While in Montreal a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a brewery tour of the McAuslan Brewery famous for its St-Ambroise brand of beers. The host for the tour was Taylor McAuslan, the son of owner Peter McAuslan and a man very well acquainted with the Atlantic beer scene. Taylor lived in Halifax from 2003 to 2010 and is the person responsible for introducing and growing the St-Ambroise brand in the region. When Taylor looks back on his time in Halifax he lists Henry House, Foggy Goggle and Freeman’s as his favourite establishments.
This profile is based on information learned during the tour, emails exchanged with Dean Petty, the Atlantic Accounts Manager for McAuslan Brewing Inc., and other research.
In the 1980s Peter McAuslan began considering opening up a brewery after 25 years as a home brewer. In 1987, Peter and his wife and eventual McAuslan Master Brewer Ellen Bounsall, began serious research by looking into funding and equipment which included travel to Europe to visit small breweries.
In mid 1988, Alan Pugsley who was trained in England and had experience building, designing and installing breweries all over the world was engaged to help develop their initial recipe. Ellen, who has was trained as a biologist, made a total of four batches of beer with the help of Puglsey and was then on her own. In February of 1989 McAuslan enjoyed its first sales of St-Ambroise Pale Ale.
McAuslan currently brews about 85,000 HL of beer per year or approximately 3,000 cases of beer per day. Approximately 75% of their sales come in bottles with the balance coming in the form of draft sales. Taylor explained during the tour that for the mega breweries this split is typically closer to 85-90% bottled.
McAuslan brews both ales and lagers. The ales are for their St-Ambroise and Griffon brands with the lagers being for beers they make on behalf of other breweries. McAuslan is the official brewer for New Brunswick’s Moosehead Brewery for its Quebec distribution. Moosehead was actually a minority shareholder in the brewery from 2002 to 2008 before selling their shares to Les Brasseurs RJ which is the other company that McAuslan brews lager for (the Belle Geule and Tremblay brands among them). The ale to lager production is fairly evenly split. From start to finish it takes about 12-14 days to brew the ales and about 40 days of total time for the lager which is why the lager tanks in the brewery are so much larger.
McAuslan uses about 8 litres of water for every litre of beer produced (the typical Canadian brewery uses about 10 to 1). Taylor explained how the ratio can be as high as 20/25L to 1L or as low as 3 to 1 in countries where access to water is more challenging. McAuslan is looking to reduce the amount of water they use in their production. He also explained that each bottle of beer is normally good for 12 fills / bottle.
The hops they use for their production are mostly from the United States (Oregon / Washington) but also use hops from Southeast England. They do use some adjuncts (mostly corn) in their beers.
Their operations are supported with approximately 80 employees.
McAuslan uses both the St-Ambroise and Griffon branding for their beers and has won numerous international and national awards. St-Ambroise is their core brand and is used for most of their products. Griffon was a brand that was developed in the early 1990s and geared towards the “less experienced” consumer pallet more accustomed to macro brews.
Now the really fun part…. Here’s an overview of the beers based on the sampling part of the tour:
Griffon Red Ale – This is an English style red and one of the first to be bottled and sold in Canada. During the tasting Taylor discussed how Richard’s Red really served as “training wheals for craft beer” by changing the perception of how darker beers taste and essentially helping out craft brewers with different looking and tasting beers.
St-Ambroise Pale Ale – This is the company’s biggest seller and is an American Pale Ale (APA). This has similar malting but higher carbonation than similar English ales in order to align with North American tastes. This brew is made with two types of both American and British hops.
St-Ambroise Scotch Ale – This is essentially the McAuslan version of a winter warmer. It is lightly hopped as they want to stay true to the style with a smokey flavour to balance the sweetness of the hops. Taylor mentioned how this can be described as a “wee heavy” which is a Scottish way of describing a strong beer.
St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout – This is their most decorated beer including winning two Platinum Awards at the World Beer Cup and is also extremely highly marked by the beer enthusiasts on ratebeer.com. It is made with a mix of black and chocolate malts and is an excellent example of a difficult to get right style. If you’ve never tried this beer, you owe it to yourself!
