The Plateau ushered in an impressive new drink spot — Projet Pilote — over the weekend. The hybrid distillery, microbrewery, restaurant, and bar is the culmination of over half a decade of planning from owner and distiller Guillaume Drapeau, who until recently was a partner at another neighbourhood spot, wine bar Le Rouge Gorge.
With plans to initially open as a cross between a distillery and bar, Drapeau incorporated a microbrewery into the project after learning that much of the equipment needed to craft spirits can play double duty for beer-making. Now, he says, Projet Pilote has become the first in the city to marry these varying functions under one roof. (After plenty of appeals to the city, Drapeau was also granted permission to operate the distillery in a commercial district, as opposed to an industrial one — another first, he says.)
Projet Pilote takes over the roomy space adjacent to poutine powerhouse La Banquise, which previously belonged to bar La Quincaillerie on Rachel Street, a business Drapeau purchased some years ago with this latest venture already in mind. Its tall ceilings were perfect, he says, to accommodate a brewery perched up in a glass mezzanine and distillery whose equipment spans 30 feet in height.
Drapeau’s current focus is on crafting small batches of gin, and fruity and nutty eau de vies, but expects to eventually turn his attention to whiskey, too. His alcohols form the basis of the bar’s cocktail menu, put together by Justin Presseau to include creations like the “Grand-Mère Smith,” with green chartreuse and a clarified cordial, and the “Kaffir,” made with a lemongrass makrut tincture, smoked salt, lime juice, and Mangosteen mousse — both spiked with gin made on-site.
And then there’s the beer. Led by Martin Allaire (previously at Boswell brewpub on Mont-Royal Avenue), Projet Pilote’s microbrewery sees eight house-crafted beers served on tap at any given time, with a focus on “balanced, thirst-quenching ones that are easy to down one after the other,” Allaire says. The on-tap offering is padded with brews from other Quebec producers, as well as some ciders and kombucha.
Beers made on-site are poured directly from their copper-coated bright tanks (where they also get their carbonation), suspended overhead and under a lightwell that Allaire says imparts a glistening orange hue throughout the space. The display of tanks serves as the bar’s focal point, Allaire says, likening them to the attention-grabbing organ pipes that often line the back wall of a church.
More than anything though, Projet Pilote functions as a freewheeling science lab, where no idea is too sacrilegious to explore. These days, Allaire, like Drapeau, seems to have whisky on the mind, and tells Eater he’s been toying with the idea of making a beer that can be distilled into a whiskey only to then repurpose the barrels to brew more of that same initial beer in later. It would be a “sort of Frankenstein assemblage,” he says.
Completing the cast are sommelier Jean-Patrick Sturgeon (hauling in organic and biodynamic finds) and Léon Buser-Rivet (formerly Monarque) who on top of being Projet Pilote’s chef, tends to its 700-square-foot rooftop garden. Produce harvested atop the Rachel Street space cameo throughout its offering: Hops are grown for Allaire, aromatics for Drapeau, herby garnishes for Presseau, and veggies for Buser-Rivet.
The food menu currently features eleven snacking dishes, many made with ingredients from the garden, including zucchini blossoms filled with stracciatella cheese and a cherry tomato compote, as well creamy buttermilk cucumbers sprinkled in dill. A chalkboard menu adds some mains — think steak frites or grilled fish — for those looking to hunker down for dinner. Come winter, pickled and fermented veggies will take the lead.
Like seasonal shifts and garden yields, the rotating projects at the microbrewery and distillery will also influence the food menu, Buser-Rivet says, adding that the same is true in the inverse. He describes a case in which he might squeeze some lemons into a dish, only to toss the leftover rinds over to Drapeau who’ll find a way to use it as an aromatic in a spirit. Buser-Rivet can then lace the resulting alcohol back into his kitchen work, perhaps for the purpose of curing some salmon, he suggests. Working in concert helps to reduce waste, he says, but it also compounds the prompts for creativity.
“With so many different things always going on around here, there are so many ways we can think of to use the produce,” Buser-Rivet says. And, when operating — enduringly — in “pilot” mode, there are no set rules on how to do so.
Projet Pilote is open Tuesday to Saturday, from 4 p.m. to midnight at 980 Rachel East.