Tag Archives: Boston Lager

Samuel Adams Harvest Collection

Someone should stop me from going to the grocery store without adult supervision.  I stick to the list—one which I made by the way—until the end when I begin wandering the “health market” section where my local grocery puts a lot of the natural or organic products and the liquor store.  For those of you who cannot imagine a full-line liquor store in a grocery store—I am looking at you people in Minnesota—it’s a damn nightmare because so many beer options are just a short stroll away from the produce.

A sampler pack from Samuel Adams got me again.  First it was …? And then it was …?  Now it’s …?  Someone save me from myself.  I think what gets me every time is that these twelve packs contain six different beers, so I am really able to sample some different varieties without much commitment.  That’s it I am a commitment-phobe.  Nailed it!

The six beers in the Harvest Collection sampler were Boston Lager, Ruby Mild, Oktoberfest, Hazel Brown, Latitude 48 IPA, and Harvest Pumpkin Ale.  Enough ink has been spilled about Boston Lager in this blog and every other beer themed outlet to fill several barrels, so I will leave well enough alone.  I usually save the bottles of that beer for visitors less inclined to experiment with a dry-hopped single hop IPA like the most recent creation in bottled in my basement.

Ruby Mild is a nice place to start:

Ruby Mild

The beer is truly mild with a low bitterness (20 IBU) and middling alcohol content (5.6% ABV).  I would be inclined to characterize this beer as an American amber ale, but the description from the brewer puts it more in line with traditional English ales.  The ingredient list supports this classification as it uses hops of European origin and malts more associated with English brews.  Had it been hopped with Cascade or Willamette hops instead of East Kent Goldings the story would have been different.

Nonetheless, it is an enjoyable drinking experience.  European hops tend to be less “in your face” than some of the more well-known American varieties and the flavor profile is a little more mysterious that it lends an air of experimentation when drinking beers hopped in such a way.

Oktoberfest is another European inspired beer:

Oktoberfest

In my neck of the woods when six packs of Oktoberfest inspired beers—particularly the variety from Samuel Adams—hit store shelves several beer drinkers I know stock up for the coming months in the knowledge that it will disappear shortly.

If you read about the beers that are consumed on the Oktoberfest grounds the beers need to conform to three criteria: adhere to the Reinheitsgebot or “Bavarian Purity Law,” have an ABV equal to or greater than 6%, and be brewed within the city limits of Munich.  Obviously, this leaves a lot of room open for interpretation.

Given these criteria, Oktoberfest from Samuel Adams does not qualify.  It’s lower in alcohol (5.3% ABV) and is not brewed within the city limits of Munich.  However, this is America and we are known for not adhering to rules of style.  It’s what makes our beer culture so dynamic.

Regardless, Oktoberfest is an easy drinking fall beer.  It’s almost like the fall equivalent to summer’s lawnmower beers.  It’s easy to sit down by the outdoor firepit on a cool weekend evening and sip a pint as desiccated leaves blow past.

Speaking of fall flavors let’s discuss Hazel Brown:

Hazel Brown

Hazelnuts are one of those holiday delights from my childhood that stick out.  Every year about this time a bowl of mixed nuts in the shell would appear with a couple of nutcrackers on the kitchen table.  After dinner everyone would sit around with a beer or coffee and crack nuts until it was bedtime.  I always loved the delicate flavor of an actual hazelnut.

Too bad everything that is hazelnut flavored loses the delicate part in favor or amped up flavor.  Hazel Brown is no different.  You notice it from the moment that your nose hits the rim of the glass.  It’s like walking into a coffeeshop that is brewing a pot of hazelnut flavored coffee.  It overpowers everything and just sticks to your olfactory receptors.

I was really disappointed because brown ales or nut brown ales are one of the beer styles that I feel has gotten a short straw in the race to produce IPAs of increasing extremity.  Newcastle’s version is one of my formative beer experiences and I have enjoyed brewing examples of brown ales in my basement for a while now.  It’s a great style to brew yourself because it is very forgiving.

