by Bonnie Wurst – Special
It has been almost five months now since people in Verdun have been raising their glasses of beer (micro-brewed beer to be exact) inside a bar. Although liquor has been allowed to be served with meals in restaurants ever since the citizens of Verdun voted in a 1965 referendum to allow it – it has been over a century since any alcohol was allowed to be served inside a ‘stand-alone’ bar.
Three years ago the borough council repealed the1965 ban and introduced a new plan to permit microbreweries in the area. City councilor Alain Tassé said at the time, they would issue one bar permit for Verdun (and one for Nuns’ Island – not yet announced) – but it came with conditions. The bars would have to be brewpubs or establishments where beer is brewed on site. Benelux, an artisanal brewpub with an existing location on Sherbrooke St. in Montreal, was awarded the first license and on May 13th of this year became the first bar to open in Verdun.
As part of the conditions, they have a monopoly on the area for the time being – no other brewpubs are permitted to operate within a one-kilometre radius of its location. The borough has been using Benelux as a test subject to see if bars and the Verdun community can co-exist.
Verdun’s history as a ‘dry’ town dates back 138 years according to historian Mathieu Perron, and it has periodically been reinforced. In 1919 the town of Verdun held a referendum to see if it should continue to ban alcohol sales and citizens overwhelmingly voted in favour of the measure. The ban stems from the Montreal postwar prohibition. It was only in the 1965 referendum that restaurants in Verdun won the right to sell alcohol – with meals.
There had been some resistance to the change, with many people concerned the artisanal brasserie would only exacerbate the problems they see in Verdun – an area that in the past has been known for a high rate of violence and crimes. Neighbours were also very concerned about the potential noise factor that would emanate from the establishment.
Others welcomed the change and felt the microbrewery might attract more of an upscale crowd and bring a better atmosphere to Verdun by introducing a new cultural energy to the area. Many agreed it would also do well because of all the new condo developments, businesses and student population in the area – and that it would hold little interest for the older population ‘because there wouldn’t be any Molson on tap’.
Benoit Mercier, Jean Beaudoin et Hugues Gagnon the co-owners of Benelux, promised they would ‘be good neighbours’. They sound proofed the interior walls and those around the terrace addressing the concerns about noise. And it seems their promises have been kept, judging by the restaurant reviews and the comments on their Facebook page:
“This is a great place to go on a date or in a group because it doesn’t get too crowded or noisy. The beer is excellent. The service is fantastic–fast and friendly.”
“What a great place, (a choice) of 15 beers and those that we tried (blanche, blonde and with honey) were absolutely fantastic. The style is urban modernist, the staff really friendly and fast and gave great advice on choosing beers. The people were smart and cool and there was good music. Great for a crowd of friends or as a launch for a date. Will definitely go back.”
With an artisanal beer menu and new additions being introduced each week such as: Hansel (a double bock, 8.8%) ‘glowing with a beautiful dense foam, aromas of banana bread and nuts with hints of dried fruit and very malty taste of alcohol’, the Gretel (Helles, 5.5%) ‘golden with a remote aroma of noble hops and sweet malt, nice and delicate taste and slight bitterness with a pleasant dryness’ or the Bunker – a stock ale, the Edna – a munich lager and the May Day a 7.2% bock – it’s no wonder the taps having been pouring to much acclaim since they opened.
Every month Benelux holds an evening Cask Event with more than a dozen different casks from across Quebec being offered. For beer aficionados this is an excellent opportunity to discover the expertise of other breweries. If you are unable to attend, not to worry, Benelux always has a cask available at all times. They also offer hot dogs, sandwiches and other appetizers which are served all day.
Benelux will remain Verdun’s sole ‘stand-alone’ bar for the next few years; the borough wants to wait and see if, and how, having a brew pub will change Verdun. Until then, the artisanal brewery will be pleased to offer their “quality craft beers, brewed on site, to people of the southwest in a place that promises to meet the highest expectations.”
I’ll drink to that.