St-Ambroise Pumpkin Ale – Taylor described this as “pumpkin pie beer” and it is a very fitting description. This is made with cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg. It is brewed once a year starting in Summer and ready for sale in late Summer / early Fall.
St-Ambroise Apricot Wheal Ale – This is a product that they sell more of proportionally outside of Quebec that they do within. They’ve used this beer to get their foot in the door with different liquor commissions due to its uniqueness and has helped get their brand established. Taylor commented that he figures that sales for this product are pretty evenly split between men and women and he’s surprised by how many “NASCAR / UFC type of guys” seem to really enjoy this beer.
I also asked about the St-Ambroise IPA that I was able to purchase at one of the Halifax private liquor styles last Fall. This is a fairly new brew for them and one they plan on doing year round. When I commented that I was surprised it wasn’t hoppier Taylor described how they brewed it as a more traditional IPA and toned it down relative to many of the hop heavy IPAs you’ll find on the market now (somewhere Greg Nash is cringing). Apparently the tap version of the brew tastes quite a bit hoppier.
There are also a few other brews offered that we didn’t sample or discuss: Griffon Extra Pale Ale and St-Ambroise seasonals: Raspberry Ale, Strong Ale and Vintage Ale as well as their Cream Ale. There are currently no plans for any new brews.
McAuslan beer is currently sold in all provinces but Newfoundland with approximately 70-80% of their sales within Quebec. Overall, the Apricot Wheat Ale accounts for approximately 40% of their branded sales, the Pale Ale accounting for 30% with the balance coming from their other beers. Within the Maritimes, over 50% of their sales are for Apricot, with the bulk of the other half being made up of St-Ambroise Pale Ale and Oatmeal Stout.
They currently sell about 1700 HL/ yr in the Maritimes with their best clients being Henry House in Halifax, Brooklyn Warehouse in Halifax, Foggy Goggle in Halifax, Wooden Monkey in Halifax, Spitfire Arms in Windsor and Library Pub in Wolfville. Unfortunately, Dean Perry informed me last week that the NSLC has decided to de-list St-Ambroise Pale Ale. The beer will continue to be available at the Private Nova Scotia outlets (Harvest Wine and Spirits, Premiere Wine and Spirits, and Bishops Cellar). If you would like to contact NSLC to pass on your thoughts about this great beer being removed from their shelves here is the link.
As mentioned at the start of this post, I gathered most of my information from a guided tour. The tour costs $20.00 and is worth every penny. The tour lasted about and hour and 45 minutes and was a guided tour throughout all areas of the brewery, detailed aspects of the operations discussed, a sampling of six excellent beers and a gift bag containing a glass, a winter scarf, coaster and two lanyards.
The brewery is about a 15 minute walk from the Place Saint-Henri Metro station (Orange Line). Tours are offered by appointment only on Wednesday nights at 6:15 and 8:00 pm. There are 3 shifts / day other than Wednesday which is cleaning day which is why tours are only available then as there are less staff on the floor.
McAuslan was the first Canadian brewery on the internet launching their website in 1995. They also have a Facebook page and can be followed on Twitter (
Atlantic Canadian Beer Festivals
St-Ambroise beers will definitely be available at three Atlantic Canadian beer festivals this year. Dean has confirmed they will be attending the Saint John Beer Fest, Atlantic Beer Festival and Seaport Beer Festival. They may also attend the PEI Beer Festival and OktoberFest des Acadiens but cannot confirm as of yet.
Peter and Ellen have been heavily involved in their community supporting a variety of arts, educational and community development projects.
Peter has been the President of the Concordia Alumni Association, sat on the Board of Directors for the Empress Cultural Center and has been involved in projects related to the development of the South West sector of Montreal.
Ellen is a founding member of the Tree Within, a group dedicated to helping battered immigrant women and past member of the Board of Directors for the Montreal Chamber Orchestra.
McAuslen also randomly pays out 5 individual $1,000 bursaries to artists who perform at their Centre St-Ambroise throughout the year.
This is the third in a series of profiles of breweries I’ve completed so far with the first two being for Shiretown Beer and Garrison Brewing Company. If you’re a brewer and interested in being featured on this site please contact me.