The first thing I noticed when walking into the Le Castor Microbrewery was the slightly bitter aroma of beer being made. I followed Daniel Addey Jibb, co-founder of the brewery, right through another door to Hamlet, his and his partner’s heavy timberwork company. It was like a portal going from one world to the next, with again the smell being the first thing I noticed: this time the pleasant scent of cut wood.
Although I didn’t quite understand the need to start with a woodworking company
when I was there to learn about beer, it was truly where the story begins. With wood. And Scotland. And real ales[i] – what Daniel and his business partner Murray Elliott would drink in the pubs during their internship in Scotland learning about the centuries-old craft of traditional timber framing.
After a few years, the men returned from the UK to their native Quebec and launched their company, Hamlet, temporarily forgetting those merry moments around a few pints. Hamlet has cornered a niche market. They build houses and offices, new constructions as well as the conservation of older edifices, such as a covered bridge in Waterville, Quebec[ii]. It is pure artistry; the graceful, curved lines, pegged joints, and large beams. They are the only company in Quebec to carry on the European tradition.
But then the economic downturn of 2008/2009, and Daniel and Murray found themselves with a bit of time on their hands. What else do you do in a spacious heavy timberwork shop for three months? Why, you start brewing your own beer. They shared with friends and family, and they realized, it wasn’t just okay, it was excellent. They also realized that they needed to diversify if they were to survive future economic scarcity. And there the idea of their microbrewery fermented.
In June of this year they had their official opening, and already their orders are larger than their capacity. It’s no wonder. I am more of a wine drinker myself, but this beer is really delicious. Letting it warm up a bit before you taste allows all the flavors to surface. It’s not too carbonated as well, which is a huge plus compared to the commercial beers. My first taste was of Wee Heavy Bourbon, their first in their Grande Reserve line. It is aged in oak bourbon barrels for 3 months, filling your glass with a beautiful sunlit cinnamon color. The first thing I tasted was vanilla! That apparently comes from the oak barrels.
Their main ale, the Pale Ale, has a fruity, citrusy taste, which comes from the hops they bring in from the West Coast. Although not all their ingredients are local, they do try to keep them Canadian, and if not, as close to the Canadian border as possible. They have closely considered every aspect of the company, from the quality of their ingredients (all organic and Canadian as much as possible), to their bottles (reused and sterilized from a center in Laval), to the format (660ml bottle = two regular beers). This last is also a unique aspect. Their beers are meant to be shared. You open it for two, like you would a bottle of wine. They also have gone to the trouble of putting suggested food pairings on the back of the label, again like you would find on a bottle of wine. They have a jug (called a Growler), which is equal to a six-pack. The perfect size to bring to a dinner party with friends. I have to say, I really love this concept, how it is all thought out and encourages people to share.
I guess it only stands to reason, that two men who would learn a trade where every tree and beam are considered with care, and inserts and cuts are measured to 1/16th of an inch, would also take the same care and consideration when brewing their ale.
Their Microbrewery is off to a good start, although it will take another year or so before it’s self-sufficient. But luckily for us, they plan on continuing both of their business enterprises.
The website is still under construction, but they do have an up-to-date list of points of purchase for you to find a merchant near you.
You can also stop by the brewery for a visit. They are located in Rigaud and open Saturdays from 10am to 4pm. (67 chemin des Vinaigriers, Rigaud: ignore the “detour” signs and drive through. They still allow local traffic).
If you’re a regular on Facebook, you may want to “like” them, to stay up-to-date on events and their limited edition beers, such as the current Oktoberfest “October-weisse” they have created for the Fall season and available in Growlers or on tap at selected merchants (such as the Co-op des Bons Voisins in Pointe-Claire Village).
[i] Real ales are fermented twice, with active yeast in the beer which adds gases to the beer, instead of having carbon dioxide added artificially. They are flavorful, often served warm compared to North American standards, and can have a lower alcohol content. They are meant to be savored.