Meet Iain McOustra, brewer at Toronto's Amsterdam Brewing Co.
McOustra has been involved in the Ontario craft brewing industry for many years now, starting off with the old Kawartha Lakes Brewery (KLB) that once called Peterborough, ON home, before moving over to Amsterdam where he has been brewing for years.
And brewing he's been doing. Working with the rest of the Amsterdam brewing crew, McOustra has been doing a lot of recipe development for the brewery recently, creating new Imperial Stouts, IPAs, Porters, etc., which have been warmly received by beer enthusiasts' lucky enough to get some.
Meet Iain - @_Murdoch
For those that don't know, where is the Amsterdam Brewing Co. situated and what beers do you currently produce?
We are located in downtown Toronto at Lakeshore and Bathurst. Our beers include Big Wheel Amber, 416 Urban Wheat, Natural Blonde, Raspberry Wheat, Spring Bock, Oranje Weiss, Framboise, Boneshaker IPA, Two Fisted Stout, and Tempest Imperial Stout.
Describe the history behind the brewery.
The original owner Roel Bramer had two brewpubs called the Amsterdam on John St and the Rotterdam on King St. He opened up the Amsterdam in 1986 and followed with the Rotterdam in 1988. In 1993 Roel sold the Amsterdam pub on John St and renamed the Rotterdam, Amsterdam Brewery. He used the sale to finance the equipment needed to expand into a microbrewery. In 2002, Jeff Carefoote bought the brewery. A year later, Jeff bought Kawartha Lakes Brewing. He still leads the company today. We eventually moved locations to 21 Bathurst St five years ago to accommodate our expansions.
What is your best selling beer?
Currently Big Wheel Amber is our fastest growing brand, but historically Natural Blonde has been our best seller.
Where can someone find your products?
You can find our beer in the LCBO and Beer Store as well as at bars across the GTA.
Amsterdam's seasonals have been making some noise. How successful have they been? And what has been your favourite?
We have a long history with our seasonals stretching back to the brew pub days. We have recently launched our seasonal line-up at the LCBO, and sales have been great. I think my favourite seasonal would be the Oktoberfest. When I first got to Amsterdam I remember Joel smoking the malt in a cabinet out back. It was a great introduction to the brewery for me. It's turned into a tradition for us and I love a smoked beer come fall. It also gives Jamie (Jamie Mistry, Amsterdam's Brewmaster) an excuse to break out his lederhosen for the release party.
What's new at the brewery?
It's our 25th anniversary this year, so we are gearing up for a celebration in the fall. We are releasing an Urban Wheat beer called 416. It's also been a great year for medals for us in provincial and national competitions. We also have had several one-offs in the past year exploring different styles. Our barrel aging program is going well and we just released our Tempest Imperial Stout. There’s lots of exciting stuff going on at the brewery these days.
Why did you get into the brewing industry and describe your passion for it.
The tradition of it first appealed to me. Brewing is a craft and a trade at the same time - hard work and exact methods, with science behind every step. It seemed like a challenging and rewarding career. The fact that I love beer and the good times that come with it sealed the deal. Starting at KLB and then moving to Amsterdam. Studying at Siebel with friends who changed the way I thought about beer. Doing collaboration brews with great local brewers. Being fortunate enough to work for some of the best brewers in the industry. I haven't looked back once.
What is the best aspect of working in the Canadian craft brewing industry?
Definitely the community, from the brewers and sales reps to the bar owners and customers. Seeing everyone as passionate as you are about moving our scene forward. I love the festivals, tastings, new beers and new trends. Running into people every time you go out for a pint who are excited about local beer. We are evolving at an incredible rate right now and it's exciting to be part of it.
Tell us something about Amsterdam Brewing Co. that not a lot of people know about.
The Amsterdam pub on John St was the first brewpub to open in Toronto since prohibition.
What advantages do smaller breweries have over the big guys?
The main advantage is being involved in every step of production. From grain to glass, you are ensuring that the product is consistent and within specifications. It's also great to have a real team effort behind the beer. Everyone is involved in making our beer the best that we can, from our brewers to our delivery drivers. There isn't a disconnect between divisions that you may have at a larger brewery. Everyone still ends up having a beer together at the end of the day.
To date, what would you say is the highlight of your brewing career?
Having the opportunity to create new beers for Amsterdam over the past two years. I love the recipe design aspect of brewing. The pilot batches, taste panels and tweaking the recipe before the full scale brew. I’ve had a chance to brew beers in my favourite styles: IPAs, Porters, and Imperial Stouts. They've been received well and it's been a great learning experience.
Name your favourite non Amsterdam Brewing Co. produced beer.
Peche Mortel. Crazy good pint.
And lastly, best time for a pint?
Early Sunday afternoon watching the Premier League.