Old Jewish beer gets new life in Quebec

Montreal's Jewish community is famous for its bagels and smoked meat. Now add beer to the menu.

Montrealers can sample Hart family recipe at Resevoir Brewery

The Hart family recipe dates back to Trois-Rivières in 1796. (Ainslie Maclellan/CBC)

Long before bagels and smoked meat, there was beer.

In 1796, the first Jewish residents of Quebec started brewing in Trois-Rivières, more than 130 years before the Bronfmans began selling liquor.

Now the old Hart family recipe is getting a new life, thanks to a little nudge from the Museum of Jewish Montreal and the skills of a modern day craft brewery. 

Nathan McNutt, master brewer at Montreal's Resevoir Brewery, has recreated Quebec's first Jewish beer and named it L'affaire Hart beer.

Montreal brewer Nathan McNutt helped recreate Quebec's first Jewish beer. (CBC)

"We know that it was all barley malt, no other adjuncts like sugar or corn or anything like that and it was Quebec hops," said McNutt, master brewer at Montreal's Resevoir Brewery.

And for those who fear it might taste like the beer equivalent of Manischewitz, Kosher wine, they're in for a surprise.

"I find it absolutely fantastic," said McNutt. "It's a big malty beer, not hoppy, not bitter."

Not an easy recipe to follow

The recipe was sitting on the website of the Bibliotheque et Archives nationales du Québec and discovered by Toronto lawyer and beer blogger Gary Gillman.

Gillman wrote a blog entry about Ezekiel Hart and the first Jewish brewery in Quebec. It caught the attention of the Museum of Jewish Montreal, which decided that someone had to brew it again.

McNutt said it wasn't an easy recipe to follow.

"It was kind of vague," he said. "It gave the ingredients and it gave some of the parameters of how it was brewed, but really what I was looking for is to re-create the technology at the time or the lack thereof."

"They didn't have indirect fire kilns, so their malt would be smokey tasting, so we we used some apple wood chips and smoked some of the malt."

Montreal brewer Nathan McNutt talks L'affaire Hart

6 years ago
Duration 0:59
Montreal brewer Nathan McNutt talks to CBC Montreal's Daybreak about L'affaire Hart, his re-creation of Quebec's first Jewish beer.

He said they had to opt for a wild yeast because at the time the recipe was invented, pure yeast cultures didn't exist.

"That gives it a very unique kind of flavour."

While all of the ingredients of the new brew are organic and despite the Jewish history behind it, the new beer is not kosher because the brewery did not have a rabbi oversee the process.

Original beer recipe from the Hart family in Quebec. (Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec)


Neil Herland is reporter for CBC News Montreal. Since 1997, he has worked as a reporter and producer for CBC News in Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Toronto, Ottawa, Fredericton and New York City.

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak