The Régie des alcools era
I was five in 1960. At the time, I had no idea that the following year, 1961, would produce one of Bordeaux’s most glorious vintages of the 20th century. But when you’re five, you drink milk, so that’s exactly where my indulgences began and ended. It wouldn’t be until another quarter century later, while I was a student at the Institut d’oenologie, that I would be able to taste the archetypal great wine while in Girondin. It was a Château Latour 1961. Not bad at all. Yes, I would definitely say that it wasn’t bad at all. I mean, why get hyperbolic about things — it’s just wine.
In Québec, in the meantime, the year 1961 had a completely other connotation: the Commission des liqueurs became the Régie des alcools du Québec. We’ve come a long way. No doubt you still remember the almost clerical ambience of those stores back then, with their caged-in counters that looked a lot like confessionals. No onlooker could possibly have been able to guess either the colour or the shape of the satanic bottle being passed over the counter. “So as to not inflame the desires of consumers,” explained the Thinel report at the very end of the 1960s. This was quite a contrast to the roaring 20s a few decades earlier, when Montréal hosted the most dissolute nightlife on the continent!
Québec in the 1960s
And yet the 1960s hurtled on despite everything with its own electrifying je‑ne‑sais‑quoi. It had a certain teenybopper energy, as testified by the many bands of the early 1970s, like César et les Romains, Les Hou-Lops, Les Lutins, Les Bel-Canto, Les Sultans, Les Sinners, and Les Excentriques. It was a decade in which I discovered, like many of you — come on, admit it! — my parents’ liqueur cabinet, a place reined over by the ubiquitous Martini & Rossi, a range of gins including the unmissable Tanqueray Dry, the instantly recognizable bottle of Grand Marnier, and don’t forget the unusual Tesoro Amontillado Medium Dry from Spain. These were “intimate” encounters of the kind you could not come out of completely unscathed, to say the least.
The 1960s revolution wasn’t all that quiet, which would no doubt please Jean Lesage, the premier of Québec at the time. For any of you feeling nostalgic for the decade, I’d like to remind you that the Montreal Canadiens won four Stanley Cups (1965, 1966, 1968, and 1969), Michel Tremblay wrote Les Belles-soeurs, which garnered him the reputation he still has today, the Cyniques were using their dark humour to poke fun, scorch the ears of listeners, and raise consciousness, the Classels were all the rage, and, in the meantime, France was the site of seven weeks of massive unrest during the May 1968 demonstrations. None of which prevented American Neil Armstrong from calmly taking the first steps for mankind on the moon one year later, in 1969.