Great Bitter Ale With Many Resonances

Amsterdam’s beer shown, Amsterdam Autumn Hop Harvest Ale, is undoubtedly one of the best pale ales ever brewed in Ontario, maybe the best.

Its clean, incisive, but emphatic hop character is due to the addition of wet Ontario hops sourced at a hop farm north of Toronto, Clear Valley Hops. This means the hop flowers freshly harvested, not dried in a kiln and baled as for traditional hops, are added to the boil or fermented beer in large amount.

This confers inimitable flavour and complexity. In this case, the benediction to the beer was done the very day the hops were harvested.

The procedure gives the beer all the flowery, resiny taste the alpha and beta acids afford with no processing as stated to dampen, or at least modify, the effect. As I flagged a while back, use of wet or green hops is not actually new, they were doing it locally in England centuries ago.

One can imagine that all beer in the primal community was so treated until hop processing, including kilning, became usual in the beer lands. Certainly the standard processing of hops, not to mention later refinements such as pelletisation, were a boon to the systematic production of good quality beer.

Last week I opened the can shown, took a small taste, and left it in the fridge for four days. It poured today like a cask ale, with the restrained bubble you would expect, perhaps a touch more.

Not only that, it tastes strongly English, it reminds me of draft English bitters on my first trips to England around 1980. It brought back Young’s Bitter in the Guinea, Mayfair, or Holt’s Bitter in Manchester’s Victorian houses, beers that descend from 19th-century pale ale.

You can still get beers like this in Britain but must mind what you order, as English bitter today often delivers the American, post-1976 pale ale or IPA flavour. A taste, that is, driven by the new crop of hops put on the U.S. market (initially) from about 1972.

That’s good beer too but the taste differs from classic English pale ale and bitter; to some it will never rank on the same gastronomic level.

At the soft opening recently of Amsterdam Brewery’s impressive new Barrel House at 87 Laird Drive, Leaside, Toronto, I was told the wet hop used was Cascade.

Clearly the Ontario soils have conferred a specific character, it doesn’t taste like West Coast Cascade. I don’t get any white pith-like taste à la Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Anchor Brewery’s Liberty Ale. This Ontario Cascade gives a smooth but potent taste, a lot like English Golding, to my mind.

No one in England in 1980 was using wet hops, but the use of very fresh English hops may have lent – no doubt still lends – a character not all that different to this Ontario fresh, unprocessed Cascade hop.

Incidentally the preservative effect of a large amount of hops is obvious, as after four days in the fridge the beer is fresh as a daisy. That wouldn’t happen with a lot of beers you leave open in the fridge that long.

Occasionally one encounters a true epicurean treat; this is one, in Gambrinus’ world.