International Insights: How This Female-Owned Brewery Adjusted to Influx of Tourists

International Insights is a continuing series of Q&As with brewing members, but this time branching outside of the US and into the rest of the world.
In this series, Brewer will share personal insights from international breweries each week about the craft beer market in other countries, where those brewers get their inspiration, and how the market compares to craft beer in the US.

 

Representatives from À l’abri de la Tempête — Magdalen Islands, Canada

BREWER: What can you tell me about the history of À l’abri de la Tempête and the reason behind the name that translates to “Shelter from the Storm”?
À L’ABRI DE LA TEMPÊTE: À l’abri de la Tempête was born out of co-owners Anne-Marie Lachance and Élise Cornellier’s desire to settle in the Magdalen Islands, a small archipelago in the heart of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Their passion for the brewing world as well as their entrepreneurial daring fueled their desire to create their own job and found the first, and the only microbrewery on the Islands. Back in the days in 2003 there were no breweries east of Québec city. Everything had to be done, from changing islanders’ drinking mentality that didn’t know that beer could be done elsewhere, to building a brewery in an old abandoned fishing plant on the pristine coast of Iles de la Madeleine. Located on a dead-end gravel road, the building had been partially burned by a fire in the 90s and left degrading in the Atlantic winter winds for more than a decade. In 2003 the future brewery’s road was still not even cleared of snow by the municipal authorities, so they had to bring pipes and equipment on sleds in order to start building the brewery. They were living, working and sleeping inside that rusty old plant that was protecting them from the violent winds of 2003-2004 harsh winter. “We even had to dig a hole in the snow to find the entrance of the brewery after a storm!” Lachance said. It was in that incredibly beautiful seaside environnement, blasted with violent winter winds that they agreed that À l’abri de la Tempête was a perfect shelter from the storm.

BREWER: What are the popular beer(s) at your brewery? How does that compare to the rest of Canada?
À L’ABRI DE LA TEMPÊTE: L’Écume, the brewery’s founding beer, is still the signature product of À l’abri de la Tempête to this day, 16 years later. This golden Pilsner with a rustic profile and saline accents testifies to its maritime origins and perfectly reflects the relationship of the brewery with its host territory. La Corps Mort has also become a flagship product of the island microbrewery across Quebec. This Barleywine is brewed with smoked malt in the oldest herring smokehouse that the islands still have: Le Fumoir d’Antan. It represents the importance that the brewery attaches to enhancing both the richness of the archipelago’s indigenous terroir and the know-how that reigns there. Within the Quebec microbrewery sector, we can certainly say that À l’abri de la Tempête stands out for its love of different beers. Despite the passing fashions, the microbrewery has always strived to find its own way by brewing beers without a defined style, constantly in search of unique flavors, like beer made from locally foraged plants and herbs but also by developing a profound understanding of their beloved Lager yeast.

BREWER: Where do you get inspiration for new beers?
À L’ABRI DE LA TEMPÊTE: The brewery makes a point of showcasing the distinctive territory of the archipelago. The creation of taste links with the different actors and artisans of the Islands is at the heart of the spirit of the company. Inspiration comes from the sea, the salty air, the island life, the people who give it its color, the richness that is at our feet, everywhere. In 2011, feeling that the overflowing creativity of our production team was only growing, we gave birth to Les Palabres. In the Islands, this word is part of popular language, becoming a regionalism perfectly distinctive of the language of the islanders. Here, a “palabre” is synonymous with rumor.

BREWER: How has COVID-19 affected your country and your brewery? What restrictions have been put in place by the government, and how are you adapting?
À L’ABRI DE LA TEMPÊTE: The Îles de la Madeleine is a vacation spot mostly visited by Quebecers but also increasingly from Ontario to Nova-Scotia and the US. The number of visitors has been growing for more than 10 years, thus propelling the economic development of the archipelago. During the 16 years of existence of the brewery, the development of the company has adjusted to the increase of visitors, but especially to the craze for their unique and finely brewed beers, so that today’s bars, restaurants and retailers in the archipelago allow us to sell more than 65% of our annual production. In this year of the pandemic, uncertainty has hovered for several weeks over the capacity of the community and its health infrastructures to accommodate this large flow of people from the continent. The island reality gave us paradoxical feelings of security and vulnerability. On the one hand, entry into the territory is easy to control. There are only two ways to access the archipelago: the 5-hour ferry connecting us to Prince Edward Island, a maritime province of Canada, or the plane from Montreal or Quebec. On the other hand, our hospital resources are very limited and the risk of the virus spreading in a small community like ours is exponential. After several weeks when it was practically impossible to travel between the Islands and the mainland, the transport links having been requisitioned for the supply of food and medical supplies, the public health authorities were able to establish a capacity threshold for reception deemed safe. The community could organize itself to accommodate 50% of the anticipated visitors. So we rolled up our sleeves to plan, and with just a few weeks notice, this tourist season is on once again.

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