The Amsterdam brewery wasn’t really on my radar when I started blogging over three years ago. Their Blonde and Nut Brown were bland craft beers and there was little to celebrate about the brewery. Since then they’ve started to release some interesting seasonal products, one of which (Boneshaker) eventually became a wonderful year-round offering, and have started one of the best barrel aging programs in Ontario. Amsterdam is now one of the leaders in creating innovative beers that explore new tastes. Saturday was their biggest event to date, a tap takeover that saw barVolo be transformed into a mini Red Light District.
While credit has to be given to everyone at the brewery for taking the risk to make these untested beers, the bulk of the work is that of head brewer Iain McOustra. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Iain on two beers and he is both extremely knowledgeable and exceptionally friendly. Most of the thirty-two beers (twenty-six on tap, six on cask – incredible in itself) were his or a collaboration he did with other brewers.
A good chunk beers at the event were either barrel aged, used unusual yeasts or had some other unique twist (like grape skins or oak chips), which made for an extremely impressive list of beers. Many had been months in the making and showed just how much effort went into preparing for the tap takeover. Some of my personal highlights:
- Divination #2: A framboise that underwent a secondary fermenation with wild yeast from Niagara grapes and aged one year. One of the tastiest fruit beers I’ve had in a while with a perfect balance of acidity and the natural sugars from the raspberries. This took me to my happy place.
- Rip and Run: A collab with House Ales, this imperial smoked porter had pinot noir skins added for a beautiful interplay between smoke and dark fruits. Once again, a beer that had exceptional balance between the different elements.
- Raspberry Gose: The Maverick and Gose brewed with Great Lakes was then blended with raspberries and aged in a Flat Rock pinot noir barrel with lacto. Not as much depth of flavour as the Divination #2, but salty enough to be equally as intriguing.
- Full City Tempest: This should be no surprise to those who have had the Full City Tempest before, which has shown up at a couple of events. A clean coffee flavour that doesn’t dominate the base beer. Please keep making this version of the Tempest.
Not everything was a winner, which is to be expected when you’ve got thirty-two beers being poured. Some beers were merely fine and a couple of the golden ales/saisons were a little too similar thanks to the yeast strains used. It seemed like the case of a brewer going through a phase of experimentation – the beers had noticeable differences, but there was a common thread through a lot of them. That’s my only complaint from the night and a relatively small one at that.
I’ve tried to temper my enthusiasm for the night, but let me state unequivocally that it was a great event with fantastic beers. It is tempting to overstate the importance of the night and spout lots of hyperbole, because it did feel like this hadn’t been done by an Ontario brewery before. I couldn’t help but remember how the Great Lakes tap takeover at Volo was such a big deal in March of 2011 and to reflect on how things had changed in the span of two years. (Check out the tap list for that night – Karma Citra, Harry Porter and the Bourbon Soaked Vanilla Beans, Armadildo, My Bitter Wife, Miami Weiss. Lots of beers that have become staples of the Great Lakes rotation.) Breweries keep pushing the boundaries bit by bit and I have no doubt that someone will try to top this night in a year or two. For now, though, Amsterdam has raised the bar.
The future looks great for Amsterdam. Between their new brewery in Leaside and the brewpub set to open in Queen’s Quay this spring, expect a lot more exciting beers produced on a consistent basis. If you still think that Amsterdam is all about the Blonde and Big Wheel, it is time to change that. Amsterdam is now in the upper echelon of Ontario breweries and still getting better.