Bellwoods Hellwoods vs Amsterdam Tempest

Day two of the battle royale.  Today it’s a shaolin vs grasshopper kind of day, with Bellwoods Hellwoods Russian Imperial Stout matched against Amsterdam Tempest Imperial Stout.  You should probably know that both Luke and Mike of Bellwoods worked at Amsterdam before striking out on their own, and opening the immensely successful Bellwoods Brewery.  Luke, Mike and their team are cranking out some amazing beers, particularly wild/sour beers in barrels.  Funny enough, that’s also what Iain and the team at Amsterdam are doing. Like I said yesterday, these guys are in the very top end of brewing skill in the city. I’ve had both these beers multiple times, though never side-by-side.  They are both phenomenal.  While I’m excited to compare them, I loath the thought of trying to pick a winner.  But such is the responsibility of the poor old beer blogger. So, let’s get it on!

Bellwoods Hellwoods vs Amsterdam Tempest

Bellwoods Hellwoods vs Amsterdam Tempest

Round One


From a waxed 500ml bottle, Tempest pours an opaque black showing dark crimson or brown at the edges.  A dense 1″ tan head slowly dropped to a sticky layer of foam that left good lacing on the glass.  Aroma is so beautiful, charred malts, coffee, molasses, rum, warm spices like clove and cinnamon, leather, tobacco, and a hint of chocolate.  Hops are piney and astringent.  Zowie.

From a 500ml bottle with a classic Bellwoods poster style label, Hellwoods also pours an opaque black, but the glimmer at the edges is quite red, and the head was darker than Tempest, showing a rich mocha brown.  The 3/4″ head dropped more quickly to a patchy layer of head that also left good lace. Aroma is also amazing, coffee and dark fruits, plums and figs, tobacco, a touch of vanilla, smoke from the charred malts, and cocoa.  Some herbal and slightly sticky hops show too.

As expected, it’s a close call, but Hellwoods wins this round; the colour of the head is startlingly lovely, and those dark fruits that pop immediately are a nice touch.

Round Two


Tempest is immediately sweet and smokey, like burned sugar on a creme brulee.  Hops are there from start to finish, big west coast piney and juicy.  Mid palate shows more of the leather and tobacco as well as rum and spices.  The finish is all hops and smoke, with a big shot of hot booze that lingers even after the sticky hops have faded.  The balance of all the flavours is just great, the malts are smokey without being like a rauchbeir, the hops are enormous but are well check by the huge sweetness, and the mid tastes all add depth and complexity. Most Excellent.

Hellwoods shows dry bitterness right from the start, and less immediate sweetness.  Smoke and coffee become much more dominant, but so are the hops.  Big bitter and herbal, not as sticky as the Tempest.  Fruits with are now very much plum or even prune fill out some jammy-sweetness which shows well between the initial charred bitterness of the malts and the really big bitingly dry hoppy finish.  There is also some tobacco and a touch of what I think are spices from the yeast.  But there is no doubt, this is a big hoppy RIS. As it warms more burned-sugar sweetness become present, and there is more boozy heat to the finish.

I really like both for different reasons.  I dig the great big brash hops of the Hellwoods, while it still shows many other layers of depth.  On the other hand, the balance and gentle touch of Tempest belies a very steady hand on the mash paddle.  I call this round a draw.

Round Three


Tempest is heavy-bodied, with a nearly moderate carbonation.  Hops keep things dry and clean but the beer lingers on and on.  Hellwoods seems slightly fuller-bodied, but also seems to have a touch less carbonation, which could account for this.  The beer is more velvety on the tongue, but then the hops are more aggressively astringent on the finish.  The linger is predominantly smoke and hops.  As noted in taste, Tempest shows such skill and effort in it’s execution.  Too often an RIS drinks like the brewer just threw as much hops and black malts as they could afford into the kettle with little to no thought of the final taste.  Tempest show maturity and patience.  This isn’t to say that Hellwoods is like the inexperienced RISs I just mentioned.  In fact, I know that it’s brash hoppy assertiveness is well planned and executed.  It is also the hallmark of skill, that it is big and biting without become difficult to drink.  Both are products from highly skilled brewmasters, but because I have to choose, I will do so.  While I adore Tempest and have such respect and admiration for Iain, I’m going to give Hellwoods the win.  Simply on the grounds that I’m amazed that such a big aggressive beer can still remain manageable.  Sure, neither are beers that you could hand a Bud drinker and expect a positive response, but both are excellent examples of the style.  Both are unique, but are so damn good.  You’ll probably hear this a bunch this week, but buy both.  Buy a lot of both.

Buy These Beers

Tempest is still at the LCBO (#317032) and also both retails stores, in Leaside and on Queen’s Quay. Hellwoods is available at Bellwoods in the bar and at their retail shop.

Drink Them With

A 3-pipe problem.  Or else, Carribbean rum cake.  Moist, boozy, rum-soaked cake with dried fruits. For cheese, I love salty blue cheese with imperial stouts, and these would be no excpetion.  Look for Roaring 40s from Australia or even Blue Haze, that smoked blue from Quebec.

About The Breweries

Bellwoods Brewery

Bellwoods Brewery, located at 134 Ossington is one of the newest, hippest breweries in Toronto.  Luke and Mike combine to make some of the most progressive exciting beers in the city, which are served mainly at the brewpub, to a lesser extent at great beer bars, and occasionally at their pop-up retail store next door.  Drop by to give them a try, or check their website at

Amsterdam Brewing Co.

The Amsterdam Brewing Company is an independently owned and operated craft brewery that is deeply rooted in the city of Toronto. A pioneer of the craft beer revolution in 1986 and initially called the Amsterdam Brasserie and Brew Pub, The Amsterdam was the first of its kind in Toronto to offer patrons hand crafted lagers and ales that were brewed ‘in-house’. Today they brew over ten different beers including their flagship lager – Amsterdam Natural Blonde, the award winning Big Wheel Deluxe Amber, Boneshaker IPA and multiple year-round and seasonal brews. The Amsterdam Brewing Company uses only traditional brewing methods and their beers are made with four all natural ingredients – malt, hops, yeast, and water. All beers are GMO-free, without preservatives, and never heat pasteurized.

To learn more about the Amsterdam Brewing Company visit


Become a fan on Facebook

And follow on Twitter

One Comment

  1. D Roy
    Posted December 7, 2013 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    Came across your article after googling “Amsterdam Tempest smoked malt”. I don’t normally struggle with imperial stouts, but the combination of hops and smoke are a bit of a clash for me. Nice post.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


Subscribe without commenting