With the announcement yesterday that Amsterdam Brewing Company is not only moving to a location with bigger distribution capabilities but also opening a brew pub on Toronto’s waterfront, it seems clear that they’re poised to become a bigger player in the city’s, if not the province’s or country’s, beer scene (and we won’t mention which Toronto beer writer was the first out with that story–ahem), and that is really, really good news for Ontario and for beer drinkers in general.
This move–with the company’s focus on having all their products available for retail sales and the strategic choice of a tourist-friendly site for their proposed brewpub– is sure to get an even larger swath of the the population drinking Amsterdam’s beers, so it will be that the rest of the world is soon likely to find out what Toronto’s beer nerds have known for a long time: Amsterdam Brewing Company makes really good beers.
It seems a little crazy that it needs to be said about a brewery that’s been around since 1986, but these guys really do know their beer. Unfortunately, until lately, when most people thought about Amsterdam, they likely thought about Amsterdam Blonde, Amsterdam 86, the 416 Wheat Beer, or maybe something from their acquired Kawartha Lakes Brewery (KLB) lineup. Which is not to say that there are not some exceptional examples of the respective styles among that lineup, just that these beers–what with their easy-drinking style and appeal to the beer-drinking masses–perhaps don’t lend themselves to the idea that Amsterdam makes too many experimental and/or groundbreaking brews. Which is a shame; because they really do.
Under the guidance of brewer Iain McOustra, Amsterdam really has been churning out some fantastic and interesting beers. Sure, some have gotten a little bit of attention, for example their Boneshaker IPA, which came from a pilot brew and now flies off the shelf at the retail store and LCBO; but the for the most part, McOustra’s quirkier offerings haven’t gotten a lot of widespread notice (which has generally been OK by me and the rest of the city’s gem-hoarding beer nerds–more for us!).
It’s a pretty safe bet that if you were to poll the average beer-drinking Ontarian if he or she had tried a Sleeping Giant Barley Wine, the Maverick and Gose, or Amsterdam’s Mid-Summer Saison, you’d get a “No.” Which is a crying shame since these are, if you’ll pardon my pandering use of their own slogan, ‘dam good beers–to say nothing of McOustra’s barreling experiments like his Bourbon-Barrel Tempest Stout and “Divination,” a golden Belgian ale aged in Flatrock chardonnay barrels.
But that all seems poised to change.
These grand plans for Amsterdam seem to be pretty brilliantly designed not to just get people in the door and spending money–which is obviously good for their bottom line–, but also to get them trying new and different beers–which is great for the Ontario beer scene.
With the obvious appeal of their new digs to virtually everyone (Waterfront patio! Beer!), Amsterdam is going to be getting a lot more people in the door. Once they’re in the door, it’s likely they’ll be tempted to try one of McOustra’s less-than-mainstream offerings, and that means the brewers are going to be helping a lot of people expand their beer-drinking pallets; something that seems to be a long-overdue and uphill struggle in our macro-lager soaked province.
By helping Ontario drinkers (and likely a considerable amount of tourists) learn about different styles of beer and teaching them that beer can have admirable qualities other than how cold it is, Amsterdam’s expanded operations will likely prove to be a massive asset in helping this province move toward a more refined beer-drinking and beer-brewing culture. Once people see how great craft beer can be, they’ll likely start demanding more from the people that make their beers and that sort of public support is only going to help the craft beer industry grow.
Which is ‘dam good news for everyone, really.
Photographs by Paul Aihoshi