In aperitif mode, on a terrace, in the park or in your yard, there are plenty of opportunities to quench your thirst – with or without alcohol – during the hot season. Here are some thirst-quenching and local novelties to try this summer.
A restaurateur by trade, Ethan Wills had dreamed of having his brewery for years. His cousin Alexander was open to the idea. Now the former co-owner of the small Lawrence/Larry’s group and the globe-trotting geochemist are finally ready to quench the thirst of beer drinkers in Quebec. The WILLS project, which includes a superb bar opened last summer, is now complete in Mile-Ex.
It is in a place very dear to Montrealers that Ethan and Alex have settled. The bar and its terrace are located in the former Alexandraplatz, a mecca of hipsterism from 2012 to 2019. If there is one address that is responsible for the current vitality of Mile-Ex, it is this inclusive space created by Bernadette Houde and Penny Pattison. In short, the “good vibrations” were already being felt there.
The WILLS brewery is adjacent, in a space that had seen its fair share of cheap brews, the Brasserie du Vieux-Montréal (BVM). Only the shell remains today, everything having been torn out, cleaned and completely refurbished.
The cousins did not skimp on the quality and capacity of their brewing equipment. Rather than start small as fledgling microbreweries often do, they invested early on in large tanks and good-sized fermenters to allow them to grow. A state-of-the-art computer system controls each stage of production with maniacal precision.
A former geochemist who has worked in the energy industry all over the world, Alex Wills is a meticulous man, expert in the art of making liquids travel through pipes! During the owner’s tour, he lingers over every piece of valuable equipment made in British Columbia by König Brewing Systems. It is the two brewers, Ryan Lewell (formerly at BreWskey) and Aurélien Eblé (Avant-Garde), who handle them. “We created the framework and now we let the artists express themselves,” Ethan Wills says of the dynamics of the company.
“A lot of the team is made up of people who have worked in the restaurant business,” says general manager Elen Eamon, formerly at Lawrence, Elena and Gia restaurants. “That’s kind of what sets us apart. »
Still, the basic product, beer, must also find its place. But how do you stand out, in 2023, as we swim in an ocean of Quebec microbrewery beers? By not standing out too much, perhaps? Rather than launching into experimental beers, WILLS wishes to bet on rigor and finesse, with balanced and easy-to-drink beers. These will be served on site, of course, but can also be taken away from the shop and drunk in other establishments.
“I believe that in the Quebec landscape of the moment, we gain by moving towards more precision, rather than more eccentricity,” says Ethan Wills. The Vermont beer lover had dabbled in brewing while still at the Lawrence. Ghost Farm, a fine IPA, was offered on the cask line of several highly rated Montreal establishments a few years ago.
The first cans and the first kegs produced in the beautiful new facilities of Mile-Ex are filled with a very harmonious hopped liquid, still in the IPA style for the most part. But we also tasted a very clean Pale Czech Lager, still in the tank.
This refinement is also reflected in the bar, which no longer has the industrial look of the Alexandraplatz era. It was designer Annika Krausz, spouse of Ethan Wills, who took care of giving it a makeover, with a beautiful circular bar in the center, round tables and arches to soften it. Not only beer is drunk in this versatile space, but also cocktails and carefully selected wine. To sustain itself, the Winneburger truck is faithful to the post, while waiting for the bar to develop its own culinary offer.
No alcohol ? No problem ! Fin Soda was created by two mixologists with a great track record including many of Montreal’s best bars and restaurants. Mélanie Aumais and Pierre-Hugues Marois wanted to create a series of non-alcoholic products complex enough to stand on their own.
The high-end soft drinks they develop are made from macerations of fresh, often local ingredients, rather than adding flavorings. In addition, they are very low in sugar, which appeals to discerning palates and people wishing to avoid excess carbohydrates.
A first product was born in the kitchen of the tandem, during the pandemic. “I wanted to make a Campari without alcohol,” explains Mélanie Aumais. And Pierre-Hugues, he had done a lot of gasifications when he worked at the Coldroom and the Four Seasons. »
It is true that non-alcoholic aperitif drinks, with the bitterness of an Americano cocktail (Campari, vermouth and soda), for example, are not common, at least not outside of small Italian cafes. A happy marriage of raspberry and warm spices (cloves), Aperitivo is drunk straight from the can. But you can also add an ounce (or two!) of gin to it.
This was followed by the refreshing lemon and verbena “herbal tea”, the more “winy” haskap and balsam fir (in a beautiful stemmed glass, you would almost believe it!), a few seasonal editions like the one with rhubarb, sweet clover and juniper, then the spicy newcomer, Mule: ginger, chili and lime.
On sale in bars and restaurants as well as in some specialized grocery stores, these very fine sodas are now produced in the vast premises that housed the first version of the 1769 distillery, in Verdun. It is a playground large enough for the tandem to have fun. Besides, he thrives on collaborations, such as the holiday season with the Gia restaurant, which resulted in a panettone soda!
The small team joined by another alchemist of liquid treasures, Val Chagnon, has no shortage of projects. A space open to the public could also see the light of day in this less commercial sector of Verdun… if the City is willing.
There are few spontaneous fermentation beers (without the addition of exogenous yeast) in Quebec, the process being quite risky in an environment where we often prefer to control everything. The La Ferme team – a rural brewery located in Shefford – nevertheless got down to it and recently launched the alea brand. The name comes from the fact that the brews are subject to the vagaries of fermentation.
Cider and natural wine lovers will find what they are looking for in the three new products launched recently. The two cuvées in pretty 750 ml bottles that we tasted were very promising. Even if the method differs from that of Belgian lambic, the taste of Humulus in particular is close to a gueuze. You have to give it a few minutes for it to open up and blossom, revealing its kinship with the mirabelle plum and the apricot. It is a gourmet and complex beer. Immanence is a slightly straighter and more austere season. We feel more its passage in barrel. It’s more woody, drier, a bit sourer, more bitter, and leans towards pineapple in flavor profile. We can’t wait to see what new experiments will come out of this new division!
It is without a doubt the most successful Italian aperitif-type Quebec drink (with alcohol!) of the moment. The product that the Menaud distillery launched in the spring is called “Apéritif”. In particular, it has an entirely Charlevois composition.
Citrus and a host of Mediterranean herbs are typically found in Italian bitters. But the mastermind behind this versatile “appetizer”, distiller Arnaud Lapointe, only used “the means of the north”. Local fruits and plants, such as haskap, sea buckthorn, rhubarb, chamomile, barberry, wormwood, etc. were macerated in neutral grain alcohol produced by the distillery.
The result is somewhere between Campari and Fernet, with its minty side. Notes of chamomile are also present. It’s a drink that goes very well on ice, in all simplicity, but which also makes wonderful negronis.