80, Des Carrieres
Phone: (450) 658-7658
Unibroue traces its roots to Serge Racine and Quebequois hardware magnate André Dion. In 1990 the pair determined to get into the burgeoning craft beer scene and they wanted to specialize in bottle conditioned Belgian Ales. Step 1: in 1990 they bought a chunk of a brewery. One of Canada’s original craft breweries, founded in 1982 fell upon hard times by the end of the 1980s. André and Serge bought 75%. Step 2: in 1991 they bought the rest of the brewery. Step 3: get a famous partner – in 1992 André and Serge sold a small piece of the brewery to Quebec singer Robert Charlebois. Step 4: get help – they consulted with Belgian Brewer Riva to get off the ground and produce their initial beer Blanche de Chambly. By 1994 Unibroue began trickling into the US and major investments in 1995 and 1996 funded expansions that increased the flow. During the last half of the 90’s their beer became a cheaper alternative to Belgian imports while maintaining decent quality. Their quality increased in 1999 when they hired Paul Arnott, who by then had a decade of experience under his belt as the Master Brewer at Chimay, one of the world’s finest producers of Trappist Ales.
In 2004, Sleeman bought Unibroue for $36.5 million. Sleeman dates from 1836 when John Sleeman founded a brewery in St. Catherines, Ontario. The story takes a hiatus in 1933 when the Ontario government yanked Sleeman’s brewing license for bootlegging (smuggling beer to Detroit). The founder’s great great grandson re-established the company in 1988. All of French Canada gagged at the thought of their premier brewery falling into the hands of an Ontario brewery. That ended in 2006 when the Japanese giant Sapporo bought Sleeman for $400 million.So why do I like this brewery? Unibroue does not follow the typical craft beer trajectory but they have managed to do many of the right things. It is more of a George Steinbrenner approach. From the mid-90’s well into the 2000s, they were some of the best Belgian style bottle conditioned ales you could find. For the same quality beer they cost around 30% less per bottle and they avoided a lot of the abuse involved in shipping a beer from Belgium to the US. Here are some of my favorites.