Growing up in Montreal in the 60’s, I remember grocery store signs with the legend “Ale and Porter”. In French, it was “Bière et Porter“. I recall wondering what those meant. Beer was delivered to homes in the area by small black pedal bicycles (no gears), these were fitted with a wide, low metal basket which held a case of beer – 24 12 oz. beers that is. I’ve looked online for the fascia of a store that says Ale and Porter or Bière et Porter, but can’t find one. Such are the ephemera of one’s years… A verbal description will have to do but anyone who grew up in Montreal in the period I mention, or earlier, will understand, comprends, farshtey.
It was only years later that I actually had a chance to try the ale and porter of my native Quebec province. The ale – Molson Export, Labatt 50, Laurentide Ale, O’Keefe Ale – were tasty enough. The porters were reduced by the time I could broach any to Porter Champlain which was a sweet, licorice-tasting black beer.
These were somewhat attenuated versions of the real thing, and in later years with the onset of the craft beer revival I got to see what real ale and real porter were all about. Here are images of the ditto, savoured recently in my adopted city of Toronto.
This is Stone IPA, all the way from San Diego, CA but tasting very sound thousands of miles from home: rich and sweet, resinous and rather bitter, withal the real deal of old England via Oregon hop fields.
The porter is a rather mild example of the genre, courtesy House of Sleeman in Guelph, ON, and apparently a replication of an 1800’s porter as brewed by a Sleeman family ancestor. There is an old book of recipes from that time and while a certain cynicism takes hold often in the beer world, I saw the book myself 25 years ago when touring the place with the late Michael Jackson. It’s still a good beer and may well be similar to the palate of some of the porters which had hung on in Quebec province in the 50’s and 60’s.
The beer traditions of Quebec, while indubitably inaugurated by French colons, not least l’Intendant Jean Talon, were later appropriated by English settlers after la Cession of the 1770’s. However, all residents, whether French, English, or other, seemed to like the beers they installed. I was an other.
In Quebec taverns circa-1970, the call, “donne-moi une Porter Champlain tablette [room temperature]” was commonly heard – I was listening, farshtey?