January 17 1989 marked the first day McAuslan brewery started producing their now wildly popular St-Ambroise blonde. Twenty years later the beer is still being brewed, along with several others, in the same Saint Henri brewery, and with the same essential ingredients. Peter McAuslan, the founder of McAuslan Quebec – then, as now, a pioneer in micro-brewing in the province – founded his company with biologist and trained brewmaster, Ellen McAuslan (nee Bounsal), and British brewmaster Allan Pugsley.
Peter McAuslan has been around our city’s block. He attended Sir George Williams University, has served on the Concordia Alumni Association, and sits on the board of the Empress Cultural Centre. He also currently sits on a board that works towards the development of neighbourhoods along the Lachine canal, and has started a program to help development along Notre Dame in the St-Henri neighborhood. Ellen McAuslan, who graduated from University of Ottawa, works as Peter McAuslan’s business partner and as the master brewer. Like her husband, Ellen McAuslan is interested in community development and volunteering, being a founding member of The Tree Within – an organization that seeks to help battered women in Montreal’s immigrant populations. Her beers have won a number of awards on both a national and international scale. Throughout its history, the company has expanded and currently employs a staff of around forty people, Today it’s a multi-million dollar company. McAuslan beers are recognized both in and outside of the province as what Deborah Woods (guide, beer critic, and friend of the McAuslans) describes as “World Class Beer.” Despite this world class recognition, it holds a special place in the hearts of Montrealers.
Year round, McAuslan produces six different beers– the original Saint-Ambroise Pale Ale, an Oatmeal Stout, an Apricot Wheat Ale, St-Ambroise Cream Ale, the Griffon Red Ale, and the Griffon Extra Pale Ale. Seasonally, they produce another six, including the perfectly autumnal Pumpkin Ale. Without going into too great detail, the brewing process includes combining, cooling, and filtering a number of ingredients. The unique taste of St-Ambroise is a result of several factors; the strand of yeast – McAuslan has used “Ringwood” since opening –and the inclusion of hops (which make the beer bitter in taste) are balanced out with malt. Most beers have a combination of malts, usually a base along with the presence of a more unique malt that can make something sweeter or heavier, as in the case of the heavy Oatmeal Stout. Each tour of the facility includes a taste-test of five of their products, and, in my case, included the standard Pale Ale, the Griffon Red Ale, the Oatmeal Stout, the Pumpkin Ale, and the Apricot Ale. Each of these beers has a unique body and flavour, and is recommended to be paired with different foodstuffs or used in particular recipes (all of this information is available on the brewery’s website, http://mcauslan.com/en).
The McAuslan brewery uses a relatively environmentally friendly brewing process, in which much of the heat is recovered and reused, greatly reducing energy waste. The bottles used at the brewery are often sent from local grocers and depanneurs around Montreal. Each standard brown beer bottle is meticulously cleaned, sterilized, and used in a final product six or seven times before going to a glass recycling facility.
Peter McAuslan considers the product to be the basis of the success of the company, “We’ve done okay – twenty year grind, we’ve surprised even ourselves. The major thing that we’ve done is made beers that have been different from the standard product, different and well brewed, and that’s why it’s done well. It all comes back to a well made product.” McAuslan also considers Montreal’s unique cultural attitude to be an influence on their beers, “[Our products] tie into Montreal culture, the style is a reflection of it. They are more adventuresome, our beers are audacious. We are an edgy company, we make edgy products that reflect the mixing of cultures in Montreal. Things take place here…The city itself has a cultural edge and our products are consistent with that. I think it is a positive thing to make beer for a culture as vibrant as Montreal.”
Besides keeping busy at the brewery, the company has taken it upon itself to support Montreal’s art community and to be a contributor to the cultural landscape of the city. The brewery has a terrace that hosts numerous cultural activities from May to October of each year. These include live Djs, movie-marathons, tastings, and mini-music festivals. McAuslan’s support is a postive factor for the community, and reflects positively on the company. Peter McAuslan elaborated:
“We’ve always seen ourselves as a Quebec company, but, really, a Montreal community product, which is important to us. The more we can do to touch people, the more they’ll think of the company in a positive light – as kind of a home grown company. At the beginning, [one of the first ways we supported the arts was] providing fine arts students at Concordia with beer at reasonable price at events and [therefore provided] support from an arts orientated consumer. This worked very well for us. We’ve helped with Montreal Fringe theatre festival going way back and POP Montreal right since the beginning. We were also involved in the Arcade Fire event – it was a real thrill. We personally like [the Montreal arts scene], I don’t always have time to make it to the events but I like the people, I like the risks artists take. We are risk takers ourselves…being an entrepreneur is a risk.”
That risk has certainly paid off, for the McAuslan brewery, the Montreal arts community, and most importantly, beer drinkers of all tastes. Bottoms up!