Conservatives have a tendency to pine for the good ol’ days, but in at least one area of life we can be thankful to live in modern times: Beer. American breweries produce more beer now than at any other time in American history. The giant US brewers do great business, but microbreweries and craft breweries make up a significant portion of the market. Not only are domestic brands doing well, but imports continue to have their place in the American beer drinker’s menu.
Taken in total, US beer fans have never had so much volume available for their consumption. Even better, the vast variety of beers–from inexpensive bender fuel to pricey exotics and everything in between–has never been greater. The American suds aficionado has such a wide array of choices that almost any taste and budget and occasion can be satisfied. The state of beer in the United States should be seen as a tribute to the power of consumer choice, competition and a relatively free market.
One of the best-known American breweries is the Boston Beer Company. Widely recognized for their award-winning Samuel Adams Boston Lager, they also put out a wide variety of seasonal beers. Cold weather being a perfect time to drink, I decided to take a few of Samuel Adams’ winter brews out for a test drive.
The WL poured out a rich sparkling reddish-orange color. It had a fat one-thumb light tan head that stayed around for a while and left nice lacing. The combination of colors made this was a very handsome beer to look at.
The aroma was slightly tinny, with some wheat notes thrown in for good measure. You wouldn’t call it skunky, but it definitely announced itself. As for the flavor, it didn’t really follow the scent. Instead, the beginning was very smooth with a nice hoppy flavor up front. The end was slightly tart, with a hint of lemons. The mix of tastes felt nicely balanced. No ingredient really overpowered the others.
As for mouthfeel, the Winter Lager was thick, but not heavy. Seasonal beers made for cold temperatures often seem like they’re designed to be overpowering, but this lager didn’t feel like drinking egg nog. It was just a well-built brew for a chilly February afternoon.
All told the Winter Lager was a delicious glass of suds. Not surprisingly, it felt like a robust beefed-up Boston Lager. With its tart citrus ending taste to give the drinker a pleasant surprise, this beer compared quite favorably with any other American lager.
Old Fezziwig Ale
The Old Fezziwig Ale presented a ruddy brown coloration, with a light bubbly carbonation. Its thin one finger bone-colored head left just a little lacing. Around the edges, the Fezzi bore a slight resemblance to a dark cola. As for the pour itself, it was comparable to the thickness of most ales.
The aroma was strong and malty. It wasn’t unpleasant, but one could almost smell the sweetness. The flavor was predominantly malt again, but here the hops started to assert themselves to cut the sugary taste. At the finish, a few caramel notes appeared. Not a lot, but just enough to say hello.
Overall, this was a very drinkable beer. While it was not a lite brew, it felt lighter than it looked. It was very easy on the eyes and even easier on the palate. The interplay between the malt start and the caramel ending made this an above average ale.
Next up was the Holiday Porter. It came out a near-black coloration with a few traces of rusty red when held up to the light. To be honest, the mountainous two finger thick head was a little surprising. It stayed around for a while and left a good deal of lacing behind. Like many Samuel Adams models, this was a pretty beer to look at.
The nose was quite malty; much more than the Old Fezziwig Ale. It was so malty that I really couldn’t pick out anything else. A faint hint of bananas could be sniffed out, but only a little. The predominant flavor was strong bitter coffee. Sadly, that’s pretty much all the Holiday Porter had to offer.
Was this a drinkable beer? Certainly. It might look a little road-tarrish, but it wasn’t sludgy. The HP was a fairly nimble beer for a porter. Still, the overpowering flavor was a turn-off.
The Chocolate Bock poured out a blackish brown. It had a thin hazy head that dissipated fairly quickly. Lacing was almost non-existent. The pour was fairly thick. There was very little carbonation going on.
There were strong chocolate notes in the aroma. Surprisingly though, the cocoa was not overwhelming. It was potent but not obnoxious. The taste more or less followed the scent. The Chocolate Bock had a slightly sweet slightly malted beginning. At the finish, there were dark chocolate flavors. The mouthfeel was a little sludgy.
