When you're only having a single bottle or pint it's hard to beat a stout. The rich flavours and full body have an ability to satisfy like no other. Now when I say stout I mean a full on stout like the imperial style. I find mass market stouts, pumped full of nitrogen, leave me wanting as their body, flavours and ability to satisfy just seem hallow in comparison. One of the great, local examples of the proper style is the Tempest Imperial Stout from Amsterdam.
Brewed first in the mid-late 1700s by London-based brewers, the style was intended for export to the royal court of Catherine II of Russia, who had good trade relations with Britain. Much like how the IPA used increased hops and alcohol in order to ensure the beer was drinking well by the time it made the long journey east, Russian Imperial Stouts are robust and flavorful, relying on a lot of roast malt and high alcohol.
The Tempest is a bold, complex beer with rich layered flavours of: dark roasted coffee, caramelised muscovado sugar, raisins and an interesting licorice and black cardamon spice to it, thanks to an addition of hops. Those hops and the bitter edge of the roasted flavours keep this beer balanced nicely against its slightly sweet malt profile and creamy full body. Bold, flavourful, balanced and a style that's hard to get locally, it's easy to see why this beer consistently sells out in no time whenever Amsterdam produces a batch. But with that higher alcohol and rich dark flavours, it's not a beer people are reaching for too often when the temperatures are still hitting over 20˚C.
Enter the Calm Before the Storm. Sort of a baby brother to the Tempest it's an English mild—a particular style of brown ale featuring low hops and alcohol. In this case it was actually made with the second runnings of Amsterdam's last batch of Tempest. So it provides much of the same flavour profile, but in a much more subtle and gentle package that's perfect for the summer to autumn transition we're currently experiencing. Expect malty flavours of: milk chocolate, turbinado sugar, mocha, a bit of peppery rye and the slightest hint of that intriguing cardamon spice. It still retains some of the Tempest's comforting creaminess and complex layered flavour profile without feeling too heavy nor too light. Plus it manages to pack this all into 3.2% ABV—less alcohol than the two most popular light beers in the province.
The best place to sample this beer is tonight at the brewery (21 Bathurst Street) where Amsterdam will be tapping a fresh cask at 5pm in its retail store, and pouring it until the keg runs dry. The event is free to attend and is part of a five-day celebration Amsterdam has put on as part of Toronto Beer Week. As an added bonus the brewery will also be giving away a pair of tickets to Cask Days 2012. This year's Cask Days is the 8th annual celebration of cask-conditional or real ales, which is beer in its natural form (non-filtered, unpasteurised and naturally carbonated), in the city. On Saturday evening, again at 5pm in the retail store, Amsterdam is closing its cask night celebrations by pouring a whisky barrel aged version of Tempest. So if you can make both evenings it'll be a perfect opportunity to compare and contrast the sibling beers.
Written by Mike Di Caro
Michael Di Caro covers all things vinous at Spotlight. His lover affair with Ontario wine began over a decade ago and he’s been in front of tasting bars trying to sweet talk staff into pouring a taste of a library wine or the latest unreleased bottle ever since. Since good wine can’t be made without great grapes, you can also catch him amongst the vines trying to persuade the winemaker into revealing his/her next big thing for you on Spotlight. His epicurean tendencies don’t just stop in the glass either. During the rest of his free time you can find him searching for the perfect bowl of Dan Dan noodles, exploring the city’s best tasting menus or baking cookies and mucking about in the kitchen.