Since 2014, the nonprofit organization Montréal Houblonnière has been on a grassroots mission to cover Montreal in hops. Walk through the city’s neighborhoods and you’ll find more than 10 varieties growing up walls and balconies, in alleys and on green roofs, at the botanical gardens and on university campuses. By distributing hop plants—houblon in French—to citizens, the group hopes to encourage new relationships between residents and the city’s brewers.
It all started when Mathieu Garceau-Tremblay, cofounder of Montréal Houblonnère and also the head brewer for Brasserie Harricana, was inspired by the city’s many urban farming projects and wondered how brewers could contribute. Growing barley would require too much space. Hops, however, are perfectly adapted to the environment: They grow vertically, can survive Montreal’s harsh winters, and also combat urban pollution and heat-island effects.
Montréal Houblonnière, which includes Garceau- Tremblay, horticulturist Maxime Dufrense, landscape architect Élise Gaudry and other passionate volunteers, has distributed more than 2,000 plants since 2015. It has also taken on educational efforts to teach the public about growing hops and about the crop’s various medicinal and culinary uses. The group’s online database has a catalogue of more than 300 registered growers, though Garceau-Tremblay believes there are many more: “We unite different spheres of the city: hop growers, beer geeks, brewers and citizens.”
Hop growers delivered their modest harvests this past fall to their local brewers, who are producing distinct neighborhood beers to celebrate Montreal’s 375th anniversary in 2017. The original plan was to develop a single recipe that each of the 11 participating breweries would make. “But one recipe isn’t good enough,” says Garceau-Tremblay, “It doesn’t show all the creativity that Montreal brewers have.”
For his celebration ale, Garceau-Tremblay is planning a wet-hopped pale ale. But with Quebec’s beer scene existing somewhere on a scale between that in the the U.S. and Europe, and with Belgium looming large at the moment— think saisons, sours and barrel-aging—the styles from other brewers could be wide-ranging. For consumers, a passport will act as a guide to keep track of tasting notes for each beer.
He hopes it will encourage people to explore new brewers, beer styles and neighborhoods in the city. The project’s success has inspired similar community hops ventures in places like Minneapolis, Belgium, France, England and Ireland.
After the celebrations, Montréal Houblonnière’s mission will transform, though to what it is not yet clear. One possibility is a breeding program with the goal of registering a new Montreal hop varietal that could lend the city’s beer a unique flavor in the future.
CELEBRATE MONTREAL’S 375TH
With a $75 million entertainment budget, Montreal has planned a year of celebrations that offers something for everyone. In addition to the major citywide events, a variety of festivities will tour throughout the summer to each of Montreal’s 19 unique boroughs.
The huge international Mondial de la Bière festival in June will include Brewing Week, which features master classes, gastronomic adventures and a cask competition. In August, the locally focused IBU beertasting festival showcases Quebec’s best brewers.
Music fans will enjoy the March world premiere of Opera de Montreal’s “Another Brick in the Wall,” based on Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Also, a special edition of the renowned Festival Internationale de Jazz de Montreal commences in June.
The world’s largest comedy festival, Just for Laughs, takes place in July. In September, the first North American Electro Parade of DJs will turn Montreal’s rues into a dance party.