The Rapid Growth of Quebec Brewing Industry - A Search for Identity

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If you never heard about the Quebec province of Canada, perhaps you'll be more familiar with one of its famous beer, La Fin Du Monde (translated to The End of the World) from Unibroue, the most awarded beer in Canada. This brewery has been the flagship for all microbreweries of the province for a long time. I can still remember the first time I drank a beer (which wasn't a Molson or Labatt), it was a Unibroue's Blanche De Chambly and it was at this very moment that my understanding of what a beer could be changed for ever. Unibroue's beers did not only contribute to the offer of high quality products in the province, it has inspired a new generation of microbreweries and brewpubs all around the county that have now matured and can now compare to its precursor. Join me as I go through an overview of Quebec's brewing industry and on the quest to discover the brewing cultural identity of La Belle Province.

In the beginning of the 90's, there was no more than 20 active microbreweries in the province, but in the last few years, this number as reached over 100 and there are more brewery projects on its way than ever. Although the number of breweries keeps growing, does it necessarily means that quality has followed the same pace? Since 2010, there were an impressive number of awards that were won by Quebec's breweries in various competitions. On the national scale, averages of 19% of the Canadian Brewing Awards were won by Quebec brewery, which is good. But on the international scale, the results are much different. For the same period of time, about 52% of the Canadians medals won at the World Beer Cup were won by Quebec's breweries and about 91% of the Canadians' winners at the World Beer Awards were also won by Quebec's breweries (excluding world's best). When analysing these results, it seems obvious that Quebec brewers are very eager to put their beer to the challenge of international competitions. It's telling us that good beers can be found all across the country and that brewery from the other provinces usually focus their energy into national competition unlike Quebec brewers which focus on international ones. Nevertheless, winning all these awards in a short period of time is an impressive achievement and it's a good indicator that quality is growing at the same pace as the brewing industry since most of the awarded beers are from the recent brewery.
Although this competitions only measure the beer quality of those that are willing to put their beer to the challenge, what about all the other good beers that are brewed in the country? According to the beer ranking web sites such as Ratebeer and Beeradvocate, at the time these lines were written, Quebec beer dominate the ranking. Depending of the website, about 51 to 71% of the best beers brewed in Canada are made in Quebec. Amongst all those good beer, there is one that made its way to the world's top 50. This beer is the Pech Mortel from Dieu du Ciel! (translated to Mortal Sin by God of Heaven). It is a coffee imperial stout with a strong 9.5% ABV. A quick search on the web will lead you easily to a clone recipe made by the successful author Scott Russel (
Brew with Local Ingredients
Winning medals is one thing, but brewing beer with local ingredients is another. While the general trend of these days is to buy local, the brewing industry hasn't been apart from this. It is no secret that the cultural identity is strong in the province of Quebec and brewing with local ingredients came naturally to unite both its brewing and cultural identities. Let's have a look to one of the main ingredients of beer, the malt. There are two artisanal malting companies operating in the province, Frontenac and MaltBroue, both have their own unique malt flavors. These differences in taste comes mainly from Quebec's soil used to growth the barley which differs from the Canadian prairies soil where the barley is mainly harvest for the major malting companies. The taste of Quebec's malt is so unique that the Frontenac malt was even used by the Samuel Adams brewery into the grain bill of its Infinium. This is a unique great achievement, since major breweries usually can't include artisanal malt. They're having a hard time adjusting their recipe to make sure their beers taste the same as with the usual two rows malt, otherwise, customer could complain about that their favorite beer's taste not being the same as before. On the other hand, smaller breweries can include theses new malts in large quantities quite easily especially when brewing smaller batch or when trying new recipes. Microbreweries customers don't necessarily expect that their favorite beer will taste the same from batch to batch and they usually expect microbreweries to come with new recipes using local ingredients as well. However, the story is not the same for the use of local hops. There are hops farms in Quebec's territory, and yes, breweries try to use them as much as they can, especially for special batches, but the availability of the product all year-round is not possible for now. Among all the factors that prevent brewery from using local hops for their regular batches, you have to consider that at spring time, while the hop plants have reached about 2.5 feet high in the Yakima valley (77% of hops production of United States), there is still 2.5 feet of snow over Quebec's land! In order to compete US hops price and availability, Quebec's hops farm need to cover more ground, which is an ongoing challenge that one day will be resolved. But for now, it became obvious for brewers that if they want to give a local taste to their beers, that they would need to use local malt first until the hop farms can produce enough hops to match the brewers' demand.
