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Monday, March 28, 2011

Family Fun in old Quebec

I'll admit, I left you hanging after talking about the times Thomas and I had in Montreal. Let's get caught up.

The next morning I woke up about 8:15 (very comfortable bed, quiet room), puttered about a bit, and checked my email -- holy crap, I had a response on my request for a tour at Unibroue! How soon could I be there? Quick think: raining, major metro area at rush hour (but going opposite to traffic), get Thomas up and packed...10 AM! We quickly threw things together, we'd already paid for the room; grabbed a croissant and a banana from the breakfast area, stuffed everything in the Jetta (thankful for that great parking spot!), and took off for Chambly. Gray, wet weather, and grunting-slow traffic, but the GPS took us directly to the brewery, and shortly we were in the capable hands of master brewer Jerry Vietz (portrait of whom you see pouring us samples of Raftman).
I'll give you the short version, since I'll be selling this story elsewhere: they are obsessed with quality and consistency. We washed our shoes, there were a number of areas where we could only look in through windows, no admittance (micro lab, open fermenters). They're doing a lot of lager brewing for Sleeman (Sleeman bought Unibroue, and was shortly thereafter bought by Sapporo), but Jerry intimated that the plan was to heavily ramp up sales and production of Unibroue, to the point where the whole plant would be dedicated to the refermented ales of Unibroue.

And we drank. The Raftman was delish: much more smoke in the nose than in the palate (Jerry also gave me a fresh-bottled Raftman: keep it warm, he warned me, and so we took it in the hotel every night). We tried the Blonde as well, and it was wonderful, flowery, spicy, lively. He loaded us down with samples: Ephemere, Blonde, Eau Benite, Maudite, a big three year old magnum of Maudite, a special brewery-only Christmas beer, and a sixpack of 1837, a Quebec-release strong ale that I'm looking forward to trying. Great time, great tour: Thomas was impressed and interested on a scientific level (as was I: Vietz is juggling several major projects with skill and aplomb). And...we took off for Quebec City.
 We stopped for lunch in Trois-Rivières along the way, at a brewpub the GPS happened to come up with: Gambrinus. I had to start with coffee; I was kind of dozey. But then it was time for beer; I had a stout. It was good with my smoked meat sandwich (also good), and the place had a nice feel to it. Worth a repeat, if we're in the area.

Onward! We rolled on down the St. Lawrence (largely frozen, and awesomely large), and came to Quebec City. The outer, modern city reminded me oddly of Pittsburgh. We stayed on the edge of the old city in a very nice Best Western (hello, Priceline), with a school group full of tarted up little hotties...yeah, whatever, get out of the way, we're going sightseeing!

We headed up the hill to the Citadelle, hoping to get some view of the city, but it was misty, rainy, and...we were too late in the day. On top of's an active Canadian Defence site! Who knew? We were braced at the door, told there was no admittance. Well...okay! We walked back to the Jetta, and drove into the walled part of the old city. We got up to the point, and there was a Red Bull Crashed Ice track! They were running a race that weekend...which would have been fun, but as it was, it just kind of screwed up the parking. We drove around some more, and finally stuck the Jetta in an underground lot, and went walking. We went in a medieval store (I got Cathy silver and amber earrings, Thomas looked at swords), a clothing store, didn't go in the Hello Kitty store (well, it was closed, what are you going to do), and I finally said, look, we have to get a drink!

And this is where we wound up, at the St. Alexandre Pub, where they had an astounding selection of bottled beer -- huge Belgian selection -- and good taps too. I got a St. Ambroise stout (predictable, but it was so good fresh), Thomas took my advice and got a Guinness/Smithwick's black and tan. He'd never had, and that was a good intro. He liked it. We were starting to get peckish, though, and didn't necessarily want to eat here. I pulled out the Frommer's, and we saw that one of their recommended places was a short walk from there: Ristorante il Teatro.

We had a good time, and an excellent repast: a Tuscan (meaty!) antipasto, a funghi risotto for me, and smoked duck ravioli for him. Delish, and really not a bad price. Afterwards...well, we walked back to the car (along which walk I took the picture of Thomas to the left here, hunched against the damp cold, and looking downright European), drove back to the hotel and stashed the car, and fell asleep in quite short order. We'd walked quite a bit, and it had been a short night.

The next morning, Thomas was still dozey, so I got up, showered, got dressed, and walked about two blocks to a bakery, La Boîte à Pain. The girl behind the counter spoke no English, so we smiled, pointed, and nodded: I picked out two loaves to take home, a spinach and feta roll, and a chocolate croissant (for Thomas). And I left my wallet at the room! Crap. I finally got it across to her, and promised to be back. Ran to the hotel, got the wallet, ran back, and collected my breadstuffs. And that spinach thang was good!
Anyway, we left town and drove on through flat open (wet!) country, but the day eventually cleared up, although it was still pretty damned flat! I was thinking about how to spend my Canadian money, when I saw a sign for a Fromagerie. Cool! I got off the Autoroute, and THEN the sign admitted that the cheese place was 14 klicks north. Oh well, we weren't in a rush. See that picture with the Jetta? That's what it was, miles and miles of flat muddy fields, covered in snow. Impressive. We got some cheese curds and a big block of excellent 3 year old cheddar, and cross-countried to the border on two lane roads. Fun drive, and there were these big hills that reared up out of the flat, stark and sudden; all rather enjoyable, in a scenic sense. The border crossing was quite intrusive; apparently the guy was convinced that we were coming across at this tiny post because we had something to hide. All we were doing was driving down through the Champlain islands, but no big: we had nothing to hide. He finally opened the trunk and saw the beer, and things got downright jovial after that.

We rolled on down into Burlington and had lunch at the Vermont Pub & Brewery...which is about where I left you in the post from Burlington. That was about it for the trip. We drove home on Friday, and that was that. Good trip, good time with Thomas, and some great food and beer.

1 comment:

Gary Gillman said...

Good notes, Lew. The photo of the streetscape is atmospheric, it captures the 1600's-era architecture and feel of a cold Quebec evening. Some of the streets would not be out of place in parts of France, e.g., Normandy, Brittany, Lille and Paris. No surprise since the same people built them at the same time.

Raftman is one of the best beers Unibroue makes. 1837 is pretty good too, and the stout.

American author Jack Kerouac, who was of French Canadian ancestry, once visited Montreal and other towns on the St. Lawrence River and I think he called Montreal "northern gloomtown". It was, in its essence, no more so then than now, he was just describing an aspect of its exterior.