Cheers to a city that cherishes its beer!
Written byTaylor Ireland
Since we’re now on the doorstep of the Christmas festive season, it seems like a good time to talk about one of my favourite festive things: beer.
Quebec City already has way more than its share of exceptional and unique attractions, many of which we have explored in this blog. But, in my view, one of the most gratifying and satisfying bonus features is the amazing variety of quality beers available in the city, but also the astonishingly low prices.
When I say « astonishingly » I am not exaggerating. The price for popular domestic brands in Quebec is lower by far than any other province. The closest is neighbouring Ontario where the difference on an average case of 24 is $10 to $15. In my home province of Saskatchewan, the gap is at least $20.
Most of the differences are explained by how much tax or other levies a province applies on beer, since per unit production costs are pretty much the same across the country. While some people may grumble about Quebec’s sales and income taxes – which are frankly less than or comparable to other provinces – no one complains about beer being over-taxed.
Another factor that keeps beer prices relatively low in Quebec is the fact it is mostly sold in convenience stores – dépanneurs – or in larger supermarkets and yes, even Costco. In most other provinces, beer is available only through government-owned outlets. The Quebec situation encourages competition and the consumer benefits through low prices. The province each year sets a minimum retail price for beer – for example, a case of 24 bottles of beer with medium alcohol content is fixed at $24.98 (plus deposit and tax). Retailers will vie for in-store traffic by keeping the price on some beer brands rock bottom.
Quebec City boasts several stores which specialize only in beer, with an emphasis on the wonderfully vast array of suds that are brewed within the city and region, or from elsewhere in the province. It seems there’s a new beer on the market almost every week. And again, prices for specialty beers are more than reasonable. Of course, a wide selection of imported brands are readily available in stores or at SAQ outlets, the government-owned liquor and wine agency.
Many of the city’s 17 breweries – microbrasseries – are incorporated in restaurants that serve simple but great food. The pioneer in Quebec City is L’Inox, located in the heart of the restaurant district on elegant Grande Allée boulevard. Next year L’Inox will celebrate the 30th anniversary of its founding at its original location in the old port where it was a popular destination until it moved uptown in 2009.
Other microbreweries of note are La Barbarie and La Korrigane, in the St. Roch district, Griendel, in the adjacent St. Sauveur neighbourhood and La Souche, in Limoilou. A little further from the city centre are La Brasserie Générale, in Charlesbourg, Micro Des Beaux Prés, in Ste. Anne de Beaupré, and Microbrasserie de l’Île d’Orléans, on the scenic and historic island.
Beers brewed in the Quebec City region regularly take home prizes in international competitions. For example, in November’s Brussels Beer Challenge, in which 1,250 beers from around the world were entered, six Canadian breweries, all based in Quebec, won prizes, including three gold medals; two of those three went to local producers. They are Le Corsaire Microbrasserie, of Levis, for its Dark Mild; and Archibald Microbrasserie, for its German-inspired Schwarzbier. You may be interested to know that an American ex-pat, Daniel Lowing, was a master brewer at Archibald before crossing the river to work at Le Corsaire.
It’s not surprising there is such an abundance of small, independent breweries « hopping » up in the city. After all, being the founding settlement of New France, people have centuries’ worth of experience creating home brew. In fact, in 1668, the famous Intendant of the colony, Jean Talon, established La Brasserie du Roi, North America’s first brewery, using fresh local hops, which even exported its beer to French colonies in the Caribbean.
In more recent years, virtually all beer production was the domain of large « industrial » breweries, but in the 1980s, the Quebec government passed a law allowing artisanal beer-makers to enter the market. Since then, the microbrewery community has boomed. There is a new opportunity on the horizon with a proposed law to allow brew-pubs to sell their products directly from source – beer to “take-out” – rather than through distribution points.
At this time of year, beer is a favourite item at parties and get-togethers. Specialty beers are also a very well-appreciated Christmas present – hint, hint. But, of course, come the warm weather, nothing beats a frosty, flavourful beer on one of Quebec’s many bar or restaurant “terraces,” while watching a gorgeous city in motion. A special treat for fans of good brew is the Festibière (beer festival) which takes place in late August in the magnificent old port. The festival celebrated its eighth anniversary this summer as an event of burgeoning popularity.
I think the quality of life in a city is measured by the little things: Clean and safe streets, a happy and busy population, a healthy and growing economy – and a tall mug of finely-brewed, fairly-priced beer.