By fully embracing Québec’s renowned western town of Saint-Tite and offering local residents and visitors a taste of cowboy life year-round, brewing co-op and microbrewery À la Fût has become a fixture in the community.
Fun fact: Ovila Pronovost, star of the classic Québec TV series, Les Filles de Caleb, stopped for a drink at this historic home dating back to 1865. The cowboy and cowgirl costumes worn by the microbrewery’s employees in what was once a general store will make you feel like you’ve travelled back in time to the days of the Wild West.
“It was natural for us to promote the western theme year-round,” explained Philippe Dumais, one of the microbrewery’s three founding members. “The Festival Western de Saint-Tite is great, but it only lasts 10 days. We’re here to keep the feeling alive full-time. In my travels, I’ve had the chance to visit the US Southwest, the true birthplace of cowboys. We’ve imbued that history and spirit into our business, the visual aspects of our beers and our dishes.”
The bar, which features horse saddle seats around the central bar, helped the business truly weave its way into the fabric of the small town of Saint-Tite. The process has been gradual since it opened 13 years ago. Organizing barbecues with local producers since the first summer has also helped the business forge bonds and foster a feeling of belonging with the community.
“Like the song goes, everybody wants to be a cowboy,” said Philippe, aptly wearing a cowboy costume. “We all pretended to be them as children. Cowboys are passionate and timeless.”
The concept of À la Fût originated with a trio of cowboys, Philippe, Francis Foley and Pierre-Paul Carpentier, who studied electrical engineering together. All three were driven by a shared desire to move back to the country. One was originally from SaintTite, and after visiting the famous western festival and multiplying the number of visitors by the number of beers potentially consumed (the event attracts some 700,000 visitors), the group was determined to open a brewery in this “land of cowboys” strategically located halfway between Québec City and Montréal.
The idea of creating a co-op was also an instinctive one. “Co-ops have a more humane aspect that is really integrated into the workplace,” explained Philippe. “They offer the same benefits as a standard company, but the members are also owners of the business. Our co-op is a reflection of the quality of the people who work for it. The more good people we have, the more our business shines.”
The co-op now has 10 member-employees to manage a portion of the business and help it grow.
Mastering oak-aged beers
Two years ago, the group launched a project inspired by Saint-Tite’s famous festival. They created the Village Western Kapibouska right in front of the microbrewery, which visitors can enjoy on Fridays in the summer and every day during the festival. “For us, the festival is more than a 10-day event. It was only natural to create a western village to carry on that spirit.”
The village quickly grew by adding a public market highlighting local producers, all with a western vibe. This complements the cowboy experience offered by À la Fût, which includes tours of the microbrewery, beer tastings and good food in the western-themed restaurant and bar, as well as overnight accommodations in one of four rooms at nearby Auberge Kapibouska. And last but not least, you can take their beer home with you!
All of the craft beers brewed by À la Fût are firmly rooted in the region, with names that cleverly pay homage to it. For example, their Mékinoise, a white beer refers to the regional county municipality of Mékinac and its 12,000 inhabitants. The microbrewery has developed an expertise in aging beer in oak barrels, and in 2012, it was awarded the title of Beer of the Year in Canada for a beer aged for a year and a half.
“We’ve won people over with our beers,” said Philippe. When the business opened 13 years ago, people weren’t drinking many microbrews. However, in 2011, they developed the restaurant portion of the business, which was a hit. “We found the way to their hearts through their stomachs!”
However, it has been by partnering with various local producers, such as sourcing organic barley from Mauricie, that the trio has shown its true attachment to local products. “Building relationships and participating in the local economy has paid off and helped us establish the business in a lasting way,” said Phillipe. He also extolled the virtues of his adopted region, which boasts more than 2,000 lakes and is brimming with natural beauty.