Beer Tour of Montréal and Chambly

Les bières de Montréal et de Chambly

As previously posted, we recently visited Montréal. Naturally, we checked out some of the beer scene. There’s an active craft brew scene in Quebec, notably in and around Montréal. I wouldn’t say it’s enough to plan an entire trip around, but there are plenty of options if you’re a beer aficionado who happens to be taking a trip.

The first really beer related thing we did was rent a car and drive to Chambly. Of course, Chambly is the home of Unibroue, so this was a natural destination for us. We went to Bedondaine et Bedons Ronds and Fourquet Fourchette (which is the restaurant associated with Unibroue).

Bedondaine et Bedons Ronds is a small brew-pub, (which did not seem like much of a tourist attraction – we were the only non-locals there when we went) that bills itself as a Musée de la Bière (Beer Museum). The walls are lined with display cases filled with beer bottles from around the world, the ceiling is covered with old serving trays featuring different beers and breweries, and there are other beer-related paraphernalia around the bar. (There was a space next door to the bar that presumably held more of the “museum”, but we didn’t end up going in there.)

The beer there was very good, and it should definitely be on your list of places to go if you’re visiting the area.

From there we headed to Fourquet Fourchette for lunch. It’s a lovely building with a great view of the Chambly Basin from the terrace (which is where we sat). The concept, according to the website, claims to be a “marriage between gastronomy and a love of beer”. We were, however, slightly disappointed in the food. Maybe it was because we were there for lunch, but the menu was very limited and the food was just so-so. (I didn’t realize until after our trip that there’s second location in Montréal – maybe the food is better at that location.)

The beer, naturally, being entirely Unibroue selections was very good. My only complaint, as far as the beer goes, is that there wasn’t anything I couldn’t get at any decent liquor store in Chicago. I was hoping they’d have selections that were only available there, but that was not the case.

In Montréal we went to Benelux and Dieu du Ciel! Both were worthwhile stops, but Dieu du Ciel! was our favorite beer stop during the trip.

The beers at Benelux were good, but nothing out of the ordinary. We didn’t eat there, but the menu seemed very limited.

We went to Dieu du Ciel! on our last day. I’m actually glad we didn’t go there sooner, as we might have just kept going back there and not checked out anything else. There beers are excellent, with a good variety and some not-very-oridinary selections.

We did have lunch there, but again, the menu was nothing to get excited about – limited selection, and good, but not great, food. This seemed to be the standard for all of the beer bars and brewpubs there. The focus is strictly on the beer, with the food menu being an after-thought. At least, coming from Chicago with places where the food is exceptional, and just as important as the beer – like Goose Island, Revolution, Owen & Engine, etc. – it seemed that way to us.

There were a few places on our list we didn’t get to. Le Cheval Banc was closed when we went (I didn’t notice on their site that they’re only open in the evenings, not during the day), and we just didn’t make it to Vices & Versa. However, that gives us more to explore next time we go.

South Pond at Lincoln Park Zoo

The other day I arrived early to pick up Carrie from work and had some time to kill.  I decided to go for a walk and check out the newly rehabbed South Pond at Lincoln Park Zoo (the Pond is not actually part of the zoo, it’s part of the park, but LPZ is responsible for it now that the rehab is done).

If you’re unaware, the pond just went through a major rehabilitation project to turn it into a more natural habitat.  You can read a little more about the project here: Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo.

At any rate, they did a magnificent job.  Walking around the pond, the feeling is of being far away from the city, except you have the magnificent skyline as the backdrop.  It’s a wonderful experience.  Some of the indigenous plant-life that was added has not fully grown out yet, but when it does it will add to the allusion of being a million miles from nowhere.

If you’re in the city, or coming for a visit, it is definitely worth checking out.

I took some photos while I was there.  You can head over to my Flickr page to check them out: South Pond at Lincoln Park Zoo.

South Pond at Lincoln Park Zoo

Saugatuck, Wineries, and South Haven

(I’m going to try to wrap up the rest of the trip in this post.)

