Rooftop Hops Offer Beer and Beauty in Montreal
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Rooftop Hops Offer Beer and Beauty in Montreal

Montrealers are growing hops on their homes as a way of fighting mass-produced beer and urban ugliness.

"We're all fighting the same enemy—corporate, mass-produced beer."

Mathieu Garceau-Tremblay is a man with a vision. Not just for beer, but for the city of Montreal. "I was looking around at different projects in the city, like community gardens and rooftop beehives, and I was thinking brewers should do something like this to help improve the city."

Part of that crusade includes providing roots and growing equipment to Montrealers who want to beautify their homes with one of nature's most elegant and (literally) intoxicating flowers. In return, Garceau-Tremblay, head brewer at Brasserie Harricana in the city's Mile-Ex neighbourhood, will harvest the buds and make delicious beer in concert with other brewers around the city.


Mathieu Garceau-Tremblay. Photos by Nick Rose.

Humulus lupulus L., also known as hops, are formidable climbers. For Mathieu, who is an avid gardener, on top of being a brewer, it was a no-brainer. "I came up with the idea for hops because of course there is no room to grow barley, it would be quite tough, but hops grow vertically and there are a lot of structures in the city like staircases and baseball cages, the front of buildings which need to be made greener and will look much better."

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The Montréal Houblonnière project is going well so far, with over 700 hops rhizomes (roots) sold since the project began last year. Hops takes about three years to mature, so its harvest will coincide perfectly with Montreal's next big birthday. "That brings us to 2017, which will be the 375th anniversary of the city, and I said, 'Oh, we can make a beer on that year to commemorate the city with the hops grown in Montreal.'"

"So we're going to track down all of the people who participated. And we are going to make a map of Montreal and break it down by neighbourhood then we'll distribute the harvest. But each brewer will be responsible for their hops and can create their own sense of community in their neighbourhood. That's the whole point of Montréal Houblonnière."

The urban harvest will then be brewed in part at Harricana's state-of-the-art facility which features its very own Flux Capacitor—not the one from Back to the Future—but a really cool control board that channels the beer to taps while allowing to control for, among other things, pressure, gas, and foam.


The flux capacitor.

But honouring Montreal with beer also means going beyond a communal city-wide hops-growing operation. Mathieu has worked with Café Union, a neighbourhood coffee roaster, to make a very light and low-alcohol (2.5 per cent ABV) beer.

"Café Union is right across the street. When we were building the brewery here, we could smell the nice coffee aroma and roasting. So we knew when we started that it was going to smell like beer everywhere and we knew that both smells were going to fuse in the air. It was just logical to put it into a beer and collaborate with our neighbours."


Mathieu and his coffee creation.

For Garceau-Tremblay, it's more about being aware of his surroundings than it is about innovation per se. That's why he has also created a partnership with the University of Montreal and urban beekeepers Miel Montréal.

Mathieu already sources high-quality hops from British Columbia, Oregon, and Australia, but the Montreal-harvested Houblonnière batch will provide a truly unique opportunity. "Using fresh hops, the day it's harvested, is a rare thing and that's what we're going to be doing. It's something that's usually done in these hop-growing regions but we're doing it in Montreal which has the space to become a big beer scene."

"Honey beer is going to be a light golden ale. Easy to drink, we want to honey to come through, so it's light in colour. The honey comes from the hives on the Outremont campus. The University of Montreal gave us the honey through Miel Montreal. So we all got visibility and started a new partnership that will last for years hopefully."


Beer lab.

Garceau-Tremblay has a bit of a mad scientist vibe and a firm grasp of the chemistry required to make 22 on-tap beers for Harricana, but he draws as much inspiration from the creative side of things. "My title in french is 'chef-brasseur,' which literally means 'chief-brewer.' But I really like the "chef" side because it refers to the gastronomic side of the beer. So even in English, I would say I'm a 'chef-brewer.'"

And ideas like Montréal Houblonnière aren't the last we've heard from Mathieu Garceau-Tremblay; he even has a mushroom beer in the works.

"I'm planning on a mushroom beer. I'm a mushroom picker and Quebec has great mushrooms. My mind goes really too fast. I have trouble keeping up. Sometimes I just know it's a good idea. But ideas aren't worth shit unless you work hard."

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