W hen the weather is nice and I want to go for a stroll to a brewery, there are thirty of them within an hour of me. Vancouver, like just about every other city in North America, has seen a proliferation of breweries in recent years. To me, this seems like victory, as all the hard work that brewers, publicans, brewery owners, and writers have put in over the decades has paid off so handsomely that one can scarcely imagine a time when craft beer was actually hard to find.
But, oh, was it ever hard to find, once upon a time. On one occasion, back in university, I drove six hours to Québec just to buy beer. In an act that is apparently still in contravention of Canada’s arcane patchwork of alcohol laws, I brought several cases of ales and lagers across the provincial border, because that was the one shot I had at buying craft beer for the entire semester. That’s what life was like for a lot of craft beer fans in the ‘90s.
And so it was that I was first introduced to Maudite. I had read about it, of course, in Stephen Beaumont’s Great Canadian Beer Guide. In contrast to the English or American style ales in Anglophone Canada, the Quebeckers were making Belgian-inspired ales, and I was very curious about Maudite and its sister product La Fin du Monde. To that point in my life, I had consumed precisely one bottle of Maudite, that my roommate had brought back from a ski trip to Mont Tremblant, and I had been blown away, So there I was, making a 12-hour round trip beer run. It was a different time.
Unibroue wasn’t the first microbrewery in Québec, but it had quickly become the most famous. It was the blueprint for a successful craft brewery, with a fantastic product – a unique take on the Belgian ale concept – the financial backing to gain broad distribution and first rate marketing. The brewery’s beers told a story.
Maudite told the story of La Chasse-Galerie, or The Legend of the Flying Canoe. In this tale, a group of voyageurs makes a pact with the Devil that would get them a flying canoe so they could attend a party on New Year’s Eve. If they touched a church steeple, said the Lord’s name, or failed to return by 6:00 am the next morning, the Devil would take their souls. Thus, having made the deal with the Devil, the men were cursed, maudite.
It was a complex story, to match the nuanced beer in the glass, and it was seemingly on an entirely different level from most other craft beers of the era.
Maudite was the first flagship for Unibroue, and within a couple of years it was available across Canada. Unibroue was on the fast track to success, too, one of the early darlings of the Canadian craft beer scene and an example of the potential that craft beer had to appeal beyond a narrow base of beer nerds.
After all, with widespread distribution and a happy price point, Unibroue was reaching a large audience in Québec, had become the late night dépanneur (corner store or bodega) beer of choice, and their beers were becoming established in every province, and many US states, as well.
This success attracted attention, and Unibroue would eventually be bought out by Sleeman, which in turned was acquired by Sapporo. Now under corporate ownership, Unibroue lost some of its cachet. The beers didn’t really change, but the cool factor started to wane among beer geeks. Before long, Maudite started to fade from attention.
Like a lot of flagship beers, Maudite remains widely available. The iconic bottle and label haven’t changed. Yet somewhere along the way, it has dropped from the consciousness of both the beer geek and the casual drinker. Honestly, it had been an unjustifiably long time since I’d bought one.
Yet Maudite is still an excellent beer. Big, complex and warming, it remains one of the classic Belgian-inspired ales in North America. Flagship February has provided us all with an opportunity to think about, and revisit, the classics in our backyards. Some have fallen out of favour because of changing tastes and changing times, but many of the beers profiled here are timeless. Maudite, I think, falls into the latter category. If it’s been a while, as it was for me, this is one flagship you want to rediscover. Most likely you don’t need to drive six hours to try it, either.
Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.