Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Samuel Adams - Brewmaster's Collection

Craft beer is not always synonymous with small breweries, I for one would include Budvar in my world of craft brewers simply because they use traditional ingredients and continue to make their, oh so lovely, lager traditionally, without cutting costs and corners by using maltose syrup or that nebulous ingredient in Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus, "hop products". Likewise Fuller's in the UK is a craft brewer, and here in the US companies like the Boston Beer Company, who trade under the brand name Samuel Adams, would also qualify despite the fact that their beers are readily available and for all intents and purposes mass produced.

I have something of a soft spot for Samuel Adams because their Summer Ale was the first beer I had in the USA when I first came in 2007, it was also the first beer I had after 6 months abstinence in an attempt to lose weight (I lost 50lbs eventually, although I have regained a little of that, such is the price to pay for a love of beer). After a 9 hour flight from Prague to Atlanta, and then the short hop to Columbia, not to mention the fact that our bags where held back due to some lunatic driving his burning Jeep into Glasgow airport, it hit the nail right on the head. Thus, one of my aims once Mrs Velkyal and I arrived here to stay was to get to grips with the entire Samuel Adams line, a task which may take a while of course, however I made a start by picking up a boxed Brewmaster's Collection containing the following beers:

  • Blackberry Witbier
  • Irish Red
  • Black Lager

First up was the Blackberry Witbier, made with Oregon blackberries according to the blurb on the neck label, and a fairly new addition to the product line apparently. It certainly pours like a witbier, cloudy amber, slightly off-white head which did a vanishing trick fairly sharpish. This has lots of fruity flavours going on, the nose was like mixed fruit jam, while tastewise some sweet maltiness underlay the fruit flavours again. There was some spice, although I would like to have more as I think the fruit overpowers it and about half way down the glass it becomes boring and even flaccid.

On to the Irish Red then, a style I am planning to brew myself once in Virginia (actually I am planning to cross an Irish Red with an India Pale Ale and make an India Red Ale with lots of C-hop flavours!). Can you guess what colour it was, yes that's right, it was red, and the head was a big fluffy ivory affair. Caramel and cocoa dominated the nose, with some subtle earthy aftertones - my brain immediately said English hops, and thankfully the neck label said East Kent Goldings! The beer itself is quite sweet, with lots of syrupy caramel flavours, which put me in mind of a slightly thinner version of London Pride - which is never a bad thing in my world.

Last up and the most anticipated was the Black Lager, I was eager to see whether this would be a more Bohemian or German interpretation of the dark lager genre. It pours a very dark red with a tan head, and even on popping open the bottle their is a rush of roasted smells, with a light touch of coffee in the background. The roasted theme continues in the drinking, bittersweet and with more than a hint of coffee, with touches of burnt sugar and caramel ending in a gentle dry finish. Yup it's a schwarzbier for sure, and a mighty fine one at that.

For me the Blackberry Witbier does nothing, that is not to say it is a bad beer per se, just that it doesn't rock my boat. The Irish Red is a nice smooth ale which will no doubt make the occasional appearance in the fridge, although given that Irish Red is a style I haven't explored much it will need trying alongside others to get a handle on it properly. The Black Lager will no doubt become a regular in the cellar, it really is lovely and I can imagine that it would be very useful in some of my cooking ideas floating around my brain.

With another 8 styles in the Brewmaster's Collection, not to mention the very nice Boston Lager, I am fairly sure I will be returning time and again to Samuel Adams.


  1. Beers from Boston are the best in the U.S., obviously. Much like other things from Boston. :-D

    Have you tried Harpoon yet? I drank a lot of their IPA over the weekend and really loved the floral-y tastes in it.

  2. Funny, this is the first set of beer I went through when I got to US, I'd also recommend finding anything by Dog Fish Head, but then the real problem is that some States have as many breweries as Czech Republic has, you then multiply this across the US and you almost have too much choice. This is far from being a problem though, more of a challenge.

  3. I like to think of it as a challenge, and can see a lot of sample trays being consumed in brewpubs and the like.

    Kacenka, what else is good about Boston then??? ;)

  4. I'm very fond of their Black Lager. Never tried their Irish Red though. It still puzzles me as Ireland has sod all good examples of red ale. It seems more popular in the US :D

  5. The best example of an Irish red for me is from O'Haras. Lovely stuff but as Barry said, it is a US style born from Irish Emigrants. When I think of an Irish Red, I think of Killians and shudder...

  6. What makes a craft brewery? A little easier to decide in the US, I suspect, where the gulf between craft and non craft is huge.

  7. From my perspective Dave a craft brewer is one that uses the basic ingredients in their proper form. Unfortunately even a lot of small breweries in the Czech Republic use ingredients such as hop extract. Perhaps I am being a touch over-zealous on that front but I find that hop extract in particular leaves an odd taste on the back of the throat. For example, the best beers produced in the Primator range all use proper hops only.

  8. Out of curiosity, Al, as Primator use hop extract in some of their beers (the 12° you gave me comes to mind), would you still count them as a craft brewer?

    I'm not a fan of hop extract at all, as I reckon I'm sensitive to the taste, but I've been surprised by some beers that used it and I didn't detect it. A surprising amount of small breweries here seem to use the stuff.

  9