For a ‘flavored’ beer, the CB wasn’t pushy about its slightly exotic taste. Yeah, there was quite a bit of cocoa flavor rolling around in the glass, but it’s didn’t really hurt the brew. The chocolate and the malt seemed to work really well together. Even if it was a bit on the heavy side, it was pretty drinkable.
Black & Brew
Finally, we come to the Black & Brew. Like many of these winter beers, this had a nearly black color with very little differentiation. Maybe it was the name of the beer, but it looked vaguely like a glass of Turkish coffee. The head was thick and had a french vanilla patina. Spotting was minimal.
The scent was quite malty, with a slight java undertone. At the first sip the coffee flavor is very assertive. If there were any hops going on with the B&B, the coffee taste more than negated them. At the finish, the malt became far more prominent.
Like a lot of stouts, the B&B was much lighter on its feet than it appeared. It may have looked like a sample from a British Petroleum oil spill, but it was a fairly easy-going drink. Again, the coffee flavoring and the malted barley was a nice pairing. Not being a java enthusiast, I went into this beer thinking I wouldn’t like it, but after a few sips the Black & Brew was a very nice little change-up from more conventional suds.
Let no review of the brewer’s art fool you. The whole point of alcohol is to get you drunk. Any beer, regardless of the brand or label on it, will deliver you to the land of tipsy if you pound enough of it down your gullet. The real success of a beer is not if it can make you inebriated. That’s as easy as Mitt Romney beating his Republican primary opponents by carpet-bombing them with relentless negative ad campaigns. True brew genius lies in getting the drinker hammered in the most pleasant ways possible. With the Samuel Adams winter collection, we can make some definitive statements in that regard.
With the possible exception of the Holiday Porter none of these beers was nasty. In fact, if you like very potent coffee the HP might be tailor-made for your tastes. Regardless of differences in palette, every one of these cold weather beers was a well-crafted concoction. We’re not dealing with Milwaukee’s Beast here.
Out of all these brews, the Winter Lager was the most mainstream beer. Anyone with even just a passing interest in lager drinks would find this pleasant. In fact, while Samuel Adams markets this as a ‘winter’ beer, you could easily drink this during warmer days and get plenty loaded without getting overheated.
The Old Fezziwig Ale was very good as well. While certainly more suited for chilly days, the smooth tandem of malt and caramel made this a winner regardless of the calendar. Pair this beer up with a good meat-n-potatoes meal and you’d be in good shape in no time.
The Holiday Porter was fairly disappointing. The coffee taste did not blend with the barley or the hops. In fact, there was more java flavor in the HP than in the Black & Brew, which was rather surprising. Don’t get me wrong; this beer can and will turn you into a stumbling shit faced buffoon if you annihilate enough of them. But do you really want to do that by having to fight through what tastes like an angry Starbuck’s barista’s bad night at the local strip mall?
As for the Chocolate Bock, that one left me a little puzzled. Beers with unconventional flavorings can be very hit or miss. Also, I haven’t had all that many bock brews, so I wasn’t exactly sure of what I would end up with. What I found was a beer that was a surprisingly good change of pace brew. If the Old Fezziwig was your drink during a mashed potatoes and pot roast dinner, the Chocolate Bock would be the chaser on your triple banana split dessert.
The Black & Brew was a well done piece of brewery science. I halfway expected this to be a some sort of Four Loko alcohol/energy drink clusterfuck. I should’ve known better. Instead of a disaster, the coffee flavor worked well with the traditional stout notes to make a hearty elixir. As with the Chocolate Bock, the B&B was a little too niche to be more than just a seasonal beer. That didn’t keep it from being a very good drink.
In almost every case, the drinker of these Samuel Adams winter beers is given a sturdy well-made bottle of booze. Each one has something to recommend it. None of them are so bad that they are outright undrinkable. All of them would get you sloshed. Four out of the five of them range from well above average to damn near great. Overall, the Samuel Adams Winter Collection does a fine job of upholding the sterling reputation of the Boston Beer Company.