Category Archives: samuel adams

Ramblings From The Beer Doctor


Concerning Samuel Adams

The continuing dip in sales volume at the Boston Beer Company has brought tears and lamentations amongst the stock holders on Wall St.  Jim Koch, whom many consider to be one of the founding fathers of the craft beer revolution, complained that the federal government assisted in this demise, by allowing the big boys such as: AB-I, Molson-Coors, to use their considerable economic muscle to dominate shelf space, through mergers and acquisitions and faux craft brew branding. This is a bit of a change in the position of Mr. Koch who only a few years ago said his company was ready to compete on that larger global market, where not only Bud Light, but Heineken and Dos Equis abide.

But this was before the craft brew industry shot itself in the foot, when it collectively decided that overtly hopped beer. in the form of American IPA would become the primary focus of new productions. In many cases this has become a boring set of variations on the same damn theme: double IPA, triple IPA, IPA infused with fruit juice, IPA brewed with flour to enhance a Cloudy IPA, etc. Here is where Samuel Adams fell into that marketing trap. I recall tasting their strong Rebel Rouser IPA and wondered how in the world that a company that perfected one of the world’s great Vienna ambers, Samuel Adams Lager, could now produce this brutal, vegetal monster? I can not even imagine Jim Koch drinking this.

If the Boston Beer Company wants to sell more beer, here are a few suggestion from a lowly beer drinker, who has no financial skin in the game:
First, stop believing that seasonal beers require having natural flavors added. Perhaps it is time to abandon the Saigon Cinnamon infused Winter Lager, with a straight up dunkel weizen bock. The Summer Ale should be retired, a white bier variation is just not good enough.
Second, lower the price of Samuel Adams Lager. It should compete with Yuengling Traditional Amber. It should be available in 18 pack cans. Boston Beer Company has to decide whether they make beer for a diminishing elite market or for everybody else.

The Return Of Pilsner

Pilsner or Pilsener, has been a much aligned style by beer snobs in the brewing industry. Southern Tier produced a beer called Euro-Trash to show their disdain. Stone Brewing and others have added their meaningless snark to a style of beer that changed the entire world. Fortunately, some brewers like Victory in Pennsylvania, always treated this historic style with the respect it deserves. primaPrima Pils is one of the very best pilsners available in the United States, and I recommend the can version, because it is a remarkably fresh presentation.
For those who still believe a bottle is better, Bell’s Lager of the Lakes blolfits the bill quite nicely. Bell’s, a Michigan based brewery founded in the last decades of the 20th century, has great respect for tradition. This is quite apparent in this Bohemian Pilsner, where even a hop-forward recipe version of this style is supported by a substantial malt backbone.
The same can be said of Sierra Nevada’s Summerfest 2017summerfest A very well made lager that is simply a pleasure to drink. Who in the hell decided that having a beer involves a tasting struggle? If a beer does not taste good, why bother?
Locally, I have Christian Moerlein Pils cmpilsA beautiful hometown rendition that strangely is not always available.
But it is with a heavy heart that I was completely disappointed by the ridiculously expensive Bear Republic Double Aught Pilsner doubleaughtThis 12 dollars plus tax six pack claims it is a tribute to the balanced light lagers of central Europe. Actually it is an almost lifeless manifestation of beer, where a thin all malt body is brewed with Hallertauer hops, and pours into a glass and becomes a completely flat, no foam at all, in less than 90 seconds. Funny that the price of this beer was the same as Bofferding Pils bofferdingA quite delicious, all natural pilsner from Luxembourg.  To be factual about the Double Aught, it was purchased straight out of a sealed case on the day it was delivered. The bottle said best before July 30, 2017. So there was no storage or light damage involved. It was just lousy beer. Let the truth be told.

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The Confusion of Truth

Face it, most of the major brewing companies have become in essence, beverage manufacturers. So it is not all that surprising that many of the new beers offered are essentially fruit infused concoctions.sidecar A phenomena that extends across many brewing styles, from IPA to Stout to Helles to Porter: Reinheitsgebot be damned! For someone like myself, who loves the purity of recipe and tradition, this is indeed a sorry state of affairs, partially brought on by the unrelenting demand of the capitalist system to always sell more product, whatever that product is.
samjuice It would come as a bit of a shock for those who still buy into the illusion of craftiness to discover that the concerns at a board meeting of Sierra Nevada, Boston Beer, or Anheuser-Busch InBev have very much in common when it comes to the sales of their products. Add to that the Big Board demands of the stock market,  and it is not difficult to grasp that much of the essential aspects of brewing culture, will be surrendered in the name of increased sales. At this point marketing becomes a holy essential, which is why Boston Beer was deeply disappointed  by the failure of Samuel Adams Hopscape to move as an early seasonal, which I reviewed as a pleasant wheat ale but did not tickle the flying fickle finger of fate of the consumer. Then there is the latest seasonal:Samuel-Adams-Fresh-As-Helles-960x533
Where to begin with this? It is a pleasant enough drinking experience if you enjoy having a natural flavour orange in the finish. But I fail to grasp the utility of the graphic design. Skull with orange slice eye sockets?  What looks like honey dripping down from the top of the skull? Surely, hasn’t that skeleton concept been overly used, from Rogue Dead Guy to Heavy Seas? Then there is the declarative on the carton that seems somewhat disingenuous from a company concerned with Angry Orchard cider, Coney Island hard soft drinks, and alcoholic seltzer water:

