Amsterdam will be very, very busy Dec. 6

Owner Jeff Carefoote
Owner Jeff Carefoote

Amsterdam Brewing Company, which moved to Leaside in 2012, expects to be very, very busy Saturday, Dec. 6.

It will release the latest of its increasingly popular brews, this one at a whopping 14 percent alcohol by volume, and every Saturday there are free tours and tastings from 1 to 5 p.m. You might find a long line-up.

This is part of the company’s annual late-fall release and if you like beer you need to know the details.

This year’s brew is called Double Tempest, a follow-up of Tempest Imperial Stout, which started as a pilot batch in 2009 and has evolved over the past five years so much that, as of last month, it is available in the LCBO.

Double Tempest is aged in freshly emptied Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels.

The guided tour of the brewery begins every hour, on the hour. After the tour visitors gather around the bar and can taste each of the beers on offer while one of the tour guides tells you a bit about what you’re drinking.

“We invite you to come here, have a good time, don’t overdo it, and have fun,” says Amsterdam owner Jeff Carefoote. “After all, beer should be fun.”

Double Tempest, he says, is one of what he calls adventure brews, because “you have to be a little bit adventurous to find value in these taste experiences. Not everyone does. But I think the people of this community do.”

They are usually sold with seasonal brews only at the brewery.

“The are often not economical on a large scale,” says Carefoote. “Some of our adventure brews take a long time to brew and ferment, and often need a lot of materials – hops and malt. They’re more expensive because they’re done by hand. Leaside is embracing the idea and our adventure brews sell very quickly.”

Which seems to vindicate Carefoote’s decision to move to Leaside from its Bathurst and Lakeshore area downtown.

“We outgrew the Bathurst location,” he says, “and needed more production capacity. We needed a place with high ceilings and room to expand – that just wasn’t possible to find downtown.

“I looked all over. And I chose Leaside because the demographics of the people in Leaside – education and income in particular – line up perfectly with the kind of people who drink our beer. And I live nearby and like the neighbourhood,” he adds.

The area east of Laird was being rejuvenated at the time and Carefoote says he picked the Esandar Dr. location even before the Longos–Leaside Village development was completed.

For Carefoote being part of the community is important. He created a special Leaside Lager for the Leaside Centennial celebration in 2013 that the Prime Minister attended. And he regularly donates Amsterdam beers for local community events, including last month’s second annual Leaside Sports Hall of Fame Reception.

Amsterdam started as a brew pub in the Entertainment District in 1986 and began selling beer for home consumption in the mid-’90s. Carefoote bought the company in 2002.

He has been in the beer business all his career, working for Molson in Canada and Miller Brewing in the United States. He was at one time in charge of the Miller Genuine Draft brand.

But he grew disenchanted with corporate brewing.

“It became all about the marketing” he says, “and we forgot about the product. The idea was to take the taste out so people would drink more.

“The craft beer movement started in the U.S. north-west, in Portland and Seattle, in the late ’90s. It was very similar to what had happened with wine a few years earlier. I watched that pretty closely: a growing number of consumers wanted an artisanal product from local people they knew; they wanted a story and an experience.

“I thought, ‘You know, this is pretty cool. There’s room for a local guy. I want to be part of that.’”

Today there are more than 220 craft breweries in Ontario alone. One of the pioneers and leaders, Amsterdam, is the third largest in Ontario after Steam Whistle and Mill Street.

Amsterdam has six core brands available year-round at the LCBO, including their best-selling Amsterdam Blonde Lager, and their signature Boneshaker, an unfiltered IPA that’s a favourite among those who like their beer hoppy and flavourful.

The man responsible for the current line of products and for experimenting with the beer recipe is brewmaster Iain McOustra.

“It’s very important not to be known for just one brand,” he says. “Our goal is to offer high-quality products across a variety of styles.”

McOustra has produced over 200 different “pilot batches” at Amsterdam and he says, frankly, that some work out better than others. The best ones are offered for sale as adventure brews, and some have become favourites. Boneshaker, for example, now their second highest-selling brand, started out as an adventure brew.