Chretien’s ‘Shawinigan Handshake’ immortalized in beer

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

A Quebec microbrewery has immortalized former prime minister Jean Chretien's notorious confrontation with a demonstrator through the medium of beer.

Shawinigan Handshake commemorates the day in 1996 when Chretien came face-to-face with anti-poverty protester Bill Clennett after a public event in Hull, Que., and throttled him out of the way.

Le Trou du Diable brewery, based in Chretien's Shawinigan hometown, created the strong, German-style beer three years ago but it was initially only sold in draft kegs to pubs.

Now, Postmedia News reports, it's being offered in bottles with a label depicting Chretien, who called himself "the little guy from Shawinigan," choking out the devil.

Brewery co-owner Isaac Tremblay said he walked into a bar last fall and discovered Chretien actually sampling the beer.

"He liked the idea and thought it was funny," Tremblay said, adding the former PM was interested in getting a pack of the beer so he could treat his friends.

"Mr. Chrétien is known for his funny personality and he has made fun of this incident in the past," Tremblay told Postmedia News.

But Clennett doesn't find it amusing.

"It's quite extraordinary to trivialize his behaviour only to sell beer," he said. "It's pitiful.

"What Mr. Chrétien did was not commonplace. There is nothing glorious there to celebrate."

Clennett and other demonstrators had staked out a Chretien event to protest changes to employment insurance.

Chretien and his minders were headed back to his limousine when the prime minister found Clennett blocking his path.

TV news cameras caught Chretien as he grabbed the protester by the throat and shoved him out of the way before his security detail put him on the ground.

The move was dubbed the Shawinigan Handshake.

Clennett hopes to have the last word. He's filed a complaint with Quebec's French-language watchdog over the beer's English name.

Tremblay is shrugging off Clennett's ire, noting the bottled beer sold out in three days.

Consumer reviews have been good. Posters on the Beer Advocate web site rated the draft beer highly, "yeasty and full of earthy spice with a solid underpinning of bready, sweet malt and flour-dusted brioche."

The bottled version tastes of "banana and cloves with resiny hops. Plush fruit, grapefruit minus the acidic bitterness with tangerines and a touch of honey ... A real nice hybrid of a beer."

(Photo from Le Trou du Diable website)