“I guess you can say it was in my blood,” said Charles Bierbrier, whose name means “beer brewer” in German. The founder of Bierbrier Brewing started home brewing as a hobby while he was in college. By the time he obtained his MBA from Concordia University in 2003 and started working in the world of corporate finance, he was attending beer trade shows on the weekends, joining professional beer brewing associations and using his vacation days to go on tasting trips. “It sort of became a dual life,” said Bierbrier.
Six months into his banking career, he decided to combine his passion for beer with his business knowledge and dedicate himself to building Bierbrier Brewing. Bierbrier always felt a connection to his family history and the ancestors who used to brew beer generations ago in Europe. His great-grandfather also operated wholesale liquor store chain The Canada Liquor Stores in the 1920’s until the SAQ took over.
The three Bierbrier beers.
His first beer, a golden ale with a smooth taste, hit the market in 2005. “It’s a full-flavoured beer but at the same time it’s very drinkable,” said Bierbrier. “I thought it was a good way for people to get introduced to craft beer.” Today, the company also makes a pilsner, which is a light and crisp summery beer, along with the Joe Beef Pils, created especially for the renowned Little Burgundy restaurant.
Bierbrier beers can also be found at restaurant and bars such as Garde Manger, Liverpool House and Burgundy Lion. The products are available at stores such as Fromagerie Atwater at Atwater Market, Les 5 Saisons grocery store in Westmount and Le Maître Boucher in NDG. The business recently expanded to Toronto.
Here the Montreal beer brewer shares his thoughts on our city and on the beer-brewing world.
What is the best part of your job?
It sounds cheesy but it’s doing what I love. I am interacting with a lot of restaurant and bar owners who love what they do too. And even though we [industry people] all work really hard and long hours, we are making beer at the same time, which at the end of the day people are enjoying. And we are dealing with people who love what they are doing. These are places where everyone is happy, there is good food, good drinks and music. It’s a pretty fun industry to be in.
It’s a whole different universe from your days in the finance world…
Absolutely. I was going to say there is no routine. I am on the road a lot and meet a lot of customers and I am talking to them and interacting, dealing with the beer itself, making sure new batches are ready and everything tastes good. I’m not sitting in an office all day, I’m out and about, running over to festivals and making sure the beer is always ready… working on marketing stuff…it’s very fun.
What are the challenges?
At the end of the day it’s a very competitive industry. And even though we all know each other and we want to work together to better people’s taste and their knowledge of beer and craft beer, it’s still highly competitive. Everyone is fighting for the shelf space and the taps in the bars and getting their names out there. So I guess it’s just finding restaurants and bars that want to work with you. That’s one of the tougher aspects. And it’s also highly regulated, there is a lot of government paperwork involved.
So how has the industry evolved since you started?
There are more players and a lot of smaller brewers coming in, which means to me that people’s expectations are changing. And I definitely see it because I would go to these amazing restaurants when I started, and they would have amazing food and wine but then their beer selection was pretty boring. And I would say to them, « If you are offering such an interesting wine list and you have chefs that are so well-known wouldn’t you want to have a beer that’s kind of more [refined]? » And they would agree with me. I think people’s palates evolved. They don’t want any old beer, they want to see an assortment of craft beers. And I’ve noticed that establishments are more open to doing business with microbrewers now.
What’s the beer question that you get asked the most?
Strangely, people ask me what the alcohol percentage is. And I find that funny because it’s five percent just like all the other beers.
What beer do you have in your fridge right now?
I have my beer on tap at all times. And I have done that for friends’ of mine, beer taps in their offices or their home. Sometimes their significant others don’t really appreciate the readily available booze on hand.
Do you ever worry that you might be drinking too much beer? Is there such a thing?
A wise friend told me that if you have a beer a day for 100 years you will live a long time. It’s a healthy drink. But you know what, it’s like anything. I talk to chefs and restaurant owners and people in the food industry and yes, it’s around us and yes, we eat well and drink well. But you know, they make it seem like all we do all day is drink beer. A part of it is true, but we are not drinking all day. Days are long and work starts at 7 a.m. sometimes. But at the end of the workday and on the weekends there is definitely time to enjoy a few good beers.
Would you rather have beer at home or out?
I definitely like to go out. For me it’s magical, I go to a pub or a bar and see the product that I produced and really care about and people enjoying it and that’s part of the experience. I find that it sounds really weird but when I’m tasting it down at the shop or at home, it seems to have a different taste than when I’m out. Maybe it’s the experience. So that’s why I really enjoy going to bars and restaurants and sampling not only good food but some good beer at the same time.
Where do you like to go out for a beer?
I definitely love going to Burgundy Lion, it’s one of my favourite spots. I just think it feels like home. A lot of my friends live in the area so I go to meet them there, the food is good, the drinks are good, our beer is on tap, I know the owners, they are a bunch of good guys. So it’s a fun place to go and have good times.
What are your favourite restaurants?
I definitely love going to Liverpool House, it’s one of my favourites. Nora Gray is also amazing, and Garde Manger too. We [Bierbrier brewing] have been with them since day one. At Liverpool House I just feel good with everyone, the food is amazing and it’s always a good time. They have amazing oysters too and it’s got a very chill vibe, it’s unpretentious.
I met the people behind Nora Gray through their involvement with Joe Beef over the years and it’s the same thing. You go there, you get to know them and the food is just amazing. You have a really fun time and the atmosphere is great. It’s just a fun place to go to… good food, good conversation, good drinks, you just walk out of there smiling.
And I like to go to places like Black Strap BBQ for lunch, get messy with some ribs.
What about your favourite beer and food pairings ?
I often get asked that and maybe I’m a little strange but I find that a good beer goes with almost anything. I definitely like oysters and beer and I find our beer goes well with oysters. And I find that when you have spicy food, like Asian [cuisine] with a bit of kick to it, the beer goes really well with it.
Which neighbourhood do you call home and why did you choose it?
Downtown. I like the proximity to everything. I like being close to Griffintown, Westmount, and also not far from NDG. You can walk to places, you don’t always have to take your car. It’s also close to the mountain and I like going for runs on Mount-Royal during the day to clear my mind.
What do you like to do on your free time?
I like going for a run and going to Mount-Royal. We have a beautiful city, people come from all over to visit it. And we have this huge, amazing park right there so we should take advantage of it. Sometimes when I am in there [Mount-Royal] I forget that it’s actually right around the corner.
But if I have the time I like to go to the country on the weekends, my family has a place in the Laurentians. When you are able to get away, to go by the lake and disconnect from everything and read books, you come back feeling very refreshed.
What are you liking in particular about Montreal these days?
At the end of the day, I travel a lot and go to different places and when I come back I always feel there is an energy in Montreal that can’t be described. I feel like we [Montrealers] push the envelope when it comes to food, fashion, drinks and just the culture in general. Every Montrealer knows this: we like to enjoy [life] and have fun. Especially in the summer, there is so much happening.
There is definitely an energy here. We [Montrealers] love it, people come here and notice it and I think that’s what gives us our uniqueness. And I always say: whether it’s French or English, I am a big fan of this bilingual, multicultural city. I think we should be proud of it.