February 10, 2014

Festibiere d'hiver

Quebec beers are some of the top in the world. The brewers are a decade ahead of Ontario in terms of experimenting and reputation.

I was excited to attend a winter festival that highlighted Quebec beers. The list of breweries and venue had me looking forward to a fun evening.

Upon arrival at the Museum of History I was struck immediately with the beautiful venue and the extremely loud music.  Standing at the top where we turned in our tickets, received our bracelet and bought our sample tickets, the music resounded from the floor below us.

The hall was set up with booths, a cask area, food tables and ticket tables.  Immediately, as I rode the escalator down it was apparent that moving from booth to booth was going to be difficult. The line ups extended and intermingled with each other as well as with the booths across the hall making it difficult to move through.

Upon scanning the sample costs it was easy to see that I was going to need more tickets and that my sheet of 20 tickets for $10 was not going to go far. The first thing to do with that sort of limitation is walk around, note the beers I wanted to try, their costs and see what my budget would account for.

First stop was the cask table where by 7:00 pm (the festival started at 5:00 pm) they still had not tapped any of the casks. The selection was impressive though and I was sure my tickets would be well spent there. Asking the volunteer if they knew when tapping might occur just led to apologies and "I don't know."

As the music blared out its club like bass beat and using hand signals to show that we were moving on we checked out the rest of the set up.

Outside there was a lovely fire and booth which served up a hot beer. Interesting and well worth the trip into the cold.

Inside once more we began our sampling, slowly making our way up the various lines to get the samples and ask questions. It became immediately apparent that everyone working the booths were volunteering and could not tell you about the beers they served.

As the evening went on the crowd grew larger making it very difficult to move around the hall. Communication was borderline impossible.  By 8:30 pm we made our trek back to the cask booth. Once there it was disappointing to find out that they were only tapping two kegs at a time.  It meant that if there was one in particular we wanted we would have to wait it out.

After 11 samples and running out of tickets, unwilling to buy more or wait until 2 am in hopes of getting the casks we wanted, we left the event.

Overall impressions? Well I won't go again but I am glad I went to experience it just once. It is a great way to experience Quebec craft beer if you have never had the opportunity before.  Be prepared for a large crowd and loud music. There are volunteers at the booths, not brewery people, so don't expect them to be able to answer your questions or tell you anything about the beer. Go with the understanding that you will have to pick and choose what you want to try based on your budget, same goes for the food.  Ideally if crowds don't bother you and you can be patient waiting in line as well as have the budget for it go both nights. It is about the only way that you can get a chance to sample everything you might want to try.

I was impressed by the selection, disappointed with how the casks were done as well as how much of my time was spent working my way through the crowd.

My enjoyment of the venue and selection was overshadowed by the feeling of being in a nightclub that just happened to serve really good beer.