Everyone has an IPA nowadays and the Boston Beer Company is no different:

Latitude 48 IPA

In the description of the beer the hops used read like a menu of craft beer hop varieties: Hallertau Mittelfrueh, East Kent Golding, Zeus, Simcoe, Ahtanum, and Mosaic.  The big deal here is the Mosaic variety.  If you believe the hype than this is the next big thing in hops.  Described in different terms as “Citra on steroids” or “Simcoe, only better.”  With such a wide variety of hops included in the beer already I do not know if Mosaic was given a chance to shine on its own.  It seems like it needs to be used in a single hop experiment to really showcase the hop profile.

The other marketing rhetoric with Latitude 48 is that all of the hops are grown near the 48th latitude.  Okay, I’ll bite, why is this a big deal?  I cannot seem to find an answer.

In the end Latitude 48 is like an IPA with training wheels.  It’s okay, but there are literally hundreds of examples of the style that are better.  The beer is supposed to be mid-high in terms of bitterness (60 IBU), but I did not think that it drank anywhere near that which I am attributing to the muddled profile from so many different varieties of hops being used.  Editing is a skill that can be used to produce superior beer.

When the season begins to change pumpkin becomes the flavor of the month.  All right, the whole pumpkin or pumpkin spice flavored hysteria has gotten out of hand because you start to see items appearing at the end of August.  Sorry marketers but August is still very much summer in my neck of the woods.

Nonetheless, pumpkin ales are a big deal for the American brewing community and Samuel Adams has put forth their own example:

Harvest Pumpkin Ale

The first aromas that I noticed were unmistakably pumpkin.  But, it was more like the aroma of pumpkin that is left on your hands after carving a couple of jack-o-lanterns with the kids.

Honestly, I could not get over the aroma as I drank the beer which was really an unremarkable ale save for the pumpkin aroma.  I guess that pumpkin is like bananas for me.  Once I get a whiff, it’s all that I can think of for the duration of the glass.  Granted, I am also the same person that almost gags when I catch the first whiff of a pumpkin spice latte on my infrequent trips to Starbucks when the weather turns cold.

Samuel Adams Got Me Again

I have been seduced by the sampler pack yet again.  And, again, it was a sampler from Samuel Adams.  The devious grin of the Founding Father drew me in and the chance to try six different beers from one twelve pack was too good to pass up while I wait for my latest homebrew—an Irish red ale—to finish bottle conditioning.

This particular sampler was full of “summer” beers that included Boston Lager, Belgian Session, Little White Rye, Summer Ale, Porch Rocker, and Blueberry Hill Lager.  I won’t get into the merits of Boston Lager at length here because I have covered it in the past and this beer is so well known.  If you have any inclination toward craft beer, you have probably had a Sam Adams Boston Lager by now.

I am going to talk about the beers in the order that I enjoyed them starting with Belgian Session:

Belgian Session

I am fool for session beers.  These beers are low in alcohol and bitterness, but make up for that in the spicy, citrus, or floral notes from the malts, hops, and spices used in brewing.  It’s like the heavier notes in most beers get tamped down and the little flavor notes get amped up.

Belgian Session comes through with those flavors very well.  Session beers, a style that is hard to define but generally denotes lower alcohol and clean finish, are the perfect accompaniments for summer.  The temperatures go up and when you find some shade this type of beer is desirable.

Little White Rye was the surprise of the bunch:

Little White Rye

Similar in its base profile to some of the other beers in the sampler, the two distinct differences are the inclusion of rye malt—a personal favorite of mine for just about any beer—and white sage.

I knew what to expect when it came to rye, but I was slightly disappointed because I did not really note any of the peppery bite I have come to associate with rye beers.  Maybe my palate is not sensitive enough to register subtle notes of malted grains.  Oh well.

The white sage, however, came through is a totally unexpected way.  I expected the inclusion of a pretty potent taste and aroma like sage to either be gimmicky or overpowering.  Somehow neither of these things happened and it leads to a really unique beer.  Unlike Blueberry Hill Lager, which is discussed later and shares a similar basic profile, Little White Rye did not taste like I was consuming the experiment gone wrong of a mad brewer.

Samuel Adams is well-known for tying its beers to the seasons—Winter Lager, Alpine Spring, White Christmas, etc.—and for summer there is a seasonal variant:

Summer Ale

Summer ale is like summer songs on the radio.  You can drink this without remembering very much about it the next day and you won’t really care.  Generally referred to as “lawnmower” beers, Porch Rocker and its ilk drink a little too light for me because there is little attempt to balance the alcohol or malt with any bitterness.  In Porch Rocker’s case, coming in a just 7 IBU, this is one of the least bitter beers you can probably find without drinking gruit ale.  I may not be a dyed in the wool hophead, but I want a little bit more from my beer in terms of aroma and bitterness.

