The Eastern Townships of Canada have always been a draw for Montrealers looking to escape the city and for skiers who prefer quiet backcountry slopes to overcrowded resorts. But now there’s an even better reason to go – beer, and lots of it.
Québec now has more than 150 craft breweries, and the small towns of Dunham, Farnham and Sutton have come to form a holy trinity at the center of this beer explosion. Just more than an hour from Montréal, you’ll consistently find some of the province’s best brews and have access to experimental releases made to showcase the Eastern Townships’ local ingredients.
The best way to tour the breweries is by car. Either rent one (and draw straws to choose a designated driver) or hop on a guided tour so everyone can enjoy the experience. As guided tours go, LA ROUTE DES BIÈRES is a great option, offering eight-hour round trips from Montréal with visits to four microbreweries and snacks at each stop.
Those with more time and energy also can cycle. The Eastern Townships is a hub for spandex warriors on high-end road bikes – particularly in the summer and early autumn when the scenery is at its best – and towns like Farnham even have a bike path running through them for casual riders. But be warned, the roads are both hilly and winding and a day of beer tasting doesn’t make the pedaling any easier.
Time for beer
Whether you cycle or drive, make your first stop from Montréal the Farnham Ale and Lager, known for its flagship IPAs and for printing each beer’s IBU (bitterness) in big bold letters on its cans. While it’s not the most experimental brewery, Farnham’s beers are extremely popular and a good introduction to Québec’s brewing styles. They’re also more affordable than other brews of the same quality.
To line your stomach after the tasting, head next door to Fromagerie des Cantons and try its gourmet cheeses, many of which are made fresh from raw or thermized milk. To snack like a local, skip the fancy stuff and grab a bag of cheese curds to munch on in the car. Affectionately referred to as "squeaky cheese" by Québecers, this is the same stuff used to make poutine.
Wine and more beer
The town of Farnham isn’t just about beer. Wine lovers can also indulge at the Vignobles Les Pervenches, an excellent winery just 10 minutes from Farnham Ale and Lager. The Eastern Townships are home to more than 20 vineyards, which can also be visited by guided tour. Les Pervenches is widely regarded as one of the best. Note that production is weather dependent, so check online before visiting to make sure the vineyard is open.
Next up on the beer tour is Dunham Brewery, considered by many to be one of the best breweries in the Eastern Townships. Dunham’s wild and farmhouse ales have been recognized globally, and its limited release regularly win World Beer Awards for unique flavor profiles and high quality ingredients. The brewery commissions Québec artists to design the labels for its bottles, giving each of its products a distinct personality to match its distinctive taste.
Take time to soak up the atmosphere – on warm summer days, the outdoor patio is a perfect place to contemplate the raspberry notes of your sour ale while watching the sun go down. There’s also no shortage of snacks and regular live music and tasting events only add to the experience.
Time to unwind with cider and even more beer
Dunham may be the high point of your tour, but Auberge Sutton Brouërie is a place to truly unwind and escape the city. Not only are its beers delicious, the brewery is also a six-room boutique hotel. Each of its luxurious suites are split over two floors and display beautiful artwork from up-and-coming artists. A first-rate restaurant serves hearty meals in a welcoming atmosphere. Make sure to book your room in advance, as they fill up fast.
Feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep and breakfast at the Auberge, it’s time to head back to Montréal. But not before stopping off at the Vergers and Cidrerie Denis Charbonneau, a celebrated apple orchard in the town of St Grégoire. Its cider alone is worth the detour, but everyone will tell you the real winner is the homemade apple fritters. In autumn, you can tour the orchard and pick apples yourself to take home. There are nearly 20 varieties to choose from, all of which put grocery store apples to shame.
If you have two nights in the Eastern Townships
Take the extra time to combine beer tasting with some outdoor activity. From hiking and canoeing in the summer, to cross-country-skiing and ice fishing in the winter, the Eastern Townships is the ultimate outdoor playground. And there’s no more Canadian way to earn your beer than by working for it all day in the fresh air.