A Sip Of History

A brewpub with a brewing museum inside it? I’ll drink to that

PINTS by Jason Foster

pints

Sometimes it takes a while to realize just how cool something you experienced really was.

That happened to me after my summer travels this year, when I realized that something I thought was mildly interesting at the time has become one of the things I talk about most when I’m asked about my trip.

That thing is a brewpub in Gatineau, Québec called Les Brasseurs du Temps.

Les Brasseurs opened in 2009 on the banks of the appropriately named Brewers Creek — and on the site of the Capital Region’s first brewery, which opened in 1821. It’s a pleasant, enjoyable pub, and on the lower floor you can sit right beside the creek, which is fabulous on a summer day. Les Brasseurs has 12 house-brewed beers on tap daily, in a wide range of styles.

The beers were enjoyable, if a bit uneven. I quite liked the Blanche de Koralie, a witbier, which was sharp and fresh with a delicate citrus edge. La Nuit des Temps, Les Brasseurs’ stout, was also a tasty sip. Some others were out of balance or too big or too small for their style but even the misfires were honest, well-crafted efforts.

All fine and good but it was another feature of the pub that’s had me thinking — and talking — about the place a lot over the last while: Les Brasseurs du Tempshas a built-in beer history museum!

The museum consists of a spiral walkway that connects the upper and lower floors. All along its walls is a series of curated exhibits that tell the story of beer in the Capital Region. There are old maps, drawings, photos and brewing artifacts that supplement the written narratives of the origins and development of brewing in the area. The museum also imparts some basic lessons on beer and the brewing process.

The servers encourage you to take your pint (or in my case, a couple of sampler-tray glasses) and wander down the walkway at your leisure. The exhibits (in both French and English) are quite strong — they’re clearly well-researched and the story is well told. I learned quite a few things during my 20-30 minutes perusing the installation.

Then, I didn’t think about it much at all for quite some time.

But lately I’ve become almost obsessed with how ingenious the idea is: it seamlessly integrates a fun beer-drinking experience with a serious, yet entertaining, beer education. It’s brilliant, for two main reasons.

First, Les Brasseurs has taken the idea of providing a quality beer education to a higher level. Most decent brewpubs offer some kind of infographic on how beer is made, show off the ingredients and/or promote their own story, but that’s about it — rarely do they place their operation in the context of the industry as a whole. Les Brasseur Du Temps, on the other hand, has created a celebration of beer in general. Sure, it helps that their pub is located on historically significant real estate, but they don’t use the museum to play up their brewery — they use it to highlight the history of everything that came before them.

Second, Les Brasseurs incorporates the museum into the pub experience. It’s not some separate room that no one goes into, and it’s not something they charge $5 a head to see — it’s just there, as part of the pub. If you want a creek-side table, you walk through the museum. You can grab a pint and spend a couple minutes checking a panel or two, or spend a half-hour taking in the whole thing. It’s also not intrusive; if you’re there on a hot date or to hang with friends, you can easily give the museum a pass (although personally I’d say a beer history museum would make a hot date hotter. Yup, I get all the ladies).

Along with being a pretty cool way to pass the time while enjoying a pint, the concept creates a stronger appreciation of beer in general. When you read the stories of the first brewers that set up shop in the region, it makes beer seem more anchored in the local community.

A Humble Proposal

So after all that, my question is: who’s going to step up and transfer this seriously excellent concept to Saskatchewan?

This province has never been a powerhouse but if you think there wouldn’t be enough material to fill a brewpub museum you’d be entirely wrong — there’s a much richer beer history in Saskatchewan than most people realize.

Imagine if a pub told the story of O.H. Allen and J.R. MacKenzie, Saskatchewan’s first brewers, who opened a brewery in Moose Jaw (yup) in 1883. Or how about the Regina Brewing Company, which opened in 1907 on the site that eventually became the Molson Plant? Or the earliest origins of what is today Great Western Brewing, which opened as something called Hub City Brewing back in 1928.

Here’s betting you had no clue about any of those things, right? Fair enough — but wouldn’t you like to learn more about them while downing a quality pint or two? I know I would.

Jason Foster is an Edmonton-based pints pundit and certified beer judge. He really, really likes beer.

2015-10-29