As American beer drinkers enjoy these bounteous days, it's worth remembering that there are excellent breweries from Canada that, due to their small size and subsequent inability to fund more expansive distribution, are unable to sell their wares in the states. Great Québécois ales, such as Boréale and Le Trou du Diable, are a treat to sample up north, but, sadly, it's impossible to get them here unless you're chauffeuring 'em across the Derby Line in your trunk.
Good thing Montreal's McAuslan brewery — which started operations 20 years ago this month — has made the foray into package stores south of the border. A half-decade ago, its beers were available in the Northeast, but even that only lasted for a couple of years or so. Now distributed by Ashland's own Eurobrew, Inc., they're available nationwide. And we Americans are better for it.
The brewers at McAuslan say their ales have a special character thanks to a particular strain of yeast — used in all of them — that was bred more than a century ago in Yorkshire, England. It's a testament to the wonders of the brewing process that three of their brews can be so different from each other.
McAuslan's St-Ambroise Pale Ale, its flagship beer, is a superb exemplar of the form — a perfectly balanced amber-colored session ale with an airy, fruity-floral bouquet and just the slightest pucker of clean hops bitterness in the finish.
Those looking for a sweeter elixir will be drawn toward the St-Ambroise Apricot Wheat Ale. Its wheat and barley malts, their natural sweetness juiced by essence of that tiny pink-orange fruit, are balanced with just the right note of faintly citrus hops.
But for my money, McAuslan's St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout is the brewery's triumph. (And I'm not the only one who thinks so: it won a platinum medal at the 1994 World Beer Championship.) The oatmeal added during the brewing process imparts a chewy, viscous mouthfeel and substantial biscuit-colored head. Copious amounts of dark roasted malts impart an inky appearance and bold flavors of chocolate and espresso. In short, it's a black and warming beer, perfect for a season when nights are dark and cold.
MCAUSLAN'S ST-AMBROISE ALES are available for about $9.99 per four-pack at Charles Street Liquors on Beacon Hill, Bauer Wine & Spirits on Newbury Street, the Wine Emporium in the South End, Downtown Wine & Spirits in Davis Square, and other fine liquor stores.