Great Article below thanks to Taps Magazine
Ask a typical Canadian what they know about Shawinigan, Quebec, and the odds are pretty high that the first – and perhaps only – answer they’ll give is that it’s the hometown of former Prime Minister and self-styled, ‘Little Guy from Shawinigan’ Jean Chrétien. To craft beer drinkers however, the small city on the shore of the Saint- Maurice River has also become known as the home to one of the country’s most adventurous and well-regarded breweries.
Named after a large whirlpool at the base of nearby Shawinigan Falls, Le Trou du Diable (‘The Devil’s Hole’) was opened in 2005 by five friends: Isaac Tremblay, Luc Bellerive, André Trudel, Franck Chaumanet and Dany Payette – all of whom remain as operating partners of what is described as a, ‘co-operative brewery’. Starting out as a brewpub producing 400 hectalitres in the first year, Le Trou du Diable has rapidly grown, eventually tripling output at the original location before expanding in early 2013 to a full production brewery in a former factory nearby, with capacity to produce 8000hL per year.
“We’ve built our brand and gained experience before making the big move,” explains Tremblay. “Demand has been growing not only for our brewery but in the industry in general. People now want what they deserve: a satisfying and tasteful adventure in every beer.”
It’s an adventure that Le Trou du Diable has been trying to provide since it launched with a small but eclectic line-up that included an approachable golden ale (Pitoune), a traditional dry stout (Sang d’Encre), an English amber ale (Biscornue), an Irish red ale (Rubis Red), and a Belgian tripel (Buteuse). Many be
ers have come – and in a few cases, gone – in the years since, resulting in the current selection that is one of the most varied in Canada’s craft brewing scene. The brewery’s barrel-aged beers in particular have received well-deserved attention from beer drinkers both near and far as distribution has expanded throughout Canada, the US, and parts of Europe.
“It was always in our plan to be strong locally and have a presence in other provinces and countries,” notes Tremblay. “We’ve always allocated 10% of our bottled product for export, mostly the barrel-aged ones. The production brewery now gives us the opportunity to send a lot more and be more present i
n other markets. We are still applying the 10% rule, which is a lot more beer, and we’ll work towards 20% in the next few years.”
Even with the increased international exposure, Le Trou du Diable still retains a strong local focus that Tremblay mentions, with the brewpub serving as a favourite hangout for many Shawinigan residents, and a place to gather for various events throughout the year. It was at one of these events where a beer was first offered that would soon draw the attentionof Shawinigan’s most famous son – and eventually, the attention of people from all across the country.
The beer in question is Shawinigan Handshake, a strong and hoppy weizenbock named after the chokehold that Jean Chrétien placed on protester Bill Clennett when he blocked Chrétien’s path after a political event in Hull in 1996. As with other controversial moments of his tenure as Prime Minister, Chrétien laughed off the confrontation, and said he was simply giving Clennett a, “Shawinigan handshake,” a sobriquet
that has subsequently been used in both positive and negative terms by his fans and foes respectively.
Brewed for a number of years for an annual Oktoberfest celebration, Le Trou du Diable’s Shawinigan Handshake soon came to the attention of the man himself, who with his customary sense of humour gave his blessing for his caricature to appear on the label of the bottled version as long as he was given a case to share with friends.
That bottled version received widespread media coverage, as well as a fair share of criticism, including a denunciation from Bill Clennett, the recipient of the original, ‘handshake’, who objected not only to the use of the incident to name the beer, but also the fact that the beer name was in English. All of this was taken in stride by the brewery, with Tremblay noting that, “we’ve always said this beer is not about
promoting anything except humour and self-derision, something that is now missing a lot in Canadian politics. The angry people should use this occasion to talk about the reasons why all this happened instead – how the protesters got so close, what they were protesting about, how Mr. Chrétien got out of this tricky political situation with humour – instead of crucifying a beer. It’s only beer!”
Likely to be much less controversial is Le Trou du Diable’s latest collaboration, this one not with a former Prime Minster but with the lesser known – but in certain circles, no less legendary – John Wright, bassist for progressive punk band NoMeansNo, as well as that band’s hockey – and Ramones-obsessed alter-egos, The Hanson Brothers. Oh, and he’s also an avid homebrewer.
“At Trou du Diable, we have great respect for everyonemaking the best in their respective art,” explains Tremblay when asked how the collaboration with Wright came together. “We grew up listening to NoMeansNo – they are masters and are well-respected by musicians all over the world – and I knew that John was also a homebrewer. When I saw them live in Montreal, I asked him if he’d like to play at our brewery and he said yes. Then he told me about what he was brewing, and I asked him about brewing it at the pub and he also said yes. So I had the opportunity to spend ten days working with an artist with incredible and admirable talent that was a milestone in my musical exploration, and bec
ame good friends with him.”
The result of this artfully-inspired collaboration was the aptly named PunkRauch, a dark German rauchbier (smoked lager) based on Wright’s original homebrew recipe. The initial brewpub batch was quite limited, and was available primarily at special tasting events that took place in several cities across Canada back in the fall. But a full-scale batch is planned to be brewed soon at the production brewery, and
should be released in time for a cross-country Hanson Brothers tour planned for this spring.
Alongside this and other special editions, Le Trou du Diable continues to produce a line-up of year-round offerings that please their fans both old and new. Beers from the early days like Buteuse and Sang d’Encre continue to serve as flagship brands for the brewery, alongside newer brands like the effervescent Saison du Tracteur, and Morsure, a well-hopped American-style IPA.
Further opportunities for growth are also being investigated, as the increased brewing capacity at the new brewery gives Le Trou du Diable the ability to produce 20 times more beer than what was put out during its first year in business. This growth from humble local brewpub to award-winning brewery with an international reputation has been impressive and inspiring, but perhaps not so surprising. After all, if a Little Guy from Shawinigan can become the Prime Minister, shouldn’t a little brewery from Shawinigan be able to achieve some lofty goals as well? - GC
LE TROU DU DIABLE LINEUP
Buteuse / (Belgian Abbey Tripel – 10% abv)
A bright golden-orange ale with a beautiful fruity character – pineapple especially prominent – along with some spicy notes and a citrus peel dryness to finish. It’s also available aged in apple brandy casks and re-fermented with funky Brettanomyces yeast.
Saison du Tracteur / (Saison – 6% abv)
Hazy straw gold, big white head. Aromas and flavours of doughy yeast, lemon zest, lime zest, white pepper and cut grass. A great summer drink, but equally enjoyable all year round.
Sang d’Encre / (Dry Stout – 5.5%)
Ruby-black body is bang on for the style, as are the aroma and flavour notes of dry and dark roasted malt, slightly burnt coffee beans, faint wood smoke, and mild twiggy hops in the finish.
Pitoune Pils / (Pilsner – 5%)
A keller-style – aka unfiltered – pilsner, it has a slightly hazy golden-blonde appearance, and a fresh and vibrant hop-leaning character, with zippy and zesty notes of herbs and citrus.