Les Brasseurs du Temps has ambitious plans to serve up beer and history in equal measure
When Marc Gaudin and his partners opened Les Brasseurs du Temps last summer, the ghost of Philemon Wright must have gasped, “It’s about time.” After all, it was here at the corner of Papineau and Montcalm (formerly Brewery Street) on the banks of Brewery Creek that Wright himself decided in 1821 to convert his distillery into a brewery to satisfy the hordes of thirsty English and Irish labourers who descended on the area to build the Rideau Canal. Almost 200 years later, Gaudin and his partners hope their modern brew hall, housed in a stone heritage building located on the same site, will draw in modern-day hordes of thirsty patrons in search of fine microbrews, good food, and history.
Gaudin, who holds the dual titles of vice-president and director of business development, is passionate about bringing alive the brew history of the region — which is why he plans to upgrade the status of Les Brasseurs du Temps from microbrewery and restaurant to microbrewery, restaurant, and museum. Either before or after their meal and pint, visitors will soon be able to walk down a Guggenheim Museum-like spiral ramp that will take them from the main level of the resto-brewery down to the brewery creek terrace. The museum, which is scheduled to open in April, will display photographs, artifacts, and text, explaining the history of beer making both internationally and within the region. The more technically inclined will be able to check out the modern-day brewing process through large windows overlooking the brewing operations (or, with a few days’ notice, by a plant tour).
Tourisme Québec, Tourisme Outaouais, and the provincial government have all lent their support to the history-of-beer concept, offering grants to make the museum a reality. And Gaudin, who has spent many hours at Library and Archives Canada and the Quebec archives conducting research about Hull’s history, is excited about bringing to life a time when the city was known as Beer Town. “Of course, there was forestry and fur in the Outaouais,” Gaudin explains, “but there was also alcohol.” In fact, between 1830 and 1940, six breweries and six bottling plants operated between Hull and the LeBreton Flats. And during Prohibition, Hull was a mecca for beer, which could be — and was — sold, with stores on just about every corner. The city was baptized Little Chicago, and clubs and speakeasies sprang up everywhere. “Montcalm Street — a name with no local historic significance at all — used to be called Brewery Street,” explains Gaudin. “I’ll eventually convince the city to change it back.” With help from beer historian Ian Bowering, Gaudin has also collected photos, artifacts, and documents from the 1700s and 1800s, including a contract between Philemon Wright and John Molson in which Wright promises to sell Molson hops for his beer-making operations.
Dominique Gosselin, a biochemist and trained brewmaster, is in charge of the beer making, which takes place in the centre of this enormous building. Twelve beers are brewed on the premises. They vary from light to dark, fruity to spicy, hoppy to chocolatey. But while the beer-making operation here reflects the brewing traditions of Belgium, Gaudin says Les Brasseurs du Temps will also honour the traditional English brewing techniques from the time of Philemon Wright and will offer stout, porter, and barley wines. In fact, Philemon Wright’s 1821 recipe is used to make the Hull Extra Special Bitter. Most of the names of the beers are chosen to evoke the history of the region. Trois Portages, for example, is a triple-density beer that gives a nod to the Chaudière Falls and the three portages it took to cross it, while L’Allumante pays homage to the allumetières, the women who worked at making matches in the E.B. Eddy factory in the early 1900s.
It is the job of chef-consultant Olivier Millot to devise a menu to complement the beer. A Parisian specialist of cuisine de brasserie who has worked at Sterling Restaurant and Château Montebello, Millot keeps the menu simple: choucroute garni, mussels, Mariposa Farm duck, sausages, burgers, ribs, steak, grilled scallops, and poutine. Beer makes its way into just about every accompanying sauce or vinaigrette. There’s an emphasis on cuisine de terroir, with local bison, boar, and beef making their way onto the menu. Indeed, once a week the farmer of Takwânaw Farm near Papineauville arrives to deliver bison meat and sausages and to take away la drèche — the mash from the beer-making process — to feed to his bison. He also takes a keg or two of Extra Special Bitter to flavour the bison sausages.
The atmosphere is artisan beer hall, with local artists and craftspeople supplying the leather menu covers, artwork, and bottle label designs. There will soon be music on tap, with performances by folk, jazz, and blues musicians beginning after 9 p.m. On Monday nights, the brasserie hosts tastings with beer experts that match beer and cheese, beer and sausages — even beer and chocolate. But Gaudin and his partners see these cultural activities as just the beginning of their longer-term vision to bring to life the beer-making heritage of Hull while reviving the culture of the downtown core. Last year they purchased St. James Church on nearby promenade du Portage, with plans to turn it into a centre for the arts where people can gather for music and shows, as well as beer and food. As well, they already have their eye on capturing a bigger chunk of the micro-beer market in the Outaouais and making inroads into the rest of Quebec, Ontario, and the United States. But as the ambitious marketing plan moves forward, the owners say they are always conscious of staying loyal to history and quality. Philemon Wright would surely approve.