Monday we drove up to Saugatuck.  On the way, we stopped at a large antique store that’s on the way into town, if you’re coming from the south on Blue Arrow Highway, called the Blue Star Antique Pavillion.  We spent quite a bit of time wandering around in there.  It’s pretty big, with a huge inventory, including a big section of old records.  I spent less time looking at the records than I would have liked, but I did see a few things I should have picked up (but didn’t), including an original copy of Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk.  (I didn’t have any cash on me a the time, and didn’t want to use a credit card.  By the time we went back later, they were closed.)

Next door to the antique store was the Saugatuck Brewing Company.  This wasn’t on our list of brewpubs to visit, so we decided we’d come back later that evening.  When we did, we only stayed for one beer.  It was an alright place, with decent service (it seemed like a family run place), but the beer just wasn’t anything special.  (We ended up going back to New Holland.)

Anyway, the rest of the visit to Saugatuck was pretty uneventful.  It’s a nice little town, with all of the expected touristy small town stores.  Nothing big.  We did stop by Kilwins Chocolates and Ice Cream, which was definitely worth it, and there was a small store specializing in different types of spices and spice mixtures.

The next day (Tuesday) we planned on hitting a few wineries.  We went to Fenn Valley, and then to the tasting room for Warner Vineyards in South Haven.  (Both had good wines, but nothing we tasted was all that extraordinary.)

We decided to get lunch in South Haven, and then, since the first time we went there it was evening, we decided to just spend the rest of the day there.  It was a break in our plans, but we ended up having a really nice time walking down by the pier and beach.  Sometimes ditching your vacation plans is the best plan.

(I’ve added a few pics from this second visit to South Haven to my Flickr page, as well as some panoramas from various points during the trip.)

Still in a spontaneous mood, when we left South Haven, we actually just decided to drive home that evening, instead of the following morning.  We had done pretty much everything we wanted, and it wouldn’t take us long to pack and hit the road, so that’s what we did.  It would be nice to get home, and we’d be able to spend the next day just relaxing with no plans.

Hop Cat – Grand Rapids

Hop CatOn Sunday (two weeks ago, now – that’s how long it’s taking me to get caught up) we drove to Grand Rapids.  We had planned on hitting a bunch of different brew pubs, but our first stop was Hop Cat.  While they do have a few beers that they brew there, the real draw is the amazing selection of other craft and import brews.  We chatted with the bartender, Kim, while drinking our beers.  The staff section on their website says that “Kim is everybody’s favorite person. I mean EVERYONE!” I believe it.  She was very friendly and fun to talk to.

I can sum up Hop Cat like this: Great beer selection, good food, friendly service, and great music playing in the background (which was loud enough to hear, but not loud enough where you had to shout over it to have a conversation).

After a couple of beers, we headed out to Founders, taking a side trip down Division street to some of the shops (what was open on Sunday).  We stopped into a “vintage” clothing store (just off of division), which had mostly non-vintage, trendy stuff mixed with some hippy-ish clothes and some antiques.  There was also a back area with beads.  Lots and lots of beads.

We also stopped by a local record store.  I don’t remember the name of the place.  I picked up a copy of My Morning Jacket’s Celebracion de la Ciudad Natal (on vinyl), and I almost got a copy of Leo Kottke’s Mudlark, but when I took it out of the sleeve to check it out, side two was badly damaged.

We headed on to Founders, which was a bit of a walk (had we gone straight there from Hop Cat, without the side trip, it wouldn’t have been bad).  I hate to say it, but we were highly disappointed.  The beer was good (we each only had one), but the service was slow and inattentive.  And food service is non-existent; you have to go up to a little window connected to the kitchen to order.  Really?  Is it too much trouble to have the wait staff bring out menus and let people order from their table?  And, when Carrie paid with a $20 bill, she was given change for a $10.  Luckily, the waitress didn’t make a big deal of this when we brought it to her attention.

Anyway, we only stayed for one beer, then headed back to Hop Cat.  (We had fully intended on having lunch at Founders, but decided to wait until we got back to Hop Cat to eat.) We spent the rest of the afternoon there, tasting different beers and having friendly conversation with Kim.

The take-away from all of this?  If you’re visiting Grand Rapids, skip Founder’s and go directly to Hop Cat.

