Amsterdam Blonde is one of the first beers that the Amsterdam Brewery ever brewed, back on John St. in 1986. The Amsterdam Blonde also happened to be my personal favourite, ranked first place in the six-pack sampler I had received as homework after my tour.
Earlier, I met with Heather Mundle of the Amsterdam marketing department for a walk through the brewery. Despite my general distaste for beer, I was curious about the art of brewing and what it took to become a brewmaster. Once I learned that Leaside had a brewery I couldn’t resist the temptation to look around. Had I missed my calling as a legendary master of hops? I was about to find out.
As my tour commenced, I noticed the same four ingredients were often mentioned as the main players in making beer: barley (malt), hops, yeast and water. After a walk around the giant tanks and a crash-course lesson on brewing, here’s the process as I understand it:
First, you need purified water that meets industry standards. Next, you need some malt, which is barley. Barley grain germinates, then gets dried and roasted. The longer it’s roasted, the darker the malt will be. Then, put the two together by adding malt to hot purified water.
This is where the science happens. Over time the malt breaks down starch to sugar, and complex proteins in the malt into nitrogen compounds. Strain and keep it hot. Using a steel tank called a brew kettle, boil the malt water with hops until the desired taste and aroma have been captured. Once the brew has adopted the taste of the hops, it’s sent to cool.
Next up is some serious fermentation. This is where the yeast breaks down the sugar and also where the flavour sets in. Once the fermentation is complete, it’s cellar time. Beer is stored in a cold cellar anywhere from one to three weeks, depending on the brew. At this point it will be filtered once or twice over before it’s ready to drink.
Becoming a brewmaster these days involves a mix of old- and new-school learning, said Mundle. Many of the older brewers who have been at it for decades came to their craft through a food sciences background or a general interest in beer, but there was never a formal program to enrol in to learn the trade. Hence many of the brewers come from diverse backgrounds and have learned on the job by apprenticing with mentors. Now, however, those with an interest have an added option to go to Niagara College to become brewers at the first fully licensed teaching brewery in Canada.
Of all the current Amsterdam beers, 3 Speed and Boneshaker are the most popular brews these days. 3 Speed is a lager characterized as a light, crisp beer good for anytime, anywhere. Boneshaker is an unfiltered IPA with lots of hops, a strong malt base and hints of pine and grapefruit. (Do I sound like I know what I’m talking about yet?) After winning a local IPA challenge with Boneshaker in 2010, Amsterdam’s Head Brewmaster Iain McOustra became inspired to include more experimental flavours in some of his blends.
I think it would be fun to play alchemist and create new flavours with every handful of hops. Overall I don’t think I’ve missed my calling, but I do feel oh so Canadian for drinking beer on assignment!
Tours of Leaside’s Amsterdam Brewery take about 45 minutes and include a walk through the brewery and four or five samples of beer exploration afterwards. Whether it’s a lager or an amber ale, Mundle said people are often surprised to find new flavours they didn’t know they enjoyed in a beer.
The Leaside Amsterdam Brewery at 45 Esandar Drive is open to consumers from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday and Sunday
from 11-6 p.m. Tours of the brewery are available every Saturday from 1-5 p.m.
Cheers! Until next time…for science!