Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The most excellent Amsterdam adventure

With exotic places like Cleveland and Barrie to choose from, is it any wonder Cat and I chose Amsterdam for our beer adventure?

Truth is, it wasn’t our first choice.

After Cat, Don and I had a blast at our Bellwoods brewpub outing, we started planning our next brew tour. Don had to bow out (“working,” he said, almost convincingly), so I offered to take charge. As the lovely Cat didn’t know me all that well, she shrugged and said “knock yourself out."

A couple days later I’m messaging her all excited. “Great Lakes,” I shouted, citing an award-winning Etobicoke brewery that I had earlier dismissed because they didn’t have any IPAs listed on their website. “They have, like three, and a Double IPA and OMG we gotta go.”

“Fine,” says Cat. “I’m in.”

And then, a couple of days after that I’m back on the brewery website and I notice that something just doesn’t seem right, starting with the address: Great Lakes Brewery, 2516 Market Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio.

Umm, Cat? Oopsie.

“Well, I did have a good time the last time I was in Cleveland. Saw the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame …”

But not this weekend? I didn’t think so. So I was working on Plan B when a new twist in the plot developed. A giant, smash-bomby twist. Flying Monkeys Brewery in Barrie, home of the legendary (to me) Smashbomb Atomic IPA, was hosting  a launch party (free beer, free food, free beer – did I say that already?) for Shoulders of Giants IIPA, a massively hopped-up, 10 per cent super Smashbomb.

In two days.

“It is to die for,” I said to Cat. “I’m in,” she said.

“Get your ass out of Burlington and join us,” I said to Don. “I’m working,” he replied, almost convincingly.

“C’mon, Steve. Let’s go!” I said to our pal in New Zealand. Oh, right.  New Zealand.

But, as the Rolling Stones taught us, you can’t always get what you want, and circumstances conspired to rise up against us on the day of the party, forcing us to cancel. No worries. It’ll be in the LCBO this spring.

At that, I threw in the towel and gave the job of planning the tour to the Master Planner herself. Cat, who lives mere minutes from Amsterdam Brewery and has been there so many times her number is on the wall, chose … Amsterdam Brewery.

So there we were on Saturday, promptly at one p.m., in the brewery drinking free beer (Spring Bok – not bad; Amsterdam Blonde – meh; and Big Wheel Amber Ale – pretty good session beer) when we heard the bad news: There was a hop shortage somewhere, there was no Fracture (their excellent IIPA) at the bar and our tour guide was late.

No need to panic on the hop shortage, we were told. Fracture – a highly rated and very aromatic beer (marijuana, I’m told, though I don’t get that), and one that I had merely sampled a few months back, is available at the bottle shop and “here, have some more free beer while you wait.”

I’m thinking we could solve a lot of the world’s problems this way.

Amsterdam Brewery's Boneshaker IPA
Anyway, we eventually did the tour with Helder as our guide and I sort of paid attention to his patter about the beer making process. The highlight was, surprisingly, a visit to the lager room, which is where they also stored their hops.

The aroma hits you as soon as you step into the room. The dried hops look like rabbit food but the smell is intense. So intoxicating, in fact, that I took a few outside and used them as cologne pellets.  A little under my chin, a little behind the ears…


And then we went back to the bar to sample more of Amsterdam’s wares.

By this time I was ready for an IPA. “Boneshaker,” I told Helger (who was now running the bar), referring to the brewery’s signature India Pale Ale. “He really wants Boneshaker,” added Cat helpfully.

Helger has his routine, however, and that meant starting with the lighter beers like 416 (a lager), more Amber Ale (sure, why not?), another round of the Blonde (which I passed on) and some KLB Raspberry Wheat.

I like the wheat beers (though this wasn’t my favourite), and this one got Cat’s claws out. Helger was explaining that if you order the KLB at the Brew house (on Queen’s Quay on the city’s waterfront) you will get it on ice and they’ll throw some real raspberries in it.

“That’ll turn it into a chick drink,” said one young fellow at the other end of the bar, somewhat unwisely, which earned him the death stare from Cat, as well as this very awesome challenge: “I could probably Boneshaker and Fracture drink you under the table.”

I couldn’t have said it. I couldn’t have said it any better.

Next up was some Downtown Brown (rich, very nice – and I’m not big on brown ales) and a look at their malt board, which shows the 17 types of malt used at the brewery.

“Malt abacus,” noted Cat, who is now funny as well as someone who could “Boneshaker and Fracture you under the table.” (It is an awesome line, isn’t it?)

And finally, the Boneshaker itself. Mmmmmm…so hoppy. That’s some Amsterdam good beer.

And just like that, a huge crowd from the next tour (we were six, they were 56) rushed in and filled up the bar. “Aah, if you don’t mind going to the tables,” asks Helger, “and here, have some more Boneshaker.”

On the way out (after our bottle shop visit) we agreed to meet at a nearby plaza for burgers and to visit the LCBO for, well, more beer. She texts me while I’m inside the liquor store’s beer cooler (looking for IPAs), clearly confused as to which store I went to first. “Where are you?”

As if you’d have to ask, Cat.


I got around to drinking Fracture, the IIPA from Amsterdam that I brought home from the bottle shop, that evening and I have to say I was suitably impressed.

Huge hop flavor with a nine per cent kick in the pants. Didn’t smell any weed – pine, maybe – and I got the usual grapefruit (I seem to smell grapefruit in every decent IPA) – with a boozy finish. Now that’s an Amsterdam good beer.

My sample size is still small, but Fracture just jumped into a tie for second with Twice as Mad Tom (Muskoka) on my Imperial IPA list, just behind Witchshark (insert Homer Simpson drool) from Bellwoods Brewery.

That’s good company.

I had also been meaning to pick up a couple of bottles of beer as gifts from 5 Paddles Brewery (a Whitby microbrewery located just a few miles from my apartment), and finally remembered to stop there on the way to Amsterdam.

The IPA (Narcissism of Minor Differences) they had a couple of days before was gone, so I picked up a brown ale with an appropriate name for Cat (Liver Cleanse) and an ESB (Extra Special Bitter) called Paddlers Pride for me.

I’d had bitters – probably very different than this one – many years before, so I was looking forward to this beer. But I was also worried it may be too malty for my tastes. I’m a hopped-up IPA guy after all, and malt-forward beers like ESBs may not to be my liking.

I shouldn’t have worried. It was really good. Poured a deeper colour than an IPA, but it wasn’t like the brown ales, porters or stouts I've had ... issues with. Tasted strong, even though it was just 5.5 per cent, and went down just fine.

Really enjoyed it, 5 Paddles dudes. And as a bonus, I’ve found another beer style I like.



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