There is something evocative about sitting on a porch during a hot summer day that has been seared in the brains of beer marketers because I keep seeing the imagery being used to sell me beer:

Porch Rocker

Porch Rocker is supposed to be a take on a Bavarian Radler, which is a beer mixed drink consisting of beer and either soda or lemonade.  Sound like a shandy?  Yep, it’s pretty much a shandy.  Therefore, sweetness is on tap.

With Porch Rocker you get sweet and you get lemon, but not much else.  It’s like a guilty pleasure of beer that does not drink like beer at all.  How it ended up in a beer sampler pack is beyond me.  It should have been sitting next to Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

Most children have had their mother say to them at one point or another, “If you do not have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  I have never understood that logic and it definitely does not apply to Blueberry Hill Lager:

Blueberry Hill

First off, this is a better beer than Wild Blue from AB-InBev.  Rarely have I only had one drink of a beer and poured the remaining bottles’ contents down the drain but in the case of Wild Blue I was so inclined.  Already, Blueberry Hill Lager had a steep road to climb because of my preconceived notions of how vile a blueberry beer could be.

Sweet is the first word that comes to mind.  Not sweet in a “kiss of sugar” kind of way.  This beer was sweet in a grape soda kind of way.  Sickly sweet.  For some beer drinkers this might be a good thing—like the people who can actually drink Redd’s Apple Ale—but count this kid out.

The dominant not is sweet.  At 5.5% ABV and 18 IBU there is not nearly enough alcohol and/or bitterness to counteract the sweetness.  To complicate matters, the sole hop used—Tettnang Tettnanger—is not noted for its bold profile so any hop aroma or bitterness, whatever may have been present, is overwhelmed by sweet blueberry.  It is a one note beer in a bad way.

In summation, I would say that two of the summer beers were suprises to the good side—Belgian Session and Little White Rye—while three disappointed—Summer Ale, Porch Rocker, and Blueberry Hill Lager.

I have to give more credit to the Boston Beer Company than I have in the past.  Not only are they out there brewing all kinds of different beers and distributing them all over the United States, which is a great thing, but they have taken on the giant, Anheuser Busch prior to the merger with InBev.

It was a story that I was ignorant of until reading Barry C. Lynn’s Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction where he talks about AB deciding it wanted to destroy Samuel Adams.  Starting with ads criticizing the location of the brewery, at the time done under contract at various locations, AB was later accused of manipulating markets for various ingredients to pressure craft brewers that it viewed as a threat to its business.  This is truly the elephant being bothered by the gnat because at the time AB probably spilled more beer than Boston Beer brewed.

Boston Beer not only survived its brush with the giant, but it set the stage for a lot of people to follow and gain access to distribution channels that might have been closed off had AB succeeded in slaying Boston Beer.  The craft beer movement may have been stalled by the efforts of AB, but it was in no way stopped.

Given where craft beer is at today vis a vis the market, in that people demand these beers, it’s hard to imagine the entire movement being strangled in its infancy.  However, if Boston Beer had been beaten that very well may have been the outcome.  For that I raise a glass and say, “Thank you Boston Beer.”

Giving Credit where Credit is Due

One of the good things about people knowing that you are a “beer hound” as I am is that your gifts tend to center around beer during the holidays.  Seems logical right?

When someone comes from Colorado or Minneapolis they tend to bring me a few 22 ounce bottles of something I cannot get in Iowa or a trunk full of Surly Coffee Bender—thanks to my brother who really came through this past weekend with a nice delivery of Twin Cities-centric beers.  However, what does someone local do who wants to bring a host gift to a little holiday season get together?  The answer appears to be a Samuel Adams sampler pack:

Sam Adams Sampler Box

Offhand I kind of scoffed at the idea of Sam Adams.  Why?  I have no idea, honestly.  I put them in a category of craft brewers who have gotten so big that they have left behind some of the craft and adopted some of the macro.  I think that this is an unfair characterization.

