“Tell us, now, how and when
We may find the bravest men?”
“A sure test, an easy test:
Those that drink beer are the best,
Brown beer strongly brewed,
English drink and English food.”
– Robert Graves
There’s nothing like a dark beer to warm you up on a chilly evening. And Townshippers are lucky to have a handful of great local brewers hopping up a sweet stout or zingy bitter to keep us happy and spry. In fact, beer is good for you.
“Despite beer’s bad reputation, it actually has a number of natural antioxidants and vitamins that can help prevent heart disease and even rebuild muscle. It also has one of the highest energy contents of any food or drink. Of course, this means you need to set limits – one beer gets you going, four makes you fat,” reports Dr. Manny Alvarez, a Fox News columnist.
He recommends dark beers as being the best for you (they have a higher iron content).
And microbrews – the beers made in your favorite local watering hole – are even better, because they have more hops, which help lower cholesterol levels.
But which beers to choose?
The Lennoxville Library has a series of guidebooks to help. All of these offer some history and fun info about brewskis, so a beginner can pick any of these tomes and get something out of them (though each has a slightly different focus). Reel beer nuts will want to peruse all of them, of course.
La Biere, by Michael Jackson (no, not that one) (2008), is the glossiest of the options, with an international feel. There are tips on the best glasses and the flavours to sip for. There are five pages on Canada, drawing attention to the best-known Canuck breweries, including the Schoune label, as well as Montreal’s Cheval Blanc, Dieu du Ciel, Mcauslan and Unibroue. Quebec makes an impressive showing (there are a few Ontario and British Columbia brands, too).
For a more local locus, check out Le Guide de la Bonne Biere Du Quebec, by Mario D’eer (2009). This one includes a couple of pages on beer storage.
Each Quebec microbrewery gets a separate page, including those in our ‘hood. The author approves of the Golden Lion’s Pride beer, the Bishop’s Best Bitter, and the dark Black Fly. Check this guide out to get a good feel for the options available in the Townships (and take it along with you when you go for quick trips around the province).
Finally, there’s Les 100 Meilleures Bieres 2010, by Alain McKenna and Richard Prieur. It includes lists of good beers and, hilariously, Ten beers to avoid at all costs. You may be surprised: Corona, the well-known Mexican import, is one of the manufacturer’s least-interesting products, insist the authors. Extremely bland beers include Hek Lager Blonde, Labatt Sterling, Michelob Ultra, Milwaukee’s Best, Molson Ex Light, O’Doul’s, Red Dog, Sapporo Classic, and Sleeman Clear Lager. Is one of these brews your favorite? Hey, don’t shoot the messenger….
As for the best-ofs, there are no snooty attitude issues, here. The mass-produced Labatt 50 gets a thumbs up. Imports are also tested (Stella Artois, come on down). Special mention goes to Les Brasseurs du Hameau in Saint-Joseph-de-Ham-Sud. Also mentioned, Brasseurs et Freres de Dunham (check out their stout, Recidive). And Schoune, a farm in Saint-Polycarpe, again makes the cut (a blond, and the Estiv’ale also, plus the strong ale le Belge).
The authors even recommend a good carrot beer, and a rice-based brew, which is quite different in taste (Bieres de la Nouvelle France). There’s gluten-free (Griffon’s La Messagere Rousse), fruity options, and proper pairings (beer ‘n’ hockey, eh).
Beer guides are all in the numbered, 641.23 French non-fiction section.
Those looking for a shot of history should read The Life And Times Of Alexander Keith, Nova Scotia’s Brewmaster (by Peter L. McCreath, 2001). Back when, a daily gallon of beer, filled with vitamin B, was given to British sailors at sea. But it didn’t keep on those long trips to hot ports far away. So a new recipe was created, with more hops and alcohol, which meant less bacterial growth. Enter India Pale Ale.
Keith, a Scotsman born in 1795, was sent at 17 by his father to an English uncle to learn the art and science of brewing. A few years later young Keith left to make his fortune in Nova Scotia, and in 1821 had saved enough money to run his own brewery. His newspaper advertisement read that Keith “hopes by strict attention to his business, added to his long experience… to merit a share of the public patronage and support.”
By the 1850s, his little factory was operating at full capacity, making 180 hogsheads of ales and porter in the winter months (one hogshead is about 239 litres). These days, Keith’s is best-known for its India Pale Ale.
There’s some great history in this book (Nova Scotia allowed divorce on cruelty grounds incredibly early on). And Keith was a Mason and a politician, although not, as some have suggested, a supporter of slavery. The white Alexander Keith who sympathized with the American South was a nephew of the same name.
You can pick up a lager at the SAQ, at specialty shops, or at A Wayside Tavern. This particular alehouse was built around the year 384 by a Roman, just before the barbarians crashed the gates. Norah Lofts’ novel (1980, in adult fiction) profiles the tavern and inn, The One Bull, through the centuries, operated by the descendents of a slave and the Roman soldier who rescues her from death. When the soldier is injured, she repays the favour.
A series of interconnected short stories are told here, often intersecting with the Christian church built a few feet away. Each era’s tale is nicely researched (from plague in the Medieval era to the modern’s multiple car garages).
Need a drink and some company? Come on in. Put your feet up! Have a pint.
WHAT ABOUT CIDER?
Not a beer person? Check out Cidres Du Quebec, by Guillaume Leroux and Alexis Perron (2009). From 1921 to 1970, it was illegal to produce cider in Quebec. But of course, we made it and drank it anyway, and even exported it to the U.S. during Prohibition. This tome includes all sorts of bits — history, apples, flavours, recipes, food pairings, even an ice cider section.
The Townships are included, of course — think Domaine Pinnacle, perhaps our most famous fermented apple mash producer. But there are many more Townships cider spots (we get our own section, in fact!), and this guide gives each Quebecois cider of note a full page. It’s fun to flip through and check out those products worthy of a taste test.
Filed in the library right next to the beer guides….
– Eleanor Brown, March 1, 2013