Friday, November 05, 2004

de la Bière

The beer situation in Québec is awesome. It's plentiful, cheap and good. And people drink a lot of it.

First of all, there are a bunch of regional brewers who make quality beer that is sold at domestic prices. Belle Gueule, Griffon, Tremblay, Boréale to name the more popular ones. Each make a rousse (a darker ale), a blonde (a lager) and now a blanche (some wheat type beer, I guess; good for summer). There is also of course Unibroue, but they are more expensive so usually bought as a special treat. These local brews can be found in any bar for the same price as a Molson or Labatt's and they are much better quality and richer in taste. It's so nice to be able to go to a normal bar, buy a pitcher of locally produced beer that tastes really good and spend only $13.

I generally get the Boréale Rousse. It has a cool polar bear on its label. Boréale means northern hemisphere (as in aurora borealis) and I guess it is supposed to suggest icey-cold freshness or something like that. I also order Boréale because I have trouble saying Belle Gueule. That "Gueule" is a tough one to pronounce properly, with all these things happening at the back of your throat. A Geuele is a snout on an animal, but also means a guy's face. A belle gueule means a good guy or a good-looking guy. It seems to vary. Also, une gueule de bois (a snout of wood) is a hangover. See how cool drinking beer in french is!

What really makes the beer-drinking so kickass here, though, is the government policy on it. It's legal to sell them in corner stores! They have government liquor stores here (SAQ's-Société de l'Alcool de Québec, I think) but they tend to concentrate on wine and spirits. You can buy beer in corner stores and supermarkets. Let me repeat that. You can buy beer in corner stores and supermarkets. I know for you Americans out there, that's not a big deal. But that kind of freedom is something people in the west can't even really imagine (I have no idea how it works in the Maritimes). No rip-off beer-and-wine stores here. Because it's open to competition, the prices are excellent. I'm talking two-fours of good beer for $25-$30 and they often have specials where they go for as low as $21 sometimes. They had a special on Bolduc stubbies (yes, stubbies) for $22 all summer and man a lot of those empties piled up on our back porch.

[A little aside. Corner stores here are called deps. That's short for dépanneur. Dépanner is to repair something and in official french a dépanneur is a repair shop. I don't know how they came to be corner stores, but the word also connotes helping someone out and maybe because they were open later and perhaps gave credit, they got that name. Just a guess. I'll look into it.]

I think that the deps must be surviving on their beer sales. They look pretty rundown, but they are everywhere, unlike in Vancouver where they are slowly becoming exctinct. They devote a lot of space and energy to their beer sales. Most of them have a stack of cases of the ones on sale near the cashier. The first time I went to the dep in my neighbourhood, they had the new Boréale blondes on sale in a big tower. I went to get one, thinking that they'd have to sit in my fridge for a couple of hours before I could drink them. I tried to take one from the stack and the owner told me to get some cold ones from the fridge.

I looked a little confused. I'd already been along the fridge aisle and there were only single beers there, amongst the usual assortment of juices and sodas. "No, no," he said. "You have to go inside the freezer," and then he led me to the last door which didn't have shelves behind it. Instead, you walked into the back, behind the drink shelves, which was basically a big walk-in freezer! And it was cold and stuffed with cases and cases of beer! I mean this was like the bat cave or something. My knees got all trembly. You could just hang out there. I did that laughy/cryey thing for a while and then just hung out there for a while, soaking up the spirituality of the place.

Now, I see that most deps have walk-in freezers. It's just taken for granted here. And guess what, B.C.? Drinking and driving isn't any worse here. People are not killing each other or turning into drunken beer-whores (well, maybe a little) or whatever other irrational fears you temperance fascists in the west believe will happen if you let people have free access to alchohol. And the breweries do a good business.

Unfortunately, the distribution of hard alchohol is just as bad here as everywhere else in Canada. They have those nasty little regulators on every bottle of booze in every bar I've been in so far. And when they don't, they measure it out with a shot glass. The martinis are foul, watery things, like drinking the juice from the little white olive jar. I'm waiting for the ghost of Mordecai Richler to point me to a bar where I can get a decent drink. George Bush or no, Americans do know how to make and drink spirits. It's ironic considering we were the ones who once sold it to them in their time of greatest need. But that rant is for another day and another political movement (for now, please complain about those bottle regulators every chance you can). For the time being, I'll drink the beer here and be very grateful for it.


Anonymous said...

sounds like someone is becoming just another beerhead Canuck. Have you noticed at the Club Meds, its the French Canadians who are constantly drunk? Is this a good thing? I think not.

WeSailFurther said...

mmmmm beer. no specific comment on the beer topic, just wanted to support briques du neige. -j

Anonymous said...

Don't know if you read comments made on pasts entry, but boy did I laugh reading your adventure on the beer-freezer. I guess we take that for granted.

Oh, and I did learn something... I didn't know that beer are not easy to find in the West. Guess we are lucky (although, I'm not a big fan of beer, even tough I'm a real french-canadian!).

Oh, and by the way, the term "dépaneur" is used more in the sense of troubleshooter (even tough I don't think it's the right translation). We call it that way because it's store where you can find things fast when you don't have time to go to the grocery store or when it's close. Like milk, sugar, bread... and beer!