Among the breweries that use local malt, Les Trois Mousquetaires (3M) (translated to Three Musketeers) use a large quantity of Quebec's malt in their recipes and they label this in bold character on their bottles. My favorite 3M is by far the Porter Baltique (no need for translation here). On the first sip, you are immediately overwhelmed by the sweet malted flavor. The 10% ABV then warm up your throat and ends with a little roasted flavor and pleasant bitterness. You can also detect subtle smoke flavor which bring complexity to the beer. My clone recipe may not be the exact recipe since it is kept secret, but according to the master brewer, it is very close, and between you and me, my recipe taste exactly the same as the original. The recipe calls for a lot of Quebec malt and I know it could be hard to get your hand on it, but I've brewed this recipe using regular brand malt as well as artisanal Quebec malt and the difference between the two kinds is truly what makes this beer unique. If you give a try to my clone recipe, don't forget that it is a big beer, and you need to take measures in order to achieve the right result: huge starter, mash low and oxygenate the cooled wort prior to pitch.
Annedda Ale : The Birth of a New Beer Style
While some breweries works on the implementation of local ingredients into their beer recipes to make it more "made in Quebec", others are working to create a new and unique beer style. The initiator of the project Annedda, the beer expert Mario D'Eer (Quebec's own Michael Jackson) in collaboration with several microbreweries, successfully defined what is the nature of that beer style. When reading these lines, did you think that a Canadian beer would involve maple syrup? If yes, that could have been a good guess since the maple leaf fills a third of our flag but you've never been more wrong! Surprisingly, it is made with the use of two unusual ingredients which are related to important events in Quebec's history. The first is a tree, the balsam fir, also known as the Christmas tree, and the second is a newly discovered yeast strain called Jean-Talon. To better understand the origin of those special ingredients, we have to travel back in time to the discovery of Canada by the French explorer Jacques Cartier (technically, it's the Viking that discovered Canada, but let keep it simple for now). During his second trip in Quebec from 1535 to 1536, Cartier's crew were trapped by bad weather condition (formally winter) and almost every men of the crew were afflicted by a disease called scurvy. Some of them died and many others were in very bad condition. On their side, the Native Americans of Stadacone were perfectly healthy. They came to realize the bad shape of Cartier's crew and they provided them with an herbal tea made with Annedda (tree of life). Within a few days, every man was perfectly healed. The Annedda is the balsam fir and without it, there is no doubt that Cartier's crew were heading to a certain death. It became obvious for Mr. D'Eer, that using balsam fir to create a unique beer style would be a great way to honor the beverage that once saved the French Canadian ancestors.

We now move forward in time to discover the origin of the second ingredient. Brewing started in 1646 in New France, but it's only in 1670 that the French intendant Mr. Jean Talon opened the first commercial brewery, the Brasserie du Roy (translated to King's brewery). After a series of fire of the brewery and the surrounding buildings, the second Jean-Talon's palace was build right in front of the brewery ruins. The new palace vault was used to store food provision as well as beer. Luckily, the palace vault still exists today and is now a museum called "Voutes du Palais".

This is where the brewers of Annedda project headed. Equipped with petri dishes, they went to the vault for yeast hunting. The hunt was successful and they have found a brewing yeast which is called Jean-Talon. It has been isolated and cultured by Lallemand (Montreal, Qc) and is available under the reference number BRY 485. The main characteristics of this yeast are a slight spicy flavor profile, apparent attenuation of about 73% and a unique character which can't be found in any of the commercial yeast available on the market. There is no way to determine if this yeast really came from Jean-Talon period, but its name was given in honor of the man who first commercialized beer in New France and leaded to the brewing industry of our times. It is a huge accomplishment since it was the only beer ingredient that couldn't be labeled as "made in Quebec".

