Tasting the Amsterdam Boneshaker India Pale Ale

The Amsterdam Brewery started out as a brewpub in Toronto in 1985, the first of its kind here. Since then is has evolved to a fully operation brewery servicing Ontario and the surrounding markets. I have also been around since 1985, but I have never had a beer like this from Amsterdam. I am used to their Frambroise, the Nut Brown, Blonde, or their seasonal Pomegranate Wheat. Even their recent Oranje Weisse was very familiar; all in the 5% range, none of them really taking any chances – each of these beers are very politically acceptable we’ll say.

The Boneshake though, this is a very different story. Amsterdam is calling it an Unfiltered India Pale Ale, however I would more appropriately call it a Double IPA. It is 7.1% abv, and packs a bitter punch that could not be rivaled by a case of any of their other beers. That being said, I was very excited to try this. I love it when breweries stop focusing on what the market thinks they want, and brewers just brew. The Americans have been doing it for years, and with huge success! In a market which is declining in the U.S., craft beer continues to increase in sales. I’m about to see if Amsterdam has caught onto the idea.

The Boneshaker is a limited production run with only 80 cases being produced and sold directly out of the Brewery’s on-location stone. It comes in a 500 ml bottle with a very old fashioned style label depicting a skeleton riding a rather rickety looking bicycle. I’m not sure what the IBU’s (International Bitter Units) are on this beer, but they are definitely higher than any beer they have produced before.

Immediately this beer made me smile – with a gentle pour down a tall Amsterdam glass it build a densely fogy amber down beer with a lush, creamy, and tightly carbonated 2 to 3 inch pillowy head. The foam was a touch off-white resting perfectly with superb retention on top of a glowing red brick beer. Hints of golden orange and copper shine through the edges with a smooth haze. This beer stood tall and proud just perfectly in the glass; absolutely a gorgeous double IPA.

The nose bring a big rush of bitterness upfront and hints at citrus and spice. It is very raw bitter right away with almost a lack of flavor aromas. Slowly though you can pick up grapefruit peel, including the white bitter rind. It shows a floral and herbal freshness with a touch of sweet malt – but the overbearing sensation here is a raw and potent bitterness.

The initial taste greatly reflects the aroma. The first cool wave of beer pours over your palate easily with mildly creamy carbonation, but brings a thick wave of bitterness and hops. More just the bitter sensation though. The hops are somewhat subdued right now, but as the beer warms up greater freshness and citrus peel becomes apparent. Grapefruit, lemon and lime show their place, and again the faint notes of herbal freshness comes in. There is a touch of white pepper in the background and the roundness of whole hops.

Malt sweetness does shows up a bit more now was the beer nears cellar temperature; its brings a lightly caramel and sugary sweetness in the back that gently rolls off your tongue and really hits you in the cheeks. The malt, citrus, and herbal flavors here all are in the background of the beer though, the overpowering sensation is this very rich, but very raw bitterness. I was actually really enjoying by now, halfway through the beer – but for the regular Amsterdam Beer drinkers it may be too much to fast.

Its as if all the hops went into the kettle right away for bittering, but none if any were added close to the end for flavor or aroma (the longer a hop remains in the boil the more bitter it becomes, and less actual flavor remains). This does all help to create a massively quenching beer that finishes dry and tart, with an aggressive bitter end that lingers. I could still feel the bitter 30 minutes later on my palate.

To me the Boneshaker is just unbalanced right now and has become very one sided. A bigger malt backbone needs to be present to balance the bitterness, and some fresh aroma hops needs to be added so that the only bitter here isn’t just raw sensation of power. Overall a great start by the Amsterdam team, I will be excited to see what comes of this!

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