Here’s a secret: only half of the Mondial festival is really about the festival itself. The other half is enjoying the fine brewpubs, bars and restaurants of Montreal, which means that while the festival ends at 9pm nightly (sorry, 21h00) the party keeps going till the wee hours. Then people get a bit of sleep before waking up and going through the same process again the next day. It’s an intense time that truly sorts out the beer lovers from the beer freaks. (If you wake up hungover and go out to keep drinking, you are a beer freak.)
Mondial is like most other beer festivals in many ways. Breweries have their own booths with a selection of beers. Coupons are purchased and then exchanged with said booths for beer. Drink beer and then repeat. Part of what Mondial makes so special is that it runs from 11am-9pm for five days (Wednesday-Sunday), which gives lots of time to try many of the 600+ beers. As a visitor to Montreal, it is easy to be there very early and beat the crowds. The new-ish location of Place Bonaventure is great because Mondial didn’t really start to feel crowded until Friday afternoon, when lots of locals were obviously leaving work early and getting a jump to the weekend. (Though I was never at Mondial post-5pm on any day, I never heard about it getting busy till the weekend.) It was always easy to get a seat at a picnic table or the unattractive-but-practical white plastic garden furniture.
And that’s about all the nice things I have to say about Place Bonaventure. I’ve been to a couple of convention halls in my time and this was by far the worst – concrete everywhere (ceiling, floors, pillars), which makes it easy to clean up spills (both beer and protein) but is very drab for a beer festival. Spending three days on vacation without natural sunlight is pretty depressing. I think I came back paler than when I left. The ceilings are also ridiculously high (were they expecting circuses to come through?), which makes for permanent white noise. I felt bad for the people at the DJ booth as they must have known that the music they were playing was endlessly reverberating off walls until it added to the cacophony.
So yes, there are some complaints about the new space, though it is now the old space as Mondial is moving to the Palais Congrès next year (May 29-June 2, which is also not the same time as the Grand Prix). Yes, they could have made it look a bit more like a beer festival – nothing about the Oktoberfest pub bore any resemblance to Oktoberfest, or even a Quebecois approximation. But the bones of the festival are still the same – you come in and only pay for whatever food and samples you want. Great Quebec breweries are there, alongside pubs serving bottles from Italy, the States, Belgium, Argentina, Brazil, Ontario and British Columbia. The Quebec breweries were nicely located in the middle sections of Place Bonaventure, while the macro breweries were largely at the edges and could be easily avoided.
The remarkable part of this festival was the high level of quality of the beers. It wasn’t until the third day of the festival that I came across the beer that warranted being poured out, but that was also because I knew time was running out and there were still many beers to try. Some highlights from Mondial were:
- Croce di Malto Temporis. A gorgeous Italian saison that was a perfect marriage of floral hops, citrus fruits and a dry, funky yeast. Would love to put this beside the Bellwoods Saison and see them fight it out.
- La Succursale Citra IPA. Is it possible to make a bad IPA using Citra hops?
- Le Trou du Diable L’Amère Indienne. Nothing too crazy, just a well made IPA with a nice balance of flavours.
- Benelux Sabotage. Very green and chewy.
- Hopfenstark Berlin Alexanderplatz. A well made 3.2% Berliner weisse is the perfect start to a day of drinking. The sort of beer that made me wish I was on a patio.
- Charlevoix Vache Folle RyePA. Sampled on cask and bottled. Cask was far superior – very juicy and resiny. More of a rye amber than pale ale, though.
I think the IPAs may have jumped out a bit more from having spent a lot of the fest drinking saisons and sour/wild ales, so take their recommendations with a grain of salt. And yes, I did try the Dieu du Ciel! Umami made with morels. I found it to be a very nice roasty porter with a woody character. The morel really came through in the aroma once the beer was warm, but otherwise wasn’t a strong flavour.
Mondial is also a great place to see ongoing trends in the brewing industry. I noticed a lot of Belgian pale ales or IPAs made by different breweries, which goes along with the recent uptick of Ontario beers that are similar in style. Black IPAs were also very popular, which means it is probably fair to say that the style is not a passing fad. A lot of Quebec breweries are also producing barrel aged beers with wine and bourbon/whiskey still being the most common. No white IPAs, for anyone following that debate.
Is Mondial still the Holy Grail of Canadian beer festivals? It depends what you’re looking for in a beer festival. In terms of selection, it is unparalleled. For atmosphere, it is probably one of the worst right now. (Yes, Mondial attracts beer geeks, but also men in suits looking to get drunk at the end of the week. The clientele on a Friday afternoon starts to become very similar to Toronto’s Festival of Beer.) There are great events at night, but the brewpubs and bars also become very crowded with tourists and locals, so a lot of your enjoyment depends on how well you deal with large swarms of people. Hopefully some of the problems will be dealt with after the change to Palais Congres next year. But for right now, I’m actually looking forward to the outdoor beer festivals in Toronto.