The hobby of homebrewing quality beer is healthy in Montreal. Started in 2002 by a few homebrewers frustrated with the lack of information, resources and camaraderie, three years later, the MontreAlers are alive and flourishing!
It all started with the efforts of John (Madman) Misrahi and his brewing buddy, Andrew Ludwig. John Misrahi thinks back: “I remember seriously getting into home brewing in the fall of 2001 with Andrew. We had all kinds of brewing questions and although Nathan McNutt at Vinotèque (now brewing at Réservoir) was very helpful, we figured there had to be others with brewing knowledge as well as other homebrewers with lots of questions.
We had read about homebrew clubs in magazines such as Zymurgy and Brew Your Own as well as on the web. Andrew and I figured we would try to find some of the other Montreal area brewers. I typed up a little poster to stick on the wall at Vinotèque, and made a few postings on the Homebrew Digest and rec.crafts.brewing newsgroup about starting a Montreal homebrew club. On the 2002 Easter weekend, we had our first meeting at Brutopia where approximately 8 people showed up and the rest snowballed from there.”
The club started slowly with 6 to 8 regular members attending the first few meetings held in various Montreal brewpubs. However, that did not allow us to taste and comment on each other’s beers – one advantage of belonging to a club that has certified beer judges among its members – so we made the decision that meetings would be more constructive if members hosted them in their homes. For the first year and a half, every monthly meeting saw the arrival of one or two new members, each with their slew of questions and their homebrew efforts looking for ways to improve. At our November 2003 meeting, we had the largest attendance yet with well over 40 homebrewers and 20 different types of beer to taste, comment on, and talk about.
The MontreAlers is all about making great beer at home, but not just any beer. The various members each have their own interest, which means that each meeting we can have styles ranging from Belgian Wits to London Porters. Some are even toying with lambics, oud bruins and other more challenging styles.
At last year’s Canadian Amateur Brewers Association’s “March in Montreal competition” (CABA’s MiM) – a competition attracting 200+ entries from all over Canada – the MontreAlers entered 41 beers in 18 different classes or sub-classes and won 17 medals; including gold and bronze for best in show as well as the best homebrew club honour.
In 2003, a club study group helped a handful of members write the Beer Judge Certification Program exam (BJCP). Four members wrote and passed the exam. The club now has seven recognized, certified, or national level BJCP judges and at least another six who are hoping to write the exam at the next opportunity.
With the demise of some of the city’s homebrew shops, or at least their trend towards catering much more to the homemade wine industry as opposed to the needs of homebrewers, group purchases have become a standard practice with the club. Although local homebrew shops continue to be a convenient place for picking up fresh ingredients such as yeast or for that last minute purchase, the MontreAlers regularly arrange to buy wholesale or in bulk: fresh hops, grain, draft-dispensing hardware, cleaning agents, sanitizer, reclaimed kegs and more. Seeing how many members also make wine, cider, and other spirits, we continue to support our local homebrew shops with regular visits but tend to go to stores that cater to both hobbies thus helping the survival of the city’s last few homebrew stores.
The future is bright for the MontreAlers. We continue to grow through the presence of our website (www.montrealers.ca) and our monthly meetings (second Thursday) which keep attracting new members or new homebrewers every month. Once or twice a year, we try to organize a “big brew” which is a brew day where everyone brings his or her brewing equipment to one person’s house and we all brew together. This is the best way to get beginners started and have an opportunity to see how others brew.
If you are curious about the MontreAlers and or brewing your own beer, look us up!
In February 1995, Denis found a large resource of information on-line and decided to take up the hobby of home brewing. He downloaded John Palmer’s “How To Brew Your First Beer” and went out and got some equipment.
(John Palmer’s article consisted of only a few pages back then. Now it is a few hundred pages long! Check out: www.howtobrew.com .)
Since those first few batches of homebrew, he has brewed hundreds of batches, won several dozens of medals in competition and has brewed using various configurations of brewing equipment from a cauldron over a wood fire with a wooden mash tun and cool ship to the brewery at the Brutopia brewpub on Crescent Street in Montreal. His home brewery has evolved to a dedicated 40L electric brew house in his garage.
He owned and operated a homebrew store in 1995-1996; has been a certified BJCP judge since 1998 and has been an active member of the Canadian Amateur Brewers Association (CABA) since 1995 and a past director on its board. He has written for both the CABA Times and American Brewer Magazine.
Denis attended the very first MontreAlers meeting back on March 30th 2002 and has not missed a single meeting yet.