This week’s Canada’s Craft Beer post comes from our Ontario and Quebec craft beer guy, David Ort. Today David heads to Quebec to talk to the folks at the cowboy-themed brewery À la Fût.
Summer came to central Canada with a bang this year. And, sure, when it's 30°C and feels more like Texas with the humidity, just making it to the nearest patio can feel like an accomplishment. Especially in the beer department, there are rewards to be had by getting in the car and striking out to find the gems hidden away in the more remote corners of Ontario and Quebec.
The cowboy-themed brewery first came to my attention in 2012 when their Co-Hop V took home the Beer of the Year honour at the Canadian Brewing Awards. It's a barrel-aged sour beer that's a fantastic combination of two famous Belgian styles: kriek (i.e., there are Morello cherries used to brew Co-Hop V) and a Flanders red.
"When we won that prize,” recalls Philippe Dumais, one of the three co-founders, "we confirmed that we are a good brewery for production of oak-aged beer. All the prizes we've won in different contests have mostly been for oak-aged beer."
Only a tiny percentage of the beer made globally these days is aged in oak (a process that smooths edges, can add complex, funky flavours, and imparts vanilla and other flavours and aroma from the wood), but it might seem like a natural fit for a brewery that has an old-tyme western theme. In fact, À la Fût didn't start into that specialised end of the beer spectrum until they'd been operating for three years, in 2010.
The aged beer segment of production has grown gradually over the years as À la Fût has acquired more oak. "We spend a lot of time now on the acquisition and transportation of oak," explains Dumais.
In 2017, they are undertaking "a big project to expand the brewery,” says Dumais, and clarifies that they "don't want to be really, really big but we want to produce two to three times the production we have now."
With the expansion will come the opportunity to send more of their beer outside of Quebec. This growth for their reach got an early preview last year when they released Triptual Madness Brett, a collaboration brewed with Toronto’s Indie Alehouse.
For now, their bottles are a popular pick for dépanneurs across Quebec, including across the bridge from Ottawa.
When I asked Dumais why he thinks the brewery he founded with Pierre-Paul Carpentier and Francis Foley has been so successful at getting attention (and awards) for their specialized offerings, he said: “The three founders of the brewery are engineers so we have a background in scientific engineering. To be as scientific as possible really makes a difference. We experiment a lot."
He also noted that they pay special attention to the quality of their ingredients and only buy local, organic barley.
That location is a big part of the brewery’s story. Saint-Tite is a town of fewer than 5,000 people that's best-known for bringing hundreds of thousands of rodeo enthusiasts to the countryside north of Trois-Rivières for their Festival Western every Labour Day weekend. It makes sense that À la Fût has a roadhouse-themed restaurant and does about one-tenth of their annual business during the festival.
Better to beat the crowds and pay À la Fût a summertime visit (perhaps in conjunction with one to Trou du Diable) to get a sense of the greatness a brewery can achieve when they focus on a specialty.
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David Ort writes about food, travel, and craft beer for various online and print publications. His first book, The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook, is in bookstores and available for purchase online. For more of his thoughts on all things edible and potable follow him on Twitter or get in touch with him at [email protected]