little fruity. Definitely the best beer in this bar.”
Average overal score: 4/5
Reservoir’s overall performance: We caught the bar at a busy time, but that didn’t hinder the overall experience. It’s a great place overall, and even better at night.
Dieu du Ciel – Laurier and Clark
A fantastic little bar, located smack dab in the middle of the hipster’s paradise: Mile End and the Plateau. In an earlier meeting, I sat down with master brewer, Luc Lafontaine. He talked me through a couple of beers and spent some time chatting about the bar’s history and Montreal brewpub culture (more on that in the podcast, down below).
But not today. Another busy bar, but the waitress was well versed in her knowledge of the menu. Impressive, considering the menu changes month to month, depending on what Mr. Lafontaine is cooking up.
The blonde “Paillenne” is generally the most consumed blonde beer of Dieu du Ciel, so that’s the one we went for. There’s a “slutty blond” joke in here somewhere, but I’m not gonna say it.
Chris: “A bit dull, not as crisp as I’d like it.”
Roland: ”I think it’s popular because of the inexperienced folks that come in here. Just doesn’t offer up what I’m looking for.”
Steve: “It’s like a slightly chubby girl. I definitely wouldn’t say no, but it’s not something to brag about.”
Overall average score: 3/5
The “American IPA” was up next. Steve was a bit more lubricated and much more willing to try a beer that he wouldn’t normally drink. Would he be disappointed?
Steve: “Even worse than the other IPA. I don’t know how you guys can stand the after taste.”
Chris: “Very bitter, not what I’ve come to expect from an IPA – I miss the fruitiness.”
Roland: “Seems a little heavy on the hops and the alcohol.
Overall average score: 2.75/5
Feeling a bit droopy, we opted for the Coffee Stout. A fantastic beer, it’s highly acclaimed, winning Dieu du Ciel some awards in the past.
Roland: “Perfect. Rich and complex. My favorite beer of the day.”
Steve: “I expected to be overwhelmed, but it goes down really smooth. Tastes like chocolate!”
Chris: “Holy crap, this it’s 11% alcohol?!”
Overall score: 4.75/5
Dieu du Ciel’s overall performance: This is a great little bar. Not a lot of space, but it doesn’t matter. The staff is fantastic and you never know what’s going to be on the menu. The rest of the menu items are worth a sampling too.
Score: 4/5 The coffee stout went a long, long way. So does server knowledge.
Benelux - Sherbrooke and Jeanne-Mance
First off, if you ever go to Benelux, strike up a conversation with the owner, Benoit Mercier. An extremely friendly and passionate man, he takes his beer and his bar very seriously. Also, you will most undoubtedly find yourself with a few free samples of his finest ales and stouts. Now that’s service.
Benelux’s building used to be occupied by a bank, and the restaurant has taken on some of the space’s old feel. At the back of the bar is a semi-private room, which is actually an old vault. Plus one for ambiance. The high ceiling makes it the largest bar of the day, and was a welcome change to the small spaces we visited before.
We decided to get the IPA – “The Cuda” – out of the way first. We didn’t think a third time would be the charm for Steve. Until…
Steve: “Now there we go. Pleasantly surprised! That aftertaste is gone… Or maybe I’m still tasting the Coffee Stout?”
Roland: “No, this is a definite MOUTH-GASM.”
Chris: “Very strong. Equally bitter and sweet. I love it!”
Overall average score: 4.5/5
Encouraged by what we just drank, we decided to move on to “The Marge” – a stout. There couldn’t have been more of a disparity.
Chris: “Well this just isn’t good. It’s dark, but not much else. Where’s the richness?”
Steve: “It’s ok. I still look like a man when I drink it.”
Overall average score: 2.5/5
We drank a couple more IPA’s before moving on to “The Cigogne”. A nice little blonde pilsner, it benefitted from what was clearly three tipsy young lads.
Roland: “Positive. Look at that carbonation!”
Steve: “The bubbles are the best part.”
Chris: “I am having a FANTASTIC time right now.”
Overall average score: 4/5
Benelux really is a fantastic bar, and it gets the highest rating. Despite “The Marge”, everything else was great. Everyone really does a great job of making you feel welcome and because of the wide open layout, it wins over Reservoir and Dieu du Ciel. But not by much.
Overall score: 4/5
Check out the visual proof of my journey in the picture slide below.
As mentioned earlier, I sat down with Luc Lafontaine to talk about Montreal beer culture. He, along with Benoit Mercier and Dr. Kai Lamertz – a Concordia University Professor – shared some vital insight into what makes Montreal’s brew-pubs so great.