Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Quaff Review #5: L'indépendante

"Quebec is different, very different," said the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, the single least popular and most hated Prime Minister in Canadian history. "It is not strange or weird, it is just different."

Its beer is also different. In fact, I am led to believe that it will never submit.

Much of Quebec's recent history with regard to the rest of the country has been bound up in its 1980 and 1995 attempts to go its own way as an independent state, though the recent silence on that front looks to break the fifteen-year cycle of referenda before it really had a chance to begin. The Parti Québécois hasn't been in power for six years, and the current Liberal majority in the National Assembly seems to be keeping things on an even keel with little talk of separation.

Not everyone is satisfied with this. Thus, enter L'indépendante, a new craft-brewed beer produced to raise awareness of and support for Quebec independence. A portion of profits from the sale of L'indépendante are, according to Google Translate, "used to promote the country of Quebec."

That's right - this is separatist beer. Naturally, once I learned of its existence, I realized I couldn't go all the way to Montreal and not try some. For the purposes of reviewing it, you understand. It doesn't make me a bad Canadian. Besides, this is one beer that will be found on the shelves of an LCBO around the same time as I have the chance to vote for a Bloc Québécois candidate in Trinity—Spadina.

The first thing I found is that L'indépendante is hard to find. Apparently it hasn't been selling as well as its creators hoped, and as an independent beer it doesn't have quite the heft necessary to get into the limited cooler space of Quebec's depanneurs and grocery stores. I found it at La Fromagerie Marché Atwater in Montreal's Atwater Market, a cheese store with a rather wide selection of beers - many of which were local Quebec beers that I'd never seen before. If I'd had more time in the province, I would have tried some of them out as well.

It took a few minutes of careful searching to find the L'indépendante; as far as I could see, the six-bottle case I picked up was the only one they had in stock. All told, it cost me $15.49 CDN, which included a $0.60 bottle deposit charge ("depot bouteille"), $0.66 GST, and $1.04 in Quebec sales tax. For purposes of comparison, a six-bottle case of Antigravity Light Ale is $11.95 at the LCBO before Ontario's interminable sales taxes.

L'indépendante, though it has its charms, is no Antigravity Light Ale.

love that lens flare

I found that the beer builds up a good head of foam when poured, but that it also clears very quickly. I can only describe its smell as "beer," having nothing in that regard I'd find unusual, and it has a wheaty sort of taste to it that doesn't hit very hard. Strange, that; considering that it's a beer devoted to Quebec independence, and that its labels and marketing play that angle to the hilt - I mean, par Dieu, its logo is a closed fist!

Nevertheless, while it doesn't have an extraordinary or even unusual taste, L'indépendante goes down smooth, and I'd put it in the same hammock-in-summer category as Antigravity. Since my hotel room didn't have a refrigerator and the ice machine was out of ice half the time I went there, I found that it actually tasted rather good when warm, a point in its favor. Most beers make me want to gag when they're warm. The box says that it is best served between 5 and 12 degrees Celsius.

The box says a lot of things, actually, but with my limited command of French I cannot reliably read it. The sole and solitary English word that appears on the packaging is "beer," and I would bet that's only because they're required to be bilingual in at least that respect. Otherwise, this beer appears to be targeted at the Quebécois and only the Quebécois. I was very careful to speak only French while I was buying it.

So, if you're in Quebec, you're not from Quebec, and you're interested interested in something you'd never get back home, you could do worse than give L'indépendante a try. I drank it without regret - my own feelings on Quebec separation, should it come to that, are on the record. I am not a bad Canadian.

I have to say, though, that Quebec independence probably would have a hell of a lot more mileage if it was fronted by attractive young women like the one on L'indépendante's label and not angry old dudes like Jacques Parizeau.


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