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:
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:
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 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 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:
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.”