No, this is not a New Year’s resolution to be a kinder and gentler me.  Rather, it is a realization that there is a lot of credit due to the vanguard of craft brewers who have ridden a wave of popularity to become quite large in the last few years.  I usually think of New Belgium and Sierra Nevada because both of these breweries were at the forefront of my awakening in terms of beer—the transition from Pabst Blue Ribbon and Hamm’s to Fat Tire Amber Ale was a jarring life transition—but Sam Adams should be on that list as well.

Perhaps more than any other craft brewer, Sam Adams and the parent Boston Beer Company has done more to propagate improved beer throughout the United States.  Furthermore, the vanguard of craft brewers has really opened up the minds of beer drinkers to different styles and ingredients in a way that would have been unimaginable without their efforts.  Can you picture one of the macro giants pursuing a sour ale brewing regimen?  Nope.

Let’s start with where it all began:

Boston Lager

It is hard to imagine a beer world where Boston Lager is not part of the landscape.  This beer has moved out of the purely craft domain and become something different.  When you are an option on the menu at Red Lobster you have reached a certain critical mass.

The beer is good.  It’s like a historical exhibit on where the craft beer movement started and you can understand how the movement evolved in one glass.  Here is a beer that came out in the late 1980s that had a full, foamy head, a dark color, and a considerable—for the time—hop profile.  At a time when people considered Michelob to be a premium beer, a pint of Boston Lager must have been a slap to the teeth.

Boston Lager stands up well to the times because it is well executed.  The Winter Lager feels like an evolution of Boston Lager:

Winter Lager

Utilizing a single variety of hops, Hallertau Mittelfrueh, Winter Lager has an easy drinking flavor that pairs well with the season.  Unlike a lot of “winter seasonals” this beer lacks the overpowering spice aroma and flavors that brewers pile on to make a beer for the cold months.  Dare I say that Winter Lager is a subtle brew?  I think that I would.

Old Fezzwig Ale is like a cousin to many of the homebrewed ales that I make:

Old Fezzwig Ale

Using Hallertau Mittelfrueh and Tettnang Tettnanger, the same in Boston Lager, produces a beer with a hop profile similar to what I make in my basement.  I mean that as a compliment, by the way, because I have an unabashed love of the beers I craft myself.

The inclusion of an ale is a nice counterpoint to a lager.  What’s the difference?  Ales and lagers represent the two families of beers whose primary difference is the type of yeast used for fermentation, which dictates the method of fermentation.  The primary supposed difference is that lagers produce fewer yeast derived flavors as opposed to ales because of lower fermentation temperatures allowing for a better expression of malt and hop flavors.  Considering that the variety of styles with the ale and lager families are so varied this distinction is becoming less important every day.  Let it be known, however, that the Miller Lite you hosted at that tailgate was a lager.

Holiday Porter is another ale:

Holiday Porter

It’s a pretty well-executed porter.  This style of beer is great during the cold months if the components are balanced.  Too often, a brewer will use the dark base as a platform to showcase a lot of alcohol and a lot of bitterness.  I have seen porters—and stouts for that matter—with IBUs above 100 and ABVs over 8%.  That is a lot of beer.

In truth, I would have liked to see Holiday Porter with less alcohol—blasphemy says the peanut gallery.  Hear me out.  Beer makers are tripping over themselves to make stronger and stronger beers—witness Bud Light Platinum—without really considering if it something that people really want.  I am not advocating for a hard cap on the alcohol in beer or anything, but brewers could learn that a little less alcohol can go a long way to providing a nice canvas to show some unique and subtle flavors that might get lost in a bigger beer.

Two of the beers included in the sampler pack were not so successful: Chocolate Bock and White Christmas.  I’ll address them in a descending order of approval with the bock first:

Chocolate Bock

This beer totally lacked any bitterness to counteract the sweetness that hits the tongue from the inclusion of cacao nibs.  There is a fine line to be walked with very dark beers when it comes to the interplay between sweet and bitter.  It is one of the reasons that I usually dislike milk stouts.  The inclusion of a non-fermentable sugar gives the beer a sweet thickness that I find unappealing.  This beer has many of those same characteristics.