Holland, Michigan, New Holland Brewery, and Weird Coincidences

The second day of our trip to Michigan was probably our most eventful.  We drove to Holland, Michigan, which is a place that Carrie and I had both been several times when we were children.  (I suppose that’s one of those weird little coincidences life throws at you.) The main focus of our visit this time, however, was not Dutch Village* (which is someplace you should definitely visit if you have kids of your own).  No, this time our focus was New Holland Brewing Co. I’ll talk about that in a bit.

We walked around the downtown area right around where New Holland is.  It was nice, but again it is one of those touristy small towns with a bunch of stores that are all the same (see the previous post about Lake Geneva).  But, (like Lake Geneva) there are other things to do there.  I mentioned Dutch Village and New Holland, there’s also Windmill Island, home of De Zwaan.

De Zwaan is billed as “America’s Only Authentic, Working Dutch Windmill”.  It’s located on an island (which is only technically an island by being cut off from the rest of the geography by a couple of small steams) not far from the downtown area.  We went on a lark, but it was fun.  There are lovely gardens and a miniature Dutch countryside village dubbed “Little Netherlands”, and presentations about windmills and Dutch culture (we missed the klompen dance only by minutes).  And, of course, De Zwaan.  It’s actually pretty impressive to see up close (pictures on Flickr).  If you visit Holland, MI, I’d definitely recommend making it a part of your trip.

Before all of this, we stopped for lunch at New Holland.  We enjoyed it very much – the food was good, as was the beer.  Carrie got their version of a Vienna lager, and I got their the barrel-aged version of their Mad Hatter (they had several specialty versions of the Hatter available when we went).  The Vienna was very much what you would expect from a Vienna-style lager, malty and smooth.  It was very good.  The barrel-aged was excellent, with some nice vanilla undertones to it.

I didn’t get the Poet Oatmeal Stout, even though it is one of my favorite oatmeal stouts, since a) oatmeal stout isn’t a really good “summer” beer, and b) I can easily get it in Chicago.  It would have been nice to have it from the tap, but I liked the barrel-aged so much I just stuck with that (since it was a special offering, I knew I wouldn’t be able to find it elsewhere).

Before we left New Holland, I saw a poster advertising their live music schedule.  I decided to check it out to see if anybody interesting was playing that weekend.  Much to my surprise, that night’s act was a blues guitarist that we had gone to see several times in the early ‘90s in and around Chicago.  Keith Scott**.  We had become acquaintances with him at the time, and he even invited me on stage with him and his band a couple of times.  It had probably been about fifteen years since we last saw him.

Another one of those weird little coincidences.

We decided to go back that evening to hear him play.  We had a good time – good music and good beer.  We spoke a bit to Keith between sets, getting caught up.  It was really a pleasant, unplanned part of our vacation.


*Next time I’m out by my parents’ house I’ll see if I can dig up some of the photos that were taken when we went there as kids.

**Unfortunately, Keith hasn’t updated his website for a couple of months, so none of his upcoming gigs are currently listed.

South Haven

The first night we were in Michigan we drove from the cabin we had rented to South Haven.  We had dinner at Clementine’s, which is a nice place with a few good beers available, and decent (not great) food.  However, their menu is in desperate need of being updated – it felt like we had time-warped to the late ‘70s or early ‘80s.

Anyway, after dinner we went for a walk down by the lakefront.  It happened to be right after sunset and the sky was a beautiful, rich purple.  I ran to the car to grab my camera, but was too lake to get any shots while the sky was at its most brilliant.  I did manage to take a few good pictures, though – which have been posted to Flickr.

It was a pretty uneventful evening, which is not an entirely bad way to start a vacation!

Gameland

In my last post, I said “There’s really not much in Lake Geneva – pretty much the same types of stores that you can find in any small town tourist destination.” (Speaking, specifically, of the downtown shopping area – there is, of course, plenty of other things to do in Lake Geneva.) There is one major exception to that, which I didn’t think about at the time I wrote that post: Gameland.

Right on the main street, just a half block away from the beach, stands an arcade.  This might not seem all that unusual – an arcade to draw in the kids and bored teenagers that were dragged to Lake Geneva by their parents – until you step inside.  On previous visits we had always just walked past the arcade and not given it a second thought (again, figuring it would be filled with kids), but this time we decided to step in and check it out.  What we found was amazing – it’s not just an arcade, it’s pretty much a video game museum.

