When André Trudel and Isaac Tremblay started thinking about opening a brewpub in their hometown of Shawinigan, Quebec, 15 years ago, they knew the place needed it. The city had gone from a postwar, thriving industrial heartland, to a depressed, post-industrial rustbelt.
“All the industries were gone, and for a 25-year-old guy like me, there was nowhere I could go,” says Tremblay. “We felt like our city really needed a great brewpub like we had in mind and had seen in other cities around the world.”
So banding together with three more friends—they opened Le Trou du Diable brewpub ten years ago.
“In our business plan, we were asked to define our ‘target client,’ and I wrote, ‘Anyone between 20 and 75 that likes good stuff,’” says Tremblay. The bank pushed him to narrow the definition, but he stood his ground. Turns out, he was right. On the first day the brewpub opened, Tremblay spotted two “old grannies,” seated a few inches away from a table of “two punks with mohawks.”
“After a couple of beers, they started talking together,” he says, “and it’s always stayed like that.
It’s been a quick ride for the owners. Eight years after refining their recipes at the brewpub, they opened a large production brewery. That enabled them to bring Sun Media’s Beer Madness’ winning brew, La Saison du Tracteur, to nearly every province in Canada.
The brewery’s most-awarded ale, the saison’s hardware includes, “World’s Best Bière de Garde” at the 2012 World Beer Awards, and a silver medal from the European Beer Star Competition. But Tremblay says winning a people’s choice contest run in a national paper tells a different story: “Craft beer drinkers are more dedicated than the 600,000 people on Molson Canadian’s facebook page. The first winner of this contest is the craft beer industry.
“It was an honour to battle with breweries that I respect a lot, and to finally go down with Dieu du Ciel! against Péché Mortel, a beer that’s sought all over the world, was an honour that I wish to share with our brothers there.”
Like most of the beers that brewmaster Trudel crafts, Saison du Tracteur follows the brewery’s approach of taking classic European beers and adding a New World twist. “The vision we had for Saison was simple: take Saison Dupont (a famous Belgian brand) and add a shitload of American hops,” says Tremblay. “The idea was to keep the freshness and the dryness and the spiciness of the classic European yeast but add another dimension with hops that have tropical fruit and citrus notes.”
The result is a champagne-like ale that pours like unfiltered sunshine with a fluffy white head. It bursts with aromas of overripe peaches, pineapples, florals and herbs. It drinks like a springtime symphony: marmalade, honey, earth and fresh grain, grapefruit and lime peel with a crack of white pepper. Yet with all that flavour it’s easy-drinking enough for almost any palate. And it’s even better with ceviche, salmon tartare, or fresh goat cheese.
From the moment they made it, the Saison du Tracteur was one of the brewery’s bestsellers and is its most popular export outside Quebec today. Tremblay speculates that perhaps it won because it was one of the first saisons to be brewed regularly in Canada, or maybe because the beer style is in fashion right now. But he knows the real reason for its success: “It’s brewed with love.”