By Sarah-Emilie Nault
Put regional products back in the forefront and enhance the pride of people from Abitibi-Témiscamingue—those are the foundations of Le Prospecteur microbrewery.
You can find everything along historic 3rd Avenue in Vald’Or: drugstores, music stores, Italian restaurants, optometrists, banks, a delicatessen, and hotels. All the services are available there. From the sunny terrace located on the top floor of Le Prospecteur microbrewery, you get a great view of the vibrant life in this central hub of the Valléedel’Or regional county municipality (RCM).
Located between the StSauveur Church and La Tanière delicatessen, Le Prospecteur microbrewery, founded in 2014, has become this mustsee meeting place where visitors and local residents stop by to make real contact with producers, as consumers, while enjoying the legendary boreal flavours. On a hot, summer Thursday afternoon, the brew pub and the general store are crowded, since they have clearly become key locations for locals.
A Lebels-ur-Quévillon native, Jonathan Deschamps is the dynamic and friendly coowner. He has been a boreal spice enthusiast since his childhood in AbitibiTémiscamingue and in Northern Quebec, a region known for its mines and forests. He would go as far as saying that the forest runs in his veins. It was a given that the brewmaster and his sidekick Philippe Lord would emphasize this “boreality” in their company and in their brewing creations.
“Since the beginning of industrialization, we have lost contact with the product, especially with mine products because, when it comes to gold, we never get to see the final product as it is put in a safe,” explains the one who is overjoyed when he goes to the woods to gather boreal products. “It is a bit alienating when the producer and the consumer do not make contact. Abitibi’s agrifood industry is not large, as it is a very industrial region. Yet, it adds so much value to our region.”
This “boreality”—this Abitibi boreal flavour—is a largely overlooked concept that is often underutilized according to the brewmaster. He says, “You have to know the spices, as well as appreciate going to the woods and attaching importance to it. This is only the beginning, there is still a lot of work to be done. That’s the gold mine.”
This desire to share with people his findings, documented in his gathering log book, led him to fulfil his “more or less serious boyhood dream” of diving into his own brewing journey. He quit his job as an engineer—after studying at the University of Sherbrooke where he met his future business partner Philippe—and called it quits to start creating little IPA wonders flavoured with Labrador tea flowers or an IPA milkshake beer with a white sweet clover flavour.
“I was not really psyched to work in the environment sector in Abitibi mines,” he says. “It lacked authenticity and I missed touching the product. Being able to create local craft products is really something that was and that is still near and dear to our hearts.” It is there, among the barrels and the tanks in the brew pub basement, that Jonathan and his employees are brewing their experimentations. The Tête de pioche beer, an American IPA, is a classic that is sold in growlers. Among the most eccentric beers is the Hystérésis, a slightly sour wheat beer made of nineteen vegetables and two fruits.
Proud of Their Regional Products
The artisan/entrepreneur today grows his own hops and enjoys partnering with local companies and various microbreweries across Quebec. In the same spirit of cooperation, local farms supply his company with local grains and honey.
He describes Le Prospecteur brew pub as the soul of his business, which he sees as a big family consisting of employees and customers. Many visitors from other Quebec regions or elsewhere come mingle with loyal Abitibi customers. Their favourable reviews contribute to give visibility to Vald’Or outside its vast territory. “Brewery tourism has increased phenomenally over the last five years,” notes Jonathan. “My greatest pride is when someone comes here and say to us, ‘This is so awesome.’ ”
Two years ago, Le Prospecteur opened its general store. Visitors stop by to buy cool tiein products and takeout beers after tasting, in the brew pub, the result of some 200 craft beer recipes with proud boreal flavours created by the one who has worked for four years on a 100 per cent local beer. “It will contain barley from Témiscamingue, honey, yeast strains, hops growing in my own hop field at home, as well as a great pride coming from our local products.”
Here is a proud ambassador who, thanks to his outstanding curiosity and creativity, became well known in a booming industry. Through its efforts, Le Prospecteur is currently one of the most appreciated microbreweries in Quebec.