It was hot, and I was parched. My thirst was so big, so palpable, so overwhelming you could almost photograph it. Then Les Brasseurs du Temps, a brew pub, rose before us like an oasis shimmering in the desert. We crossed the threshold into the cool interior and my body inhaled the heady aroma of fine ale. "Saved!" I cried.
My friends and I, a foursome from British Columbia, had spent a delightful morning meandering along the
Outaouais Gourmet Way that winds through the rolling
Gatineau hills in Quebec across the river from Ottawa. We visited artists and craft shops, savoured bakeries, cheese and chocolate factories and were enthralled by historic properties like the
Wakefield Mill Inn. We enjoyed learning about Quebec culture, but it was thirsty work.
I studied the menu. More than a dozen brews were listed, all made on the premises and all with mouth-watering descriptions. Pale ale, nut brown ale, raspberry ale, IPA, Belgian blond, stout. I was giddy with delight. I selected the six-beer taster tray and began some serious educational work. I sipped the Mille Neuf Cendre, which commemorates
Hull's Great Fire of 1900. The taste had slight traces of smoke, like a distant memory.
The menu noted that Les Brasseurs du Temps, BDT for short, stands on Brewery Creek in
Gatineau (formerly known as Hull), the site of the first brewery of this region. Furthermore, BDT includes a beer museum. In these days of worshipping the craven idols of Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, I was pleased that homage was being paid to the honourable amber fluid.
Once my thirst was brought temporarily under control, I sought out the museum (free entry!). A large cylindrical open space looked down on a lower level crowded with the vats, stainless steel tanks and piping of a working brewery. The smell of hops and barley wafted upwards. I started down a gently descending walkway that spiralled along the perimeter, like the Gugenheim Museum in New York, down to the lower level. The walkway of the self-guiding tour was lined with displays and artifacts describing the history of beer, with particular focus on the Outaouais
region. My admiration for
Philemon Wright, the founder of Hull, grew as I learned that in 1821 he built the first brewery in this region on this very site. Wright's fortune was based not just on lumber, but beer and whiskey proved just as profitable. In addition to the brewery, Wright owned two distilleries and numerous taverns and was a contemporary of John Molson.
My eyes were opened to a totally different Hull. For a century this was Canada's ultimate party town. During Prohibition, Hull was a Mecca for beer, with a tavern on almost every corner. Hull became known as Beer City and was crowded with clubs and speakeasies that attracted visitors from all over North America, including gangsters like
cousin from Chicago.
Returning to the table, I ordered a pint of La Dumduminator, described in the menu as a full-bodied, wheat-based doppleweizenbock, strong in alcohol (8%) and dark in colour. BDT's master brewer, Dominique Gosselin (DumDum to his friends) created this beer, and he is proudly featured on the beer label. It was named by subtly adding -ator to Gosselin's nickname, an allusion to a number of superheroes or movie characters renowned for their strength and/or their impressive frame. Gosselin dropped by our table for a brief chat, and I saw that DumDuminator is brewed in the image of its creator: commanding and very appealing.
Chef Olivier Millot, formerly of the high-end Café Henri Burger and
Chateau Montebello. A pub with a renowned chef? I was dumbfounded, but happily so, as I tucked into a BDT Croque Monsieur consisting of maple-smoked white ham cooked in Extra Special Bitter 1821 ale and oozing with sauce and melted cheddar on sourdough bread. Hints of cinnamon lingered on my palate. Millot explained, "My job is to devise cuisine that complement the great beers." It works. His menu is far superior to that usually found in a roadhouse or pub with choucroute garni, mussels, Mariposa Farm duck, sausages, burgers, ribs, steak, grilled scallops, and poutine. Beer makes its way into just about every dish. Millot stresses local cuisine and just that morning had travelled the Outaouais Gourmet Way gathering fresh produce, bison, boar, and pheasant. We could easily have bumped into him.
As we left, with my thirst well sated, I was happy. Not only had we enjoyed fabulous beer and food, but we had revelled in history and learned about the gritty side of Hull. I let out a gentle belch.
Hans Tammemagi has written two travel books: Exploring Niagara - The Complete Guide to Niagara Falls & Vicinity and Exploring the Hill - A Guide to Canada's Parliament Past & Present. He is the environment columnist for the Vancouver Sun.