Famous museums, cathedrals and piles of rocks are certainly good reasons to travel, but some of the best motivations for hitting the road involve nothing more than sitting down with a good drink.
Microbreweries have been popping up all over Quebec, particularly in the province’s seafront areas. If you take the time to loop around Route 132 on a beer-focused road trip through Gaspésie and the Bas-Saint-Laurent, you’ll come across a love of craft beer that has grown exponentially in the last decade.
Why go: Located at the foot of a mountain on the Chaleur Bay’s calm waters, Le Naufrageur serves up history along with beers worth writing home about. Their name means “Shipwrecker” and it immortalizes a pirate who would make fires to attract ships to shore, which is why their 20-or-so brews are named after shipwrecks. You might feel like you’re having a pint in the pages of Moby Dick.
What to try: You’ll have a hard time choosing a shipwreck, so we suggest going with the sampler. They serve two versions on wooden pallets marked with the cardinal directions. You start north and make your way around, the beer getting darker as you go. If you’re looking for a single pint, the Corte-Real is a floral pale ale that’s nice and bitter, but still refreshing. For something funky, try the Brigantin, a red ale spiced with hot peppers.
Why go: If you’re heading to Gaspésie, odds are Percé will be on your list because it’s home to the famous, gigantic rock it gets its name from. The town has a touristy low-key Cape Cod vibe and an authentic brew pub in the old general store building.
What to try:
Pit Caribou really shines in the dark ale department. The Gaspésienne no. 13 is sure to make a porter lover’s heart beat hard; this chocolaty number won the 2013 Canadian Brewing Award. If dark-as-night beer isn’t your style, there’s the slightly lighter Bonne Aventure red ale that’s smooth and slightly hoppy.
Why go: Lots of 20-somethings make a stop near this Haute-Gaspésie town to stay at the beloved seaside youth hostel, the Auberge Sea Shack. If you decide to make it a stop on your itinerary, you might want a break from the guitar playing and young adult flirting. In that case, hit up this beer bar that opened in 2014 and serves their own concoctions, as well as those of other breweries.
What to try: Those who are passionate about rich Irish ales will meet their match. Le Malbord’s Rousse du Malbord is so dark that you could mistake it for a stout. Its chocolate and caramel notes also invite the comparison and make it a perfect pairing for their homemade dark chocolate jerky. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s a Belgian-style, hemp-based witbier that offers a crisp and floral refreshment.
Why go: When it comes to beer, the staff at La Fabrique in one of Gaspésie’s bigger towns is 100 percent pro. They talk about beer the same way others discuss wine, and they bring you water to cleanse your palate if you order the sampler. Grab a seat in the bright, airy space and go the whole nine yards by ordering fried pickles before listening to your waiter’s beer suggestions.
What to try: On a hot summer day, you probably want something refreshing, in which case the Republique is a good fit. This blonde ale is clean and crisp, but also sour with fruity notes. Offering more heft, IPAs are a point of pride here; try the Gros Char full of strong, spicy hops that make the beer almost skunky. If you’re lucky, they’ll be serving their pine IPA that can only be described as hops meets Christmas.
Why go: This Bas-Saint-Laurent brewpub has a dark, moody vibe and plays music you might want to get out of your seat for. Le Bien, le Malt could trick you into thinking you somehow stumbled into a Brooklyn bar with a woodsy feel and whole lot of beer.
What to try: What’s on tap changes seasonally, with the menu filtering (pun intended) through about 15 different types. However, their witbier—the Grand Sault—stays on the menu year-round and is one of the best of this type on the tour. It’s crisper than most white beers, making it a lighter version of the Belgian classic. For something darker to match the atmosphere, go for the bitter and hoppy Wilgeforte red ale.
Why go: Rivière-du-Loup is a charming town with a blend of nature, shops, food and now beer. This 3-year-old brewery is a part of the official Eastern Quebec beer tour and offers a sidewalk patio, terroir snacks and half a dozen quality brews.
What to try: Their name is a brewing pun on one of the area’s famous bird species, which tells us they’re serious about keeping it local. The standout here is the Hurluberlue red ale. It has a subtle honey taste that works well with the predominant roasted grain flavor and well-balanced hops. Those looking for something summery with oomph should try the very cloudy Bagatême Belgian-style white that’s full of sweet and spicy notes of ginger and coriander.
Why go: Located in a field and boasting a huge back patio that looks out onto the St-Lawrence Seaway, Tête d’Allumette (pictured at top) wins the Pretty Award. The barroom full of huge wooden sea-facing windows, and bathrooms that use comic strips as wallpaper don’t hurt either. They get their name that means “match head” from the fact that they use wood-burning fire to brew their beer in specially designed vats. The results are unsurprisingly delicious.
What to try: The clear winner here is the Apache, a red ale that’s incredibly smoky thanks to this brewery’s aforementioned techniques. It’s a complex beer with fruity accents hiding under the initial caramel taste. The mix of rich flavors ends on a peaty note, reminiscent of a hearty scotch. For something easier to drink, try their Paysanne saison flavored with local herbs and hints of pepper and honey.
Photo at top from Tête D’Allumette Microbrasserie
Caitlin Stall-Paquet is a Québécois writer who has has been nominated for the CBC Literary Awards, published in Matrix magazine and writes for the Montreal cultural blog Midnight Poutine.