Last month, I went on a family vacation to Quebec’s Magdalen Islands (AKA Îles de la Madeleine). About a 5.5-hour ferry ride from P.E.I., the Acadian archipelago is smack in the middle of the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, boasting an abundance of sandy beaches, fresh seafood, and spectacular scenery. And like the rest of Quebec, it has a lively local-food-and-drink scene.
Considering the region’s total population is 12,000, I was delighted to discover a thriving local brewery, cidery, and meadery, plus a choice selection of other Quebecois drinks. (I know some people argue that cider and mead aren’t really beer; if confronted by one of those people, it’s best to just nod politely and have a drink.)
Here are my five favourites from the trip.
Chipie by Archibald Microbrasserie in Lac-Beauport, Que.
The instant you board that ferry in Souris, P.E.I., you’re essentially in Quebec. The proof? The onboard bar boasts a selection of craft beers at a shockingly reasonable price and you’re not confined to a little bar to drink them. My vacation started with a textbook American red ale. Unshowy and straightforward, with a lovely Cascade-hop nose and a strong malt backbone.
Pilsner Blonde by Alchimiste Microbrasserie in Joliette, Que.
As you’d expect, the SAQ liquor store was our first stop, where this little darling was retailing for $2.85 a bottle. (In a Nova Scotian store, $2.85 barely gets you a look at a good craft beer, let alone a bottle.) This is no low-quality, high-volume discount beer, though. It’s unusually interesting for the style: light and grainy, with faint minerality to finish. Refreshing after a long day of travel.
And now, the made-in-the-Magdalens portion of our list…
Hydromel des Montants by Miel En Mer in Havre-aux-Maisons, Que.
There’s some debate over just what to call this tasty beverage. The honey-maker who produces it calls it a “honey wine,” Untappd calls it a “honey beer,” and the local tourism website calls it “mead.” Pedantry aside, it’s surprisingly sweet without being cloying. Local chokeberries give it a nice complexity, adding just enough tartness to offset the honey richness.
La Poméloi by Le Verger Poméloi in Bassin, Que.
This charming little cidery is tucked away on a winding dirt road in the hills, about as far from the ocean as you can get on this island. Its store/tasting room is just big enough for four adults. And it is absolutely worth visiting. The owner is friendly and knowledgeable, eager to share his passion. (He invited us to wander around the orchards and explore, which was a lovely way to spend a sunny summer morning). This eponymous oak-aged cider is his Cadillac, and it’s not hard to see why. At 17% ABV, it’s agreeably warm, with the oakiness making it feel like a smooth, faintly sweet whisky. Prickly/spicy notes give it an excellent finish. The best cider I’ve had in a long, long time.
Corps Mort by À l’abri de la Tempête in L’Etang du Nord, Que.
On my last Quebec trip I went to Gaspé and found a pilsner from these guys that I loved, so I was eager to visit the brewery on this trip. I took a trunkful of their beer home, and this English-style barleywine was my favourite. Sticky, rich, currant-sweet, and smooth. With 11% ABV, it’s another big boozer, but it’s so beautifully crafted you’d never know it. Aggressively flavourful yet quaffable. Often this style starts to feel like work after I’ve had a couple sips; this one went down easily, leaving me wondering why I hadn’t bought more. Best beer of the trip (and of the year, so far).
Regular contributor and guest reviewer Trevor J. Adams is senior editor with Metro Guide Publishing and the editor of Halifax Magazine. In 2012, he published his first solo book, Long Shots: The Curious Story of the Four Maritime Teams That Played for the Stanley Cup (Nimbus Publishing). You can see what Trevor is drinking on Untappd and follow him on Twitter.