Samuel Adams was a bold & determined rebel. He masterminded the Boston Tea Party and was among the first patriots to call for American independence. He united our country in rebellion against the British Empire in pursuit of the American dream. Oh, and he was also a brewer. We proudly named our beer after this hero.

The “Oh, and he was also a brewer” seems to me to encompass the cynical attitude so prevalent these days. Never mind that the billionaire titans of the beverage industry will use patriotic gimmicks to sell more product until the numbers drop. Now repeat after me: I do believe in craft beer, I do, I do, I do!

Endless Adventure

I have a very ancient refrigerator in my house. This Norge is over sixty years old. All the plastic fixtures have broken off, so the metal shelves have disappeared, except for those found on the door. But the thing about this ancient decaying monument to American appliances is that it still works. And it is cold. So much so that storing stuff in the back can make things icy. Thus, the cold storage locker has been given a name, it is affectionately known as The Lagerator.
People who come over for a sampling session are surprised that I place bottles or cans outside the lagerator for minutes before opening. And even now, in 2016, you would be surprised how many people still drink ice cold beer, no matter what. So it was indeed a pleasure to obtain the Samuel Adams Adventures In Lager and store it in the lagerator.

This is an impressive collection. First off, there is Samuel Adams Double Black. An amped up version of their Schwartz bier style black lager. This is black bier and then some. A very lovely dark pour that has plenty of the delicious malt complexity associated with this cool cave style. Simply outstanding.

For those folks fascinated by hops, there is Ella Blanc India Pale Lager. Which is a very good example of the creative possibilities produced by the brewers of the Boston Beer Company. Here is a hop showcase for their lager yeast, using Australian Ella hops along with Hallertau Blanc hops from Germany, creating many flavor notes that are surprisingly complex. The body and texture is quite good, utilizing pale malts and flaked oats to tasty advantage.

Keeping it real, as it is said in modern vernacular, there is Double Pilsner. This is SA’s imperial version of Samuel Adams Noble Pilsner (also included). A full bodied, tawny coloured pour, which is a loving tribute to the ancient Hallertau Mittelfrueh hop. There is nothing small about this 8.6 ABV  lager. Except a small reminder to proceed with delicious caution, because the alcohol is nearly invisible.

It is with great joy to see the return of Samuel Adams Double Bock. A legendary recipe in the Sam Adams portfolio. This beer is the meaning of the term liquid bread. Take me bock. Take me all the way bock. Take me way way way bock! Need I say more? I will always love this beer.

The Return Of New Albion Ale

To put it in the chef’s language: this is a beer of love moment. Created with thoughtful respect for brewing tradition, by none other than Jim Koch of Samuel Adams, for the pioneering efforts of microbrewer Jack McAuliffe, founder of the short lived New Albion Brewing Company, credited for starting up artisan brewing in the United States, which, in the nearly 40 years since, has blossomed into a full scale industry. But this was not the case in those days, when there were only 44 breweries in the entire country, and small scale brewing equipment did not exist. Obstacles that made Mr. McAuliffe not only craft his beer, but the tools required to produce it.
Much of this is being written about. There are videos of the resurrection of this recipe at the Boston Beer Company, where the retired pioneer brewer shows Jim Koch an original label bottle, that has no government warning on it. Luckily, the original yeast strain has been preserved from that time, which makes me wonder: is this the yeast used in Ballantine Ale?
Tasting this beer is a reminder that the struggle to make flavorful beer is no accident. A small group of individuals were determined to not live out their days drinking beer without character. That determination continues to expand.
As for this revival, the beer itself is remarkable for its simplicity. Using only cascade hops, this pale (as in clear golden colour) ale has a nutty, honey note that is gentle and very drinkable. Quite subtle, compared to the hop bomb creations of this century, but so what? This was good drinking beer without any pretension, in an era when such creations were very difficult to find.
My advice, for whatever it is worth, is to try and see if you enjoy this ale. Putting aside its historical significance, and damn it, just drink this ale. Cheers!Image

There’s Always A Cure With The Wintertime Brews

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 4059′ Porter is outstanding. This has an expertly achieved balance, full of malty flavour notes, without being too heavy. An unequivocal pleasure to drink.

