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Behind the scenes at Amsterdam Brewery's new digs

As we reported back in September, Amsterdam Brewery recently announced big plans for their future. In addition to opening a waterfront brew-pub in 2013, the brewery also announced they'd be moving all their brewing facilities to a considerably larger space in Leaside.

Last week, I went to go check out the space and take a tour that may or may not have included an impromptu keg-lifting competition that I may or may not have lost handily to Amsterdam's Blake van Delft.

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The new space, located near burgeoning Leaside Village, seems uniquely poised to bring craft beer to a segment of the city that likely didn't have too much direct access before. Given that the location is walking distance from the absolutely massive Longos, it's clear that the folks at Amsterdam are hoping to generate some more of the foot traffic they enjoyed at their previous location on Bathurst.

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But foot traffic is clearly not their only hope with the new space. With the addition of four humongous 160 hectolitre fermenters, Amsterdam has more than doubled their capacity and, while they're hesitant to admit it, it seems obvious that their new capabilities are geared at making a play for much, much wider distribution. "We're going to make a lot more beer here," van Delft says. "We're going to be able to supply that growing demand for good-tasting local beer in Ontario."

The tanks, purchased from McDonald Steel in Cambridge, actually utilize the same amount of floor space as did Amsterdam's previous fermenters but the new ones take advantage of the new space available at Leaside by being much taller--almost 35 feet high, in fact.

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And they're already using that new capacity to full advantage. When I visited, brewer Morgan Wielgosz was in the brewhouse completing a batch of Amsterdam Blonde while nearby Graeme Johnston was using the facility's canning machine to complete a double run; meaning he and Amsterdam staff had canned two full pallets of cans that day--roughly 48 hectolitres of beer or the equivalent of 400 cases.

In addition to upgrading the brewhouse--essentially the brewery's brain--that they brought over from Bathurst, they upgraded their existing boiler and glycol utilities.

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As for the rest of the required utilities, considerable modifications were required to transform what was previously a warehouse for storing shipping containers into a brewery. "We cut all the drains, laid all the piping, tiled the place, and did all the electrical," van Delft says. "We also had to install the CO2, and we did all the floors."

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The space also features two massive refrigeration areas that were also custom built. One is used for chilling beer during the brewing process and the second houses pallets of beer cases and rows of kegs. It's got so much beer in it, it's surreal. Being inside it was a bit like being in an alcoholic's version of Wonka's factory.

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On the public side of things, the new brewery also features a massive walk-in fridge retail area and a tasting room that can accommodate groups of up to 20 people who may want to sample Amsterdam's wares. For groups larger than that or private functions, Amsterdam also has an event space that can be rented out for parties--an option that Van Delft says is growing in popularity among Leaside Villagers looking to host interesting holiday parties.

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Indeed, when I visited, a local roofing company was using the space and getting decidedly festive among Amsterdam's barrel-aging program which is currently sharing the space (though the whole "craft" thing might be a uphill battle with this crowd given the frequency with which party-goers asked their bartender what tasted the most like Labatt Blue).

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Ultimately, it's a unique space and a good beer experience, but the vibe is still very "Amsterdam Beer," just way, way bigger. And while it's clearly a good move for Amsterdam, it's perhaps a little bittersweet for people like me who live downtown and might miss having this much access to their damn good beer. Van Delft, however, has heard this already, and has an answer for me: "I just keep telling people not to worry," he says. "We'll be back downtown in May."

Photographs by Mark Sivilia

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