Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Boston Brewery Tasting

At the Boston Brewery in Jamaica Plain, MA, home of Samuel Adams Beer, the mere suggestion of a $2 donation will get you a neat little tour of their factory (which, in fact, produces very little of their beer--it's more of a workshop or laboratory. The brewing is mostly done in Maryland or Philadelphia or Michigan or some foreign place like that). Eventually, they stop filling you with useless beer information that only self-righteous beer assholes like myself really even care about (and let's face it, I know all this before taking the tour for the first time. Or the third time), and they let you get right to the beer.
The flagship beer of the Boston Beer Company is their Samuel Adams Lager, an example of the popular American Lager standard. Although the style is typically associated with nondescript generic beers, the quality of Sam Adams Lager is far superior to that of many of its peers. The first thing that comes to your attention is the translucent amber color of the beer—much richer and deeper than any of its mass produced counterparts. The aroma is pleasant but mild, releasing mostly caramel tones with only a slight infusion of hops. The head, however (at least from the pour we received), is a bit disappointing in size despite its white iridescence; its presence remains consistent, due in part to the steady flow of carbonation within the liquid, a clear indicator of its freshness. The flavor is mostly sweet notes of malt and caramel with just enough of a bitter hop balance to prevent either taste from overwhelming. Well balanced and well rounded are the best ways to describe this—while there is nothing distinct about the beer, it is undeniably satisfying in its subtlety and simplicity. The mouthfeel is light, crisp, and smooth, but the Brussels lace tends to disappear too quickly, and there is little to no aftertaste; while this may be a selling point for some beer drinkers, it is vaguely disappointing for the rest.
The next sample was Sam Adams current seasonal offering, a Witbier sold only in the early springtime brewed with Coriander, orange peel, Grains of Paradise, and more; this abundance of spices is one of its most distinct qualities. It boasts a light golden yellow body obscured with a whitish cloudiness—wheat beers such as this are often left unfiltered of proteins and yeast, which causes this characteristic haze. The lush white head is the perfect height—another common feature of wheat beers—and releases a flavorful aroma of citrus and hops. Pine and lemon zest come to mind, with hints of orange underneath. The mouthfeel is remarkably heavy, or at least more than expected given its light color and appearance, and the lace sticks steadily to the sides of the glass. A burst of sweet and fruity flavors first finds your tongue, but its high carbonation teams with hops to keep from overwhelming. Very crisp, with a pepper-like taste at the back of your mouth that leads to a malty aftertaste that sits on your tongue with a strange but satisfying lemony freshness. Slightly unbalanced—the hops, spices, and citrus carry it most of the way, with the malt mostly absent until the end, but this tends to be the point of fruity wheat beers such as this. Sam Adams White Ale is clearly an American imitation of a Belgian style, but remarkably unique in its own right.
Our final taste is a Bohemian Pilsner, brewed in a limited batch as part of Sam Adams’ Beer Lovers contest, and only available on draught at the Boston Brewery. Very light, as with the last two offerings: this pilsner releases a sweet, piney aroma with a bit of citrus, although not nearly as much as the White Ale. It has a very light, translucent yellow color—beer detractors might criticize its likeness to urine. The first taste is remarkably hoppy, and each consecutive sip follows suit. The malt is not very noticeable but in the aftertaste, and remains isolated to the tongue while the hops flavor clings to the sides of the mouth. The mouthfeel is subtle and light, and could easily be ignored. Along the edges of the glass, the lace clings in sporadically in small, bubbled clumps—it’d be best to say that it clings slightly, a lot. This is a beer for inexperienced beer drinkers that think they like hops, but aren’t quite ready to indulge in an IPA. Last year’s winner, the Honey Porter, would have likely been much more interesting, given our other two samples.

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