The Chocolate Bock was a winner in comparison to White Christmas:

White Christmas

Sold as a white beer with spice notes for the holidays, White Christmas is one insipid liquid.  First, at 5.8% ABV there needs to be some body and bitterness for balance.  However, there is none.  The beer is very light in body—as you can see by the color—and lacking completely in bitterness.  So, there is a strong alcohol flavor and aftertaste that ruins everything from the first drink.

White ales are a hard beer to execute well, in my opinion, because the brewers instinct to go over the top is not rewarded as it might be with a stout or an IPA.  What usually results is a beer that is less than the sum of its parts in a major way and ends up getting poured down the drain.

Left Hand Brewing Company

When I went to Colorado over the Labor Day weekend to visit friends in Breckenridge and Colorado Springs there were two breweries I was interested in seeking out: Left Hand Brewing Company and Great Divide Brewing Company.  Scheduling prevented me from actually visiting the physical breweries and tap rooms, but I was able to track down some of the beers I wanted to try in bottles.

Left Hand makes a sampler twelve pack.  Great mysteries are contained within:

The beers in the sampler pack are Stranger Pale Ale, Sawtooth Ale, Milk Stout, and Black Jack Porter.

Let’s look at the beers in order starting with Stranger Pale Ale:

I apologize for the quality of the images.  The dSLR did not make the trip to Colorado because I was trying to travel light to make room for two children’s stuff.

This is my favorite style of beer.  It’s a little lighter in body than the traditional American craft ale, but it has enough bitterness to balance that out.  There is enough alcohol (5% ABV) to know you are drinking beer, but not so much that after a couple you are wondering how to make the walk up 4 O’Clock Road.  Pale ales do not need to be overly bitter and strong to be successful.

Look who’s here…Cascade and Willamette hops along with their friend Centennial.  The two horsemen of the American craft beer movement.

Man, you can really taste the Willamette and Cascade hops used in this beer.  It’s not too powerful, but once you get used to looking for the particular flavor and aroma of these hops it is soooooo easy to point them out in a beer.  It is the signature of American craft beers.

That being said Sawtooth is a great example of American craft ale.  Since the arrival of Samuel Adams’ Boston Lager and New Belgium’s Fat Tire, the American craft ale has taken on a distinct form: medium amber color, Cascade and Willamette hops, long lasting head, and a strong mouth presence that lingers for a moment after swallowing.  Sure, there are variations on the theme but if you line the beers up those characteristics will be present.  It’s a good thing because it means that good beer is being made all over the country and the United States is developing distinct styles.

Milk stouts are an interesting breed of cat.  Like traditional stouts, a milk stout is a dark beer.  Also like tradition stouts, e.g. Guinness, milk stout will have the taste qualities of roasted malts and a rich mouth feel.  Where this variety differs from tradition is the use of lactose.  Lactose, a sugar usually associated with milk, is not fermentable by the traditional beer yeasts used in the production of most beers.  Thus, the sweetness of the sugar remains in the beer.

Left Hand’s Milk Stout is sweet, but not overly so.  The residual sweetness of the lactose gives the beer just enough to be noticeable but not enough to become sickly.  The beer is also amazingly light on the tongue for being 6% ABV which is something that attribute to the low bitterness (27 IBU).  Too often a strong beer is accompanied by a lot of bitterness from some serious hopping.  Not so with Left Hand’s Milk Stout.  This is a great alternative to the more well-known stouts available in the liquor store.

Last, but not least, is the Black Jack Porter

I drank the Milk Stout prior to pouring myself a Black Jack Porter because it was like stepping up a ladder on a progression.  The sweetness of the Milk Stout disappears and the alcohol (6.8% ABV) and bitterness (35 IBU) go up.

The dark flavors we associated with porters, chocolate and coffee, are present in spades but nothing is overpowering like a coffee stout.  The chocolate malt used in this beer is a great choice and an underappreciated ingredient in the beer universe.  Unlike actual chocolate or cocoa nibs added at various times during the brewing process, chocolate malt’s flavors get mellowed out over the process since the flavors are present from the first step in the brewing process.  It creates subtlety.

It’s pretty apparent from my notes on these beers that I really enjoyed what the fellows at Left Hand Brewing are doing in Longmont, Colorado.  I hope that I get a chance the next time I am out west to stop by the brewery and taste the liquid at the source.