It is always a pleasure to try a winter sampler pack of beer. This year the folks at Matt Brewing in Utica, New York, creators of the Saranac brand, have some tasty options in the six selected. Their Big Moose Ale is a triple dry hopped creation, where Amarrilo, Centennial and Cascade hops are combined with pale English and Caramel malts, producing a good medium to full bodied ale, with a nice citrus note finish.
Their Red IPA uses the very marketable West Coast style of IPA, to create this well balanced red ale, using European dark crystal malts and Chinook, Paradise and Calypso hops. Not seeking to be an example of hops extremity, this is quite drinkable.
The Belgian Pale Ale is for myself, the least interesting of the group. Not that it is bad, it’s reliance on the Belgian yeast strain gives it flavour, but without much complexity. Just a bit too simple for my taste.
The Saranac Chocolate Lager is a testament to the perception that chocolate is synonymous with the holiday season. A delicious dessert beer, made with Cacao nibs from Belize, combined with Caramel malt Hallertau hops.
My favourite of this sampler, and in fact a Beer Doctor favourite, is the Saranac Black Bear Bock which is a new name for Black Diamond Bock, which is one of my favourite Saranac recipes of all time. A dark amber coloured pour, with the kind of balance I truly love, using traditional German malts and hops. Outstanding in every way.
Locally, the Samuel Adams Winter Classics selection is very strong this year. The newest beer to the lineup, Samuel Adams White Christmas is an unfiltered, golden hazy version of a White ale, using holiday spices, and is quite refreshing. A focused wheat and citrus dry finish, make this very festive indeed.
The return of Samuel Adams Holiday Porter is always welcome. This fine interpretation of a taditional English porter reminds me of a line from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: “When this result was brought about, old Fezziwig, clapping his hands to stop the dance, cried out ‘Well Done!’ and the fiddler plunged his face into a pot of porter, especially provided for that purpose.”
Which is as good a lead-in as any, to Samuel Adams original Holiday wassail. the magnificent Old Fezziwig Ale I am old enough to remember the first year it appeared, when it was presented in a 25.4 oz bottle. It was contract brewed by Hudepohl-Schoenling, before the Boston Beer Company acquired the brewery outright. Strangely, despite being a beloved beer by many Sam Adams drinkers, it disappeared a few Christmas seasons, only to reappear as part of the Winter Classics sampler only. But putting old marketing considerations (or errors) aside, this is one of America’s truly great holiday recipes. A dark brown-red coloured spiced ale, with a full body that is fully delicious.
The inclusion of their flagship brand Samuel Adams Boston Lager is always a good idea. Although I have read some preposterous comments about this wonderful beer, I only have to taste it once again, to be reminded what a perfect recipe it is. Alas for those jaded craft beer drinkers who believe that familiarity breeds contempt. How wrong they are. As the late Fela Kuti would say: “I must look and laugh.”
The evolution of Samuel Adams Winter Lager includes the use of the very aromatic Saigon cinnamon, which has been tweaked the last few years, producing a refined Holiday beer that is a kind of subtly spiced wheat bock, where the brewing mechanics remain hidden, all the way to the fully integrated finish that is bright and malty.
The Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock like the Saranac Chocolate Lager, prove that sometimes great brewing minds can sometimes think in the same direction. This too is a marvelous chocolate beer, where dark nibs from Ecuador are utilized with roasted malts to produce a velvet chocolate finish.
Suddenly, the notion of upcoming winter, doesn’t seem bad at all.