Now that we've completed our overview of the origin of the two special ingredients, let's have a look at the back bone of the beer. The brewing instruction of the Annedda guide is not restrictive, letting the brewers all the liberty they want to create a unique beer. On the other hand, the commercials examples are more specific and my recipe is a good average of what can be found on the shelf. It is calling for an ABV of 4.5%, about 20 IBU and it as an amber color. Here some tips for brewing a successful Annedda. First, remember that the balsam fir flavor mostly dominates the beer but it is important to use some adjunct such as wheat (malted or not), spelt, buckwheat or kamut to counterbalance the resinous taste of fir. Second, you can use whatever malt brand you want since you need to focus on the fir and not the malt. Third, I recommend to mash in the higher range (69-70C (156-158F)) to increase the body of the beer and to counterbalance the quenching taste of the fir. Fourth, I suggest the use of any of the "C" hops such as chinook or citra for bittering as well as aroma. Finally, how to use the fir, you can use any of the hops technics such as adding it to the mash, boil, flame-out, whirlpool, dry hop or even when bottling. If the fir is added during the bottling you can then use fir essential oil or a small fir infusion tea. Personally, I prefer to add the fir branch in the last 2-5 minutes of the boil and dry hop for about a week. But be careful since it is easy to overdose the fir flavor so it should be used at a rate of 0.25 to 1 g/L (0.03 to 0.13 oz/gal) and consider using fresh fir at each step.
Now about the yeast, it might be difficult for most people to import the Jean-Talon strain but it is still possible to brew this beer style using other strain and achieving similar results. An option is to focus on an ale yeast that will ferment clean and will let all the space for the fir flavor or another way is to choose a yeast with a very high phenolic profile such as a saison yeast to mimic the Jean-Talon yeast. The downside of saison yeasts is that they are very attenuative which will make the beer extremely dry and since the fir flavor will also increase the dryness, I would not recommend using it. My best suggestion is to use a yeast such as wyeast 1056 and ferment in the lower range to increase the citrus flavor which will nicely combine whith the spicy flavor of the hops and the fir. I'm sure this will be a beer like you've never drink before and I encourage you to give it a try. It is quite refreshing and mellowing at the same time.
This paper may have reached its end, but the journey for Quebec brewers to reach their own identity is still ongoing. There is no doubt that awesome beer is brewed everywhere in Canada, but I hope you enjoyed discovering what is brewing in Quebec and that it might have interested you enough to follow its future development. Sante!
Text: Yannick Laplante
Photographer: Michel Morand

Picture 1 : Quebec province shown on La Fin Du Monde logo found on Unibroue website.
Picture 2 : Balsam fir branch used for brewing.
Picture 3 : Front entrance of the museum Voutes du Palais.
Picture 4 : The vault of the museum Voutes du palais.
Les Trois Mousquetaires (3M) - Porter Baltique Clone
78% mash efficiency
OG: 1.108 (25 degrees P)
FG: 1.032 (8 degrees P)
IBU: 27
SRM: 44
ABV: 10 percent
13 Kg (28.7 lb) Frontenac Pilsner
2.5 Kg (5.5 lb) Briess smoke cherry wood malt
1 Kg (2.2 lb) Carafa special III 525 degrees L
0.82 Kg (1.8 lb) Malted wheat
0.7 Kg (1.5 lb) MaltBroue Crystal 60 degrees L
0.7 Kg (1.5 lb) MaltBroue Crystal 160 degrees L
0.5 Kg (1.1 lb) Flaked oats
Hop schedule
Summit 14.2 percent aa, 33g (1.16 oz), 60 min, 18.5 IBU
Centenial 10 percent aa, 20g (0.7 oz), 20 min, 4.8 IBU
Perle 8 percent aa, 20g (0.7 oz), 20 min, 3.8 IBU
2 packs of Wyeast 2206 with a 8L starter.
Mash in at 63 degrees C (145.4 degrees F) and hold the temperature for 60 min or until enzymatic conversion is complete. Raise the temperature to mash out at 77 degrees C (170.6 degrees F) for 10 minutes. Sparge slowly with 80 degrees C (176 degrees F) water, collecting wort until the pre-boil kettle volume is around 48L (12.7 gal) and a gravity of 1.095 (22.47 degrees P). The total wort boil time is 60 min. Add hops according to the ingredients schedule. Add Irish moss and yeast nutriment with 15 minutes left in the boil. Chill the wort to 12 degrees C (53.6 degrees F) and aerate thoroughly. The pitch rate is 2 packages of liquid yeast in a 8L starter. Ferment at 12 degrees C (53.6 degrees F) for 12 days or until 90 percent of the fermentation is complete. Raise to 16 degrees C (60.8 degrees F) for 24h or until the fermentation is complete. Drop the temperature to 4 degrees C (39.2 degrees F) at a rate of 3 degrees C (37.4 degrees F) per day and lager 10 days at 4 degrees C (39.2 degrees F). Target a carbonation level of 2.3 volumes and allow to age at least 1 month before drinking.
Annedda Ale
78 percent mash efficiency
OG: 1.046 (11 degrees P)
FG: 1.012 (3 degrees P)
IBU: 19
SRM: 15
ABV: 4.5 percent
Grain bill
6.05 Kg (13.34 lb) 2 rows malt (Frontenac if available)
1.40 Kg (3.09 lb) Crystal 60L (MaltBroue if available)
0.82 Kg (1.81 lb) Malted wheat
0.08 Kg (2.82 oz) Roasted barley 615 degrees L
Hop/Fir schedule
Chinnok 14 percent aa, 16g (0.56 oz), 60 min, 14.4 IBU
Chinnok 14 percent aa, 11g (0.39 oz), 15 min, 4.9 IBU
Fir, 2.5g (0.09 oz), 2min
Citra 13.7 percent aa, 30g (1.06 oz), 0 min, 0 IBU
Fir, 8g (0.28 oz), Dry hop 5 to 10 days
Lalemand BRY 485 or 2 packs of Wyeast 1056 or 2 packs of Fermentis US-05
Mash in at 69 degrees C (156.2 degrees F) and hold the temperature for 60 min or until enzymatic conversion is complete. Raise the temperature to mash out at 77 degrees C (170.6 degrees F) for ten minutes. Sparge slowly with 80 degrees C (176 degrees F) water, collecting wort until the pre-boil kettle volume is around 48L (12.7 gal) and a gravity of 1.041 (10 degrees P). The total wort boil time is 60 min. Add hops/fir according to the ingredients schedule. Add irish moss and yeast nutriment with 15 minutes left in the boil. Chill the wort to 17-18 degrees C (63.5 degrees F), aerate thoroughly and pitch enough of your BRY 485 culture or 2 bags of wyeast 1056 or 2 packs of properly rehydrated dry yeast. Ferment at 17-18 degrees C (63.5 degrees F) until completion and dry hop with the fir. Target a carbonation level of 2.9 volumes and drink fresh.
Very interesting. Using Fir as a flavor addition really peaks my curiosity. I wonder if the time of year that you acquire the Fir would have an impact on the flavor contribution you get from it? Evergreens and all their parts are more or less resinous depending on the season they are taken.
Interesting article. Love Dieu du Ciel and Les Trois Mousquetaires beers. Have a couple 750mL bottles of their Maibock right by my desk (my home office acts as the overflow for my beer cellar).
Pretty good article. Just curious, where did you get that III Mousquetaires clone recipe? Is it self devised? I've heard many good things of that beer, and I've had just about all their offerings outside of the porter Baltique.
Great article, I do business in Montreal, and have been highly impressed by the local beers I have found, not to mention the food!
Tree metabolism is more active by summer, so I guess that it could impact the flavor.
I've gathered all the information about the clone recipe into local magazines/journals/tv shows/interviews, on the bottle and personal contact.
Ditto Love for Dieu du Ciel. Been there. At the time we found some website purporting it to be ranked no. 6 of all brewpubs in the world. We found it to be no. 1!
Now, evergreen in beer...ummm, tried Alaska Brewings Christmas/Holdiay Ale, brewed with spruce tips - no, no, no!
Good luck.
I always liked the old commercial Quebec porter called Champlain porter, which was slightly sweet and not roasty. Your use of Carafa to minimize roastiness is a good idea; along that line, have you considered Briess Midnight Wheat? It's even less astringent than Carafa, and very dark.
Using the midnight wheat is a good idea and could replace both the wheat and carafa.