It’s disappointing to me that I was unable to keep pace with the blog this summer – we visited so many wonderful places, and had so many special beer experiences on our travels through New England, Atlantic Canada and the maritimes. But an email from our dear acquaintance, Majorie, sparked my interest in making an update to a previous post.
I’m missing the wind today – the constant gusts of pure and perfect air blowing in from the large masses of of water that surround the Magdalene Islands (Îles de la Madeleine.) This windswept archipelago of remote, beautiful, and amazingly unique islands is located 130 miles off the main coast of Quebec in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.
Majo sent a photo of a new addition to À l’Abri de la Tempête (A Shelter from the Storm) on Île du Cap aux Meules – metal sculptures which she described as ”planted in the wind” just outside the brewery – and it took my breath away. You can’t imagine the wind on the Magdalene Islands, but I picked up on it in this photo.
The Magdalene Islands are a combination of six islands connected by sandy beaches that stretch great lengths, and six additional islands (one of which is inhabited) and islets, many with high, red cliffs.
I could go on and on about the colorful houses, welcoming inhabitants, charming artisan shops, and superb restaurants full of seafood and other fresh, local flavors. We enjoyed birding with a local, walking the beaches, exploring the forests, meeting “Substitute Myna” (the benchmark hunting dog), boat trips to Entry Island and Isle Brion, picnics in the rain, watching kitesurfers, staying at sweet B&Bs, camping and exploring.
But this is a blog about beer travels, so I’ll stick to what I know and suggest everyone visit the tourism pages (or don’t…we really like that this is our secret place to visit!) This was our second trip to the island (our first was in 2002; I believe the dates of this visit were July 18-24.)
À l’Abri de la Tempête is located at the tip of Plage de l’Ouest (an 8-mile beach) on Île du Cap aux Meules (on Ch. Coulombe, L’Étang-du-Nord.) It’s a converted fish processing plant, which, I know, sounds awful, but brewer Jean-Sébastien Bernier has done a fabulous job converting this plain building into a warm, welcoming and incredibly unique place to enjoy a pint. It is the first, and currently the only, microbrewery on the Islands, and relies on fresh, local ingredients for production.
While much of the conversation and facts may have been lost in translation (the primary language is French with an Acadian flair, so there was a strong barrier for us), I believe that Jean-Sébastien not only created all of the lovely beer recipes, but also created the beautiful woodwork and unique tap system used to dispense his beers (there is another partner, Anne-Marie Lechance, mentioned in one article, but we didn’t meet her so I don’t know her contribution to the process.)
There were four microbrews on tap during our visit, and they were all available not only at the pub in the brewery, but all four were also available at the restaurants for which they are named. There was also a beer available in unmarked (therefor not available for take-out) bottles. Here is what we tasted:
Écume Bière des Îles – Beer of the Islands – a light lager available in bottles as well as on tap.
La Pas Perdus- rousse/red – described as a Vienna lager; not very interesting but certainly not bad.
Le Vieux Couvent- a blonde made with spices and herbs; light and refreshing on those hot island days (one review, which I ran in the Google translator said, “A beer that will you rinse the slab after your next sunburn” - I don’t know what that means, but it makes me laugh!)
La Grave- described at the brewery as a “noire,” but I’ve seen it listed as a milk stout and would agree with that; a thin stout, but still held up to chocolate cake!
Corne de Brume – Scotch Ale (bottled only); this was absolutely our favorite – dark ruby red and malty – best served just below room temperature. We particularly enjoyed it along with a small bowl of smoked herring fillets. Oakes Weekly rated it Best New Beer of the Year in 2006! Beer Advocate says it’s retired, but D posted an update today (a new run of 5000 bottles last week.) Rate Beer puts it in the 99th percentile.
Now, when I say tasted, I really mean we had many pints at À l’Abri de la Tempête over the course of our week-long visit. They sell a handled mason jar with their logo, which can be used for “take-out” (they don’t fill growlers, but these mason jars come with lids, so we were able to take a jar of beer each with us for our daily picnic on the beach.) Also, each time we brought our jar in empty, we got $1 off our fills.
The people who worked there were all great, but we were particularly fond of Majorie as she gave us great advice about our visit, insight to life on the Islands and was an absolutely delightful and interesting person. We were particularly amazed to learn about her “other life” as a glass artist. The only website I found with examples of her work just doesn’t do it justice. She makes some amazingly unique and beautiful glass sculpture, and I think of her daily when I admire my glass ball ornament now hanging in our kitchen window.
In typical Magdalene Island fashion, the menu included all foods from the islands. Locally produced cheese, smoked herring, seal and seasonal vegetables, fruits and flowers could be among the things found on a snack plate. There were also handmade glass mugs and soaps available for purchase.
Well, obviously, I could go on, but À l’Abri de la Tempête really a place you need to discover for yourself.
A piece of advice: If you visit this brewpub, don’t go on as part of a tour bus, and if you can avoid it, don’t go when a tour bus is visiting. We found the evenings to be particularly enjoyable.