Amsterdam’s beer master Iain McOustra taps a few of his friends to create some spectacular one-off suds—including a Top Gun brew.
It’s no surprise that Iain McOustra, Amsterdam Brewery’s head brewer, is fond of what he does. After all, he’s spent the past 13 years as a modern-age alchemist, turning water, barley, hops, and yeast into liquid gold. “I can’t put into words how much I love my job,” the 32-year-old says. “And even though I’ve been doing it since I was 19, the most exciting stuff has happened in the past few years.”
That’s because the recent rise in craft-beer popularity has allowed McOustra to experiment in ways his predecessors would have never imagined. He meets regularly with his counterparts at Great Lakes Brewery, Steam Whistle, and barVolo to share new techniques, take pilgrimages to regional breweries, and even collaborate on unique, one-off batches—some of which will make the rounds at the city’s festivals and beer bars this summer.
At a recent Father’s Day event at the Evergreen Brick Works, Amsterdam staff poured pints of half a dozen just-made specialty brews. There was an English barley wine, aged in still-wet barrels of Jack Daniel’s, making for a fruity, oaky, and—at 11 per cent—rather strong sipping beer. Also on hand were a chilled, smoked porter with a mellow, lightly charred taste, and a coffee IPA, made from beans roasted in-house by Amsterdam’s head of sales.
And then there were the show-stoppers. The Farmhouse Ale, an Ontario Craft Beer Week collaboration between McOustra, Great Lakes’ Mike Lackey, and Steam Whistle’s Erica Graholm, accents a Belgium-style ale with unique spices like cardamom, sage, and peppercorns. Even more popular was the Maverick and Goss—or the Top Gun beer, as it’s affectionately come to be called. For this one, McOustra worked with Lackey to turn a traditional German leipziger gose brew into something distinctly Canadian, by aging it in a chardonnay barrel from Niagara’s Flat Rock Cellars. “Beer makers in California have been doing it for years, and there’s no reason we can’t do the same,” says McOustra. “That’s why I’m so proud of the Maverick and Goss—it’s a beer that can only exist in Ontario.”
And because of events like Cass Enright’s Brewer’s Backyard, taking place at the Brick Works every month through October, beer-loving Torontonians are increasingly able to get a taste of these new brews. It shows that the transformation in the way we drink is bypassing the big breweries and occurring at a more personal level. “Without people like Cass, and bars like Volo or Bryden’s, this change couldn’t have happened,” says McOustra. “At the end of the day, this is all thanks to people who love their job, love the industry, and, really, just love good beer.”