Raymond Beauchemin hopped on the marriage between beer and food
I met Raymond Beauchemin at the downtown microbrewery Brutopia. He’d arrived minutes before I did and already had a pint of honey beer before him, twinkling in the late afternoon sun’s rays. His crimson-stained hands told of the beets he’d been handling earlier that day, grating them to mix with tagliatelle, sour cream and parsley. For Ray is no mere pub devotee, he’s a cook. And he’s just put out Salut! The Quebec Microbrewery Beer Cookbook, published by Véhicule Press.
Salut! is full of recipes that use locally crafted beer, from French onion soup to tuna teriyaki to blueberry vinaigrette. Ephemeral salmon pie is Ray’s take on his mom’s canned salmon shepherd’s pie, made with salmon fillet and Éphémère fruit ale. He spent two years looking for the perfect beer dessert, and presents concoctions like chocolate stout mousse and cherry zabaglione.
Since his first preadolescent swig from his grandpa’s bottle, Ray’s life has been coloured with hops. In his 20s, he had a simple ambition: to drink a beer in each of the 351 towns in his home state of Massachusetts. By the time he moved up to Quebec in search of his French-Canadian roots, the microbrew revolution had a firm toehold in Montreal. Upstarts like Le Cheval Blanc, Les Brasseurs GMT (Belle Gueule) and Les Brasseurs du Nord (Boréale) had been pouring on tasty suds and educating the province’s palate since the ’80s.
Quebec microbrewers produce over 75 different kinds of beer – from Belgian-style ales to wheat beers to oatmeal stouts. The only other North American regions with as much variety are New England and California, with at least ten times our population.
Ray’s tastes roam large. If he’s out for an evening he’ll sample three or four kinds, ending with a darker beer. "I don’t understand brand loyalty to innocuous beer," he says. Big-name brews give the poor lad a headache.
Ray’s brew cooking grew from his preparing nosh at home for the family. He was already making beer (he received a home-brew kit as a wedding present from none other than his bride), and thoughtfully pairing beers to his meals (Indian pale ale with curry, stout with oysters). Why not cook with beer instead of wine?
Beer has a salubrious effect. "For years doctors told pregnant women to drink beer, because of the yeast," Ray says. It’s a great source of vitamins, and no doubt helped monks get through the Lenten fasts without perishing, he points out. Did you really think the holy men only drank water with their bread?
Salut! has sections on beer styles, Quebec brewing history, and pairing cheese with beer (you can think of beer as liquid bread, after all). Where wine and cheese work together because their tastes counterpoint each other, beer and cheese actually mix together. If the combination doesn’t work you can tell right away, like with blue cheese and a hoppy, bitter beer. "The rule of thumb is strong with strong and mild with mild," Ray says, "or you can search for something that is more complementary, or try to contrast." His fave combos? "Harder cheese and darker beers – take an old cheddar and marry that with Maudite, or maybe an Oka Classic with Trois Pistoles."
"What I would love to know is how it all started," says Ray. "We all have these stories: Thousands of years ago in Mesopotamia, some woman left bread out in the rain." But who really knows how beer came about? All we can do now is kick back with a good pint and some grub, and be glad that it did.