As a Mondial de la Bière virgin, my expectations were all over the map. It has a reputation for being a great beer festival, but can anything free really be all that amazing? Quite simply, yes. But before getting into what I drank each day and why Mondial lived up to the hype, as well as some of the quirks of the fest, it is necessary to get the boring stuff out of the way. Most importantly, entrance to the festival is free and you can come and go as you please. Even better, you literally just walk in – no security patting you down or checking your bags (this would never happen in Ontario). Beer coupons are $1 each. The Mondial guides state most samples are between one and five coupons, but I would say between two and five. (Surprisingly, one of the few $1 samples I saw was for a Stone beer.) Each sample is between three and four ounces. Alright, now we’re inside and have our coupons – time to get some beer!
But where to put my sample? If you want, you can buy the official Mondial glass for $8 or get the free plastic cups. Better yet, bring in your favourite glass. Over the course of three days, I saw just about every type of glass imaginable: snifters, older Mondial glass, small sample glass, metal steins and newly purchased glasses from one of the breweries. Amazingly, lots of people had the recent Mondial glasses and the venue was not the sea of plastic cups that I had feared. But isn’t it a bit gross, asks to uninitiated, to be drinking out of the same glass all day? Not when there are cleaning stations available! A really nice touch.
The festival is part indoors and part outdoors, but Gare Windsor is really lacking as a venue. There is nothing that screams “beer fest” (except for all the people that are, you know, drinking beer). Not only are there cider and mead vendors, but also some reasonably priced food. The food heavily favours meat eaters, but this is not as annoying when you consider that you can come and go when you wish, or even bring food in. Vegetarians just need to plan a bit in advance. If you’re planning on making a day of it, bring in some water as well. This is the one thing that was missing from Mondial. Now we can exchange our coupons for beer and enjoy our liquid bread.
But what to shall we drink? A good rule, one pointed out by Nick Pashley in Cheers!, is to avoid the breweries that use young, attractive women to shill their beer. This includes pretty much every brewery owned by an international company (Molson, Rickards, Creemore and Unibroue). The first three in that list where set off to the side from all the craft brewers, much to my liking. They were the furthest away from the entrance, meaning you had to pass up a lot of good beer to get to them. Most breweries pour their own beer, either from bottles or on tap. There are also two petit pubs, which are not run by directly by breweries. They serve a variety of different beers from around the world and two of the busiest places of the fest.
And that’s pretty much all you need to know about Mondial! If you’re big on tasting notes, good luck in trying to keep up. Seating is limited, making it difficult to take notes. By the time you’ve had the fifth or sixth beer, you start to relax and just enjoy the beer, the atmosphere and the people you’re meeting. There are people taking diligent notes, but it isn’t really that kind of festival. With that in mind, here’s what I drank on Day One:
- Allagash White (USA): Hazy straw colour. Great aromas of banana, lemon and coriander. Very flavourful – fruity, spicy and a tart finish. Refreshing. Great depth and easy to drink. (Ratebeer)
- Allagash Curieux (USA): Got drawn in by someone else drinking it. Belgian tripel aged in bourbon barrels. Also straw coloured, though only slightly hazy. The flavour was overwhelmed by oak, bourbon and the alcohol of the beer. Dry and spicy finish. The barrels didn’t compliment the beer, so I wasn’t a big fan of this. (Ratebeer)
- Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale (USA): Light, clear brown colour. Very nutty nose. Hazelnut, dark fruits and trace amounts of molasses in the flavour. Some bitterness in the finish. Decent, but alcohol is a little too prominent. (Ratebeer)
- Svevo Fortemalto (Italy): A tripel with aromas of alcohol and raisin. Very sweet and like port at first, then tart and hoppy in the end. Hard to finish my one sample. (Ratebeer)
- Mistura Classica Extra (Brazil): Blech! Overly sweet and syrupy, which didn’t mix well with the herbal hop elements. A very strange pilsner. (Ratebeer)
- Allagash Four (USA): It wasn’t my intent to try three different Allagash beers, but this is what happens when you see a quad and want it right now. Light copper colour. Raisins and figs. Spicy, hoppy and dry finish. A bit different than other quads I’ve had, but very nice. (Ratebeer)
- Liefmans Goudenband (Belgium): A rusty, dark copper. Sour, tart, vinous, fruity and simply amazing. (Ratebeer)
- Kuhnhenn White Devil (USA): A stronger Belgian wit with a lot of similarities to the Allagash. The high alcohol ABV (9.5%) makes this far from sessionable. (Ratebeer)
- Birra del Borgo Keto Reporter (Italy): One of the weirder beers of the fest – a porter made with tobacco leaves. This was quite tasty to me, mixing the smokiness of a rauchbier with the chocolate notes of an English porter. The body was a tad thin, but I was willing to overlook that fact. (Ratebeer)
- Unibroue La Terrible (Canada): I couldn’t leave Montreal without trying the famous Terrible for the first time. An incredibly balanced Belgian-style dark ale that is near perfection. A perfect ending to the first day. (Ratebeer)
Today: 1.18L. Year-to-date: 111.82L.