Amsterdam is a brewery that is quickly going to the top of my mental list of brewers who consistently produce stellar beers. They gained my instant respect with their Boneshaker IPA and cemented it with the vastly different but equally impressive Vicars Vice old ale. And while they stay in their own ale series, I can’t imagine a beer more different from the big dark old ale than a weisse aka weizenbier, aka wheat aka white ale. “White” beers are often referred to as “wheat” ales because of the fact that, in many recipes, half or more of the barley (malts) are replaced with wheat instead. This extra serving of wheat tends to produce a more “sour” tasting beer which like the bitterness of the hop can be an acquired taste – but once acquired, the wheat ale will quickly become a favourite on a hot summer day for its ability to quench the thirst. And yes, if you were wondering if there is an etymological connection between the similarly looking/sounding words white and wheat, the answer is an emphatic and very Anglo-Saxon “Yes” as the words themselves the complete circle in these ales.
The two main families of “white” beer come from the Belgian and the German, where the German favours higher quantities of malted wheat and the Belgians opts for the flavour that comes from unmalted wheat. In addition, the Belgian tradition also favours the use of “spices” in the brewing process. You’ll see by the label on Amsterdam’s beer that they clearly fall into the Belgian tradition, from which is derived the Dutch tradition, especially in their use of coriander, orange peel, and anise.
Perform the instructions printed on the back label and commit the “The Weisse Roll” and you’ll see one of the other features in the pour … an unfiltered “whiteness” will cloud the glass, a very familiar vision as seen in the standard among Belgian wheat ales: Hoegaarden.
So how does Amsterdam measure against this long European line of brewing standards? Exceptionally well … I mean, truly exceptionally. And I say this as a person who actually doesn’t much care for wheat ales (as a rule). I’ve had some very good ones, I’ll admit, but as a rule, I avoid them – so don’t ask why I picked this one up. I think it was probably the beautiful all-orange painted label which clearly invokes both the orange peel in the beer, but also the classic orange of the Netherlands …. What better homage, then, to Amsterdam’s namesake?
This golden, straw-coloured beer has been carefully carbonated. The balance means that you’ll have to pour hard to produce a head … but while it fades, it does leave a beautiful wreath of lacing on the glass which portends a balance of bitterness you’ll taste at the end. Off the nose there is some spice but more than that, I’d say you’ll smell yeast, a fairly common nose for a wheat ale.
One of the things I generally don’t like about wheat beers is the low specific-gravity that leaves them watery. This beer off the top of the tongue, however, feels full – not crazily viscous, but certainly not watery. This is supported by the tight carbonation that follows and introduces the sourness near the top. From here, the beer quickly moves onto the middle of the tongue where the spices emerge: some orange (subtle), definitely the coriander and while the anise is there, what I taste is more clove and cardamom than anything.
The ending is only part of the beer where I have issue. The flavours carry through and the sours and bitters leave a deliciously balanced ending on the tongue which totally refreshes. However, there is an acidic and acerbic close that reminds me of chewing white paper to hide high school notes (or so I’ve been told).
Still, this is a very quaffable beer – a beer to be gulped when you’re hot and thirsty. It is a very solid and more than respectable Canadian entry into a European dominated style. This may not be Amsterdam’s best product, largely owing to the ending and aftertaste, but if you like wheat beers, it’s well worth a visit … and if you just want something different for the summer, I’d highly recommend this, especially for a deck party or bbq with friends.
Stats: White Ale. 5% ABV. Toronto, Ontario.
Colour: Muted, unfiltered straw
Mouth Feel: Medium carbonation.
Pairing Notes: Excellent on it’s own, but would be an excellent pairing with any grilled white meat, from chicken to pork.
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