The time has come once again for Mondial de la Biere! Montreal will be overflowing with thirsty beer lovers from Wednesday to Sunday. This is a special year as it marks the 20th anniversary of Mondial. The festival is once again moving venues, this time to the Palais de Congres. It should be a positive move away from the concrete air hanger that was devoid of outside light. For those not familiar with the festival, it brings together over 500 beers from around the world. Beers from Belgium, the United States, Italy and Brazil are highlighted alongside a large number of Quebec breweries. Samples range from $2-6, which is pretty good when you factor in that Mondial is free to enter. For any first-timers, here are some things to know to help you enjoy Mondial de la Biere.
Pack water and snacks. Yes, plenty of delicious food is available, from kangaroo to cheese, but it is only smart to take advantage of a beer festival that allows you to bring in food. Go cheese shopping at Marche Jean-Talon or Atwater first and conduct your own beer pairing session.
Arrive early. This was especially true at the old location, but probably still good advice. The big crowds start to arrive around 4 or 5pm during the weekdays, so showing up before noon and getting a good three to four hours of drinking in before everyone else is key. By then your food supplies will have run dry and it’s time for a nap (or poutine, then nap).
Skip the first beer ticket line. This may not be appropriate with the new venue, but last year there was one entrance and a booth to buy tickets, glasses, etc, was right there. Everyone lined up for that booth, even though there were plenty of other places to buy tickets inside that had no lineups. Don’t fall into this trap! Those are precious minutes you’re wasting that could be used for drinking.
Do your research. Beer geeks love Mondial because they tell you what beers will be served in advance of the actual festival in a handy PDF. This saves you from wasting money on a lot of bad beers. It also allows you to make a game plan of what you must try before heading home.
Use RateBeer or BeerAdvocate smartly. Research will probably involve one of these two sites, checking ratings and eliminating the lesser breweries. But remember that the ratings for Quebec beers and those from Latin America are often only a handful, making it harder to get an accurate score for percentile or style. Read some of the comments, which give a much better picture. Also remember that certain styles (IPAs and anything imperial) are often rated higher than saisons, lagers or fruit beers. If a fruit beer and imperial stout are in the same percentile, chances are the fruit beer is the better beer. Be sure to use the style ratings as well. For instance, La Succursale Petite Cote only has an 84 overall on Ratebeer, but it gets a 100 in the kolsch style category.
Don’t overplan. Not all beers will be available at all times. The Quebec brewers rotate their offerings on tap, so don’t expect the full list at their stands. Rare bottles at the bottle stations are spread out through the festival to avoid all the first-day beer geeks from drinking everything up. If the beer you want isn’t available, chat up the server and try to find out when it will be put on tap/when the fridge will be restocked (but in a nice way, not an anal beer geek way). Also expect new beers that aren’t on the list, mainly from the Quebec breweries.
Start light. This should be obvious advice that applies to any beer festival – begin with the beers under 5% and work up to the heavy stuff. Think of it as a marathon, not a race, which means saving your liver for a final sprint at the end. You might make one or two exceptions based on availability, but try to hold off till the end of your session.
Bring/buy a glass. Yes, you can buy a glass for $10 (or a plastic cup for $5), but the tall glasses aren’t ideal for your beer. To remedy to this is bringing your own glass (as long as it holds less than twelve ounces) or buy one from a brewery (a free sample is often included with the purchase of a glass). You’re going to be drinking lots of beer and you really want the right glass for the job. If you’re worried about your glass getting lost or damaged, get a tulip glass from a dollar store.
Take notes of what you like. The samples come fast and furious, so it helps to keep track of what you liked and what you pour out in the grass, especially if you’re stocking up at a depanneur for beers to take home. It’s impossible to remember everything, even before you factor in all the alcohol. A simple system of check-marks and Xs works well.
Pour out the bad beers. Doesn’t matter if it cost one dollar or five. Save your liver and taste buds for the good beers.
Love the nightlife. Montreal’s brewpubs are still open and serving delicious beers, so enjoy Dieu du Ciel!, Benelux, Le Cheval Blanc, Le Saint Bock or another fine establishment in the evening. Expect the brewpubs to be extra crowded during Mondial. And remember there are night events, which get very crowded as well. Get there early while everyone else is still at Mondial.
Be responsible. Take transit. Know when to leave.
Make friends. The charm of going in the day is that you will likely see the same people over and over. Enjoy some conversation about beers and scout out what beers to try/avoid.
Be friendly with the people at the booths. This might seem like obvious advice, but be nice to those pouring the beers. Whip out the French you haven’t used since middle/high school and at least show you’re trying. It’s good karma, plus sometimes you get a bit more beer in your glass.