This weekend is the tail end of the 20th annual Festival Mondiale de la Biere at the Palais des Congres in old town. You wouldn’t expect a convention centre to look the part dressed up as a bar, but the fest is much more than that.
The Salle Viger is full of tents and mini bars and the plastic picnic tables and every hand is dotted with tiny glasses of amber samplings of a wide range of domestic and international beers. This might be the only hall the Palais has with windows which – if you’re familiar with conventions like this - you’ll know adds a much nicer ambience. There’s even live music tucked off to the side so you can head bob to it but still hear your friends lapse poetic about their Heinekens.
All your favourite brands have stations in and among many more smaller, independent breweries from Canada and Germany and Brazil and countries you’d never guessed had specialty beers. We nursed the best that Beau’s Beer, a family-run brewery based in Niagra, ON, had to offer; a gorgeous, smooth dark beer made from coffee, the light delight of their l’Oiseau de la Nuit which is even made from pumpkin. The charming Eric was dishing out the Dixie cups behind Beau’s booth and told us how he actually studies the art of the hour at Canada’s only certifying brewing school and is already working his way into Beau’s factory.
The festival also offers a healthy selection of Quebec’s 100+ cheeses, and the smell of hot juicy sausage hasn’t hung in the air of the Palais quite like this since Montreal Fetish Weekend.
And the party isn’t merely limited to the grey, neon-lit vault of the Salle Viger. Outside the convention centre is a terrace that the FMBM has completely taken over. La Cheval Blanc has their tent set up under the trees and is serving up a beautiful blonde babe of a beer aptly called Double Bonheur that truly deserves to be enjoyed out in the sun. There’s Brazilian beer with five or six sassy names and cool label designs served across from that, and then there’s a little grove of trees you can totally hang on to your drinks in. The grove is flanked by the beer stands on one side, while on the other side are the snack booths!! Sausage, Frite Alors, sandwiches. We even saw a few of our prodigal son street food vending trucks - which deserve their own festival, imho.
This is a pretty perfect demonstration of the city’s more European culture. The ambience is alive and casual, buzzing with a collective…well, buzz! While at the same time, the, uh, “fun-sized” glasses keep any real need for security at a comfy low, if you can believe it. While the Tam Tams, par example, have a long way to go before they culture into anything like Berlin’s famous biergartens (literally: beer gardens), the festival stands to prove there’s a zeitgeist of tasteful drinking budding along with the hops. The Festival Mondial de la Biere will inspire the fancy, French, wine-tasting connoisseur in even a champion keg chugger.
It’ll be going on til Sunday, eleven til ten. Most beers go for 2 to 6 tickety-coupon-thingies, and each tickety-coupon-thing is a only a dollar! Come and glean some culture and find yourself a new favourite brew for the summer. Cheers!