Arts & Culture / Mosaic / February 9, 2011

Sam Adams: a craft beer leader

Although Sam Adams was not the first craft brewer, it is the largest and probably the most well known. They are so large, in fact, that the Brewers Association, the trade organization for craft beer, recently changed the definition of craft brewer because of Sam Adams. Without boring you with the details, a craft brewer needs to be independently owned and small and use mostly all malt as opposed to cheaper corn or rice.

“Small” was defined as producing less than two million barrels a year, a number that Sam Adams was closing in on with no signs of slowing down. So, around a month ago, the Brewers Association changed the limit from two to six million barrels. Essentially, they feared the day when Sam Adams no longer qualified as a craft brewery, dramatically hurting craft beer’s market share. Of course, the decline in market share would be due to craft beer doing too well, so a change was necessary.

The other noteworthy thing about Sam Adams has been its recent ad campaign about freshness, specifically how the company dates their beers and buys back any old beer. Although some beer geeks do not have a very high view of Sam Adams, they certainly know how to keep a fresh product. In my opinion, the lack of freshness is one of the biggest problems with craft beer. Too often beer sits on an unrefrigerated shelf and you just don’t know if the beer is a month or a year old. I wish more breweries took such a proactive approach to dating and ensuring only fresh bottles are sold to consumers. There are certain beers that aren’t dated that I don’t purchase anymore because I’ve been burned, spending $10 on a malty, imperial IPA 22 ounce bottle (I’m looking at you, Three Floyds Dreadnaught and Moylan’s Hopsickle).

The other aspect of these commercials that I really like is how they explain that brown bottles block light, and light skunks beer. At least from my experience, too many beer drinkers do not understand that light significantly, negatively impacts the flavor of beer by skunking it. I hope that these commercials start to show consumers that certain brewers (I’m looking at you, Heineken) prefer the marketing advantage of green bottles at the expense of taste. Before you start boycotting Miller’s clear bottles, they have modified hops so they do not skunk when light-struck (but I’m still okay if you boycott Miller).

But back to Sam Adams. This week I’m reviewing two Sam Adams beers I haven’t had before—the highly acclaimed Noble Pils and Boston Ale. The Noble Pils, 4.9 percent abv, is a Czech Pilsner that uses all five of the Noble Hops, which refer to hops grown is a certain geographic location. The beer pours very clear, light orange with a nice off-white head. The smell is very pleasant—nice citrusy notes on top of light pale malt. This light bodied beer tastes surprisingly moderately bitter but very earthy, grainy and citrusy at the same time. There is just enough cracker-like sweetness from the malt to balance out the hops. I’m not a huge pilsner fan, but I really enjoy this offering from Sam Adams. At 4.9 percent, you can drink a couple of these without being too full or too tipsy, but it still is a very flavorful beer. I’ll likely get this one again.

While the Noble Pils was a pleasant surprise, the Boston Ale was as disappointing as the Patriots playoff run this year. This American Pale Ale comes in at 4.9 percent abv and looks perfectly clear and dark copper. The smell is average at best—light caramel, and light citrus hops. My initial reaction on the taste is that it is very watered down. Light bitterness, but no hop flavor to go along with it. A very little bit of caramel malt. Too carbonated. It’s almost like I’m drinking bitter seltzer water. I cannot think of the last time I’ve had a beer from a good brewer that was this bad. Anyone want to take a couple Boston Ales off my hands?

John Christiansen

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