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Québec, a land of many tastes | Episode 2: Rivers of flavour


Québec, a land of many tastes | Episode 2: Rivers of flavour

What does a meadow, a river or forest taste like? That’s a prickly question. One we boldly try to answer by exploring the province in the hopes of discovering Quebec’s taste profile, a bit like a large herbarium of flavours and aromas.

Published on August 29, 2023

In this second episode, seaweed farmer Antoine Nicolas meets Dave Ricard from Distillerie des Appalaches and Charles Boissonneau, master distiller and founder at Menaud. Without further ado, let’s take a deep dive into the flavours of Quebec’s rivers!

Professional seaweed farmer

Breton by birth but now a proud resident of Gaspésie, diver-gatherer Antoine Nicolas was just five years old when he donned his first pair of flippers. A biologist by training, he set course for a career in aquaculture when he came to Quebec for his studies, 12 years ago… And he never left! It only took a few dives “in ice-cold water, in the middle of winter, woefully ill-equipped,” before he fell for the siren song of Grande-Rivière—or, more specifically, for its seaweed. Upon realizing that this incredible resource was underutilized, he pivoted to picking and distributing fresh seaweed and founded Océan de Saveurs (French only) , the first edible seaweed producer to be certified organic in Quebec and the only one to be certified Fourchette Bleue. Antoine now cultivates about 15 different types of seaweed along the coast of Forillon National Park. “My field is underwater!” said the man who calls himself a nautical agronaut.

We'll drink to that

Dave Ricard and Antoine know each other well—Antoine supplies seaweed to Distillerie des Appalaches, which Dave co-founded with Kevin Pelletier in 2019. Why combine seaweed and alcohol? To create the popular Kepler Bord de Mer Gin, made with Atlantic wakame. “Antoine is actually the main inspiration for our best-selling gin to date,” said Dave. “I fell in love with the product and just tried to find other ingredients that would go well with it.” Easier said than done—finding the right mix of flavours took quite a while. Things finally clicked into place during the pandemic: “Strawberries plus wakame and cucumber is a match made in heaven.” Antoine added, “The umami elevates the strawberry, and the saltiness will enhance all the other flavours.”

Antoine explained that there are some 20 species of wakame in the world. The local variety, known as Alaria esculenta or Atlantic wakame, is uniquely delicate. That’s why Dave chose this particular kind for his gin.

“Strawberries plus wakame and cucumber is a match made in heaven.” Antoine added, “The umami elevates the strawberry, and the saltiness will enhance all the other flavours.”


- Dave Ricard, CEO at Distillerie des Appalaches

Treasure island

Co-founded in 2017 by Charles Boissonneau and three of his friends, Menaud is another successful business that’s committed to bottling the riches of the local terroir. “From the very beginning, we wanted all our ingredients to come from Charlevoix. That was our central tenet,” said Charles. That proved to be a bit challenging for beer, but they’ve been able to concoct spirits using ingredients exclusively from Charlevoix. They get most of their supplies from Isle-aux-Coudres, which is teeming with resources of all kinds. That’s where they get their precious glassworts, which they put in their Menaud Gin. “We knew they existed and that we wanted to integrate them into our products, but we weren’t sure how to go about it. In the end, it took two years of trial and error before we were able to create something delicious.” While fresh glassworts are used when brewing beer, it’s better to distill dry glassworts cold when producing spirits—this makes them saltier and less vegetal. “It softens the other aromas, resulting in a wonderfully balanced product.”

Glassworts aren’t seaweed—they’re a plant that grows in salt water. A kind of sea vegetable, if you will. Antoine noted that every type of seaweed has a different flavour, so you can’t put them all in the same basket. “It’s like saying that all vegetables taste the same! There’s such a rich abundance of diversity, flavours, health benefits […] depending on the species and family. [Glassworts are] on the salty side, with a hint of cucumber and pickles… It’s the best of land and sea.”

It takes an ecosystem to make gin

One value that Antoine, Dave and Charles all share is their desire to protect the planet and support the local economy. For Antoine, “the goal is to create a kind of underwater permaculture and have the least impact on the environment as possible.” As for Dave, he saves fresh greenhouse cucumbers that are too “ugly” for grocery stores and buys his berries from a farm in the Chaudière-Appalaches region, about 30 km from his distillery. Not only is this eco-friendly, it also tastes better. According to Dave, “It’s the combination of freshness, deliciousness and the distance the products have to travel. It makes a world of difference in the flavour!” He’s not alone in thinking that either. “There’s a great little network being developed here in Quebec,” he continued. “We’re meeting more and more like-minded folks.” 

“It just makes sense. Getting your supplies as locally as possible is the way of the future. And our aim is for all suppliers to grow with us in that respect.”


- Charles Boissonneau, master distiller and founder at Menaud

The million dollar question: What does it taste like?

To try to define the taste of the river means you have to cast a wide net. But Antoine said, “Beyond the flavour, there’s the aroma. Before you can even taste it, you can smell it.” In fact, the word “flavour” comes from the Old French word “flaur,” which itself is from the Latin “flare,” which relates to the sense of smell. And Dave believes that the river also triggers nostalgic memories. “One of our greatest strengths here at the distillery is our ability to conjure up images of people’s childhoods. I want our customers to be reminded of precious memories of their family vacationing by the sea.” And don’t they also say that you eat with your eyes first? By capturing and sharing the flavours of the river, “you make them taste the entire landscape,” said Antoine. It’s enough to make your mouth water!

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