All of the games you remember playing in your youth (assuming your youth took place in the late 70s and early 80s) were there, as well as old pinball machines and other, even older, mechanical games.  These were all (mostly) original machines, and most in working order (only a couple that we saw had “out of order” signs on them).  We were completely blown away.  We just walked around looking at the games in awe.  We didn’t actually play any, as we had to head back to the hotel to get ready for the concert later that day, but, had we the time, we probably would have spent a few hours there.

I tried to look up information about Gameland for this post, but I couldn’t come up with much.* I did see a reference to a Chicago Tribune article from last summer (which has since been archived, so I can’t link to it) that said Gameland was closing in September ‘08.  I don’t know if the owners changed their mind, or if someone else bought it (it seems to be called Bigfoot Amusement now), but it’s still there.  Hopefully, it will still be there the next time we go to Lake Geneva.


*It’s worth pointing out that I’m at work, and our internet filter blocks anything that is game/video game related.  There’s probably plenty of good info about this place on video game forums, I just can’t, at the moment, access any of that info.

Long Weekend Part Three – Wisconsin

This will be the last post in the series detailing our trip to see Phish.  Part One here, and Part Two here.


The morning after the show at Deer Creek we slept in a bit, grabbed breakfast at the hotel, then hit the road.  The traffic heading back on 65 was much worse than on the trip down. Much worse.  It probably added about an hour to our trip.

We made a side trip to Three Floyds in Munster Indiana for lunch.  It was alright.  I wouldn’t go out of my way to go there, but if you’re a beer nut and happen to be traveling through Indiana on I-65 or I-80, it may be worth checking out.  Their beers are okay, but not outstanding, and the food was good, but certainly nothing to write home about.  The brewpub itself is tucked away in the middle of an industrial/business district – it’s really just a bar attached to the front of the brewery.  (I wonder if they had to get special zoning for that.  You really wouldn’t expect to find any kind of restaurant or bar where it was located.)

Back on the road towards Wisconsin (the rest of the ride was pretty uneventful).  We stopped at the Brat Stop, to pick up some brats for grilling in the lot the next day, some New Glarus beer (we got the Imperial Saison and the Berliner Weiss), summer sausage and some really good cheese.  Seriously.  I know the whole Wisconsin=Cheese thing is a bit of a joke, but you really can’t get good cheese like that elsewhere.  Especially aged cheddar.  The oldest aged cheddar I’ve ever been able to find in any gourmet food store in Chicago is 3-year.  We got the 9-year.  (They have older than that, too.)

We checked into the hotel (The Geneva Inn) and set up shop on our balcony overlooking the lake.  (Make sure you head over to Flickr to check out the pics from The Geneva Inn.  There are some really great shots taken from the balcony.)

We spent the rest of the evening relaxing on the balcony, sipping beers and snacking on sausage and cheeses, listening to music and playing cards.  It was a nice relaxing break, especially after the hectic previous day.

The following morning (Sunday, if you’ve been keeping track), we got up and headed to town for breakfast, then hit some of the shops.  (There’s really not much in Lake Geneva – pretty much the same types of stores that you can find in any small town tourist destination.*)

After that, it was back to hotel to get ready and pack the cooler for tailgating at the concert (we actually kind of felt like blowing off the concert and just spending the evening on the balcony again).  We were on the road pretty early and hit absolutely no traffic on the back roads between Lake Geneva and Alpine Valley (a nice change of pace) and got to the lots right after they opened.  Since I had sprung for the premium seating, we got a great spot just a few hundred feet from the venue gates.

The rest of the afternoon was spent grilling brats and drinking beer in the lot.  We got up and walked around to check things out a couple of times, but mostly just hung out enjoying the afternoon until it was time to go in and find our seats before the show.  The concert was really great, especially the second set (the first set kind of petered-out towards the end).

And, that’s pretty much it.  The next day we drove back home with nothing but our memories of a great weekend (well, our memories, some great cheese, and a couple of bags from shopping at the outlet mall that’s just north of the Wisconsin-Illinois border).


*UPDATE:  I wanted to point out that I’m referring to, specifically, the little down-town shopping area.  There is, of course, plenty to do in Lake Geneva.  But, if you’ve been to any touristy small-town, they all seem to have the same kinds of shops in their down-town area.