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.

New And Old Arrivals

There is a paradox usually associated with Zen where the diligent monk attempts to sweep the floor of every speck of dust, totally conscious that this is an impossible task, but nevertheless, is devotedly attempted. The same can be said for the beer doctor, who vainly pursues sampling as many different beers as possible, fully aware that this task is also beyond the infinite.

But what a remarkable time to be alive! An astounding display of the brewer’s art and culinary skill can be found in creations from all over the world. Take for example, Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout , what could easily take the claim as the definitive chocolate desert beer, with a layered richness that is astonishingly nuanced.
This is a stout to give someone who normally does not drink beer, but would not mind taking a trip to chocolate paradise.

Global but local, as it were, it is a great pleasure to see the return of Mt. Carmel Winter Ale, a hometown festive wassail that is lively and fresh, each new winter.

It was a bit of a surprise to obtain for the first time, Kona Brewing Company’s Pipeline Porter a very delicious coffee porter, made with 100% Kona beans, grown on the Big Island’s Cornwell Estate. A recipe with a remarkably drinkable balance.

It has also been a few years since I had Redhook’s Winterhook the 28th variation of their recipe, created under the supervision of master brewster Jennifer Talley. A dark copper coloured pour with hops in the foreground, but not in the west coast IPA range. There is ample malt support here, providing a solid 6% abv wintertime brew.

With the upcoming of winter the annual return of brewing legends can be found. This includes Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, Avery Old Jubilation Ale, Great Divide Hibernation AleSaranac Season’s Best, Breckenridge Christmas AleAnchor “Our Special Ale“, to name just a few.
A new edition to this illustrious lineup is Sierra Nevada Narwhal Imperial Stout 2012. A bit of a surprise from the hop-centric brewery in Chico, California, for this is a pull-out-all-the stops showcase for the complex density of malts, where layer after layer of flavour notes reveal themselves: from dark chocolate to caramel to a black currant fruitiness. This is a wonderful and blessed meditation on the Imperial Stout style.

Another lovely reminder of a style of winter beer sometimes forgotten, is Widmer Brothers Brrr a Holiday amber ale that is bold and fully bodied, and deliciously strong.

Last, but certainly not least, there is the magnificent gingerbread stout, from the Samuel Adams Small Batch Series, Merry Mischief. A 9% Holiday Stout that is truly one for the ages. The balance achieved with the combination of spices is astonishing. Proof that alchemy, can sometimes mysteriously manifest its own reality.
Cheers! So many beers, so little time. Thank you. Thank you very much.

The Beer Where I Live

This was a beautiful Sunday. A week before Oktoberfest Zinzinnati. The first NFL home game day, where the Bengals play their in-state rivals, the Browns, at the tax subsidized stadium named after the founder of both: Paul Brown.
The season has turned. Not quite complete autumn yet, but the ground has cooled. An observation obtained by direct experience. Meanwhile, the local television stations were aglow with all things Bengals, including the monumental inaugural of tailgate season, which means Bud Light from the Anheuser-Busch InBev juggernaut in St. Louis, Missouri. The Bud folks have been very busy lately. Extending their global transnational reach with market successful products such as Bud Light Platinum, a 6% abv concoction, that bottled in blue coloured glass, seems to hit all the right consumer buttons.
But the world’s largest brewing corporation does not stop there. Beck’s of Bremen, Germany fame, is now made in the United States. Farmed-out as it were, to more cost efficient facilities. The same can be said of The Goose Island Beer Company, where regular parts of their portfolio, such as Honker’s Ale, are no longer the concern in Chicago, leaving those “simpler” formulas to A-B InBev breweries elsewhere, providing more room for lucrative luxury productions of Bourbon County Stout.
Here in Cincinnati, Samuel Adams Octoberfest is the official beer of Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, although the folks at Moerlein Lager House would disagree. Their Fifth & Vine Oktoberfest is celebrated, along with Hudepohl Oktoberfest Bier, which touches the soul of this city’s German cultural roots (and virtually destroyed by the insanity of Prohibition).  But Samuel Adams is big business here, producing one third of their beers at what was the Hudepohl-Schoenling brewery, where founder Jim Koch’s father worked.

Which reminds me, it seems that a week before our local Oktoberfest, the price of a 12 pack of Samuel Adams goes up a dollar at the grocery stores. A magic marzen moment as it were, including the Munich brewed Hofbrauhaus Oktoberfest, found in Newport, Kentucky. There is a plethora of Oktoberfest Festivals around here, beginning in August, all the way to October. A celebration of food to be sure, because very few recipe styles are so food friendly as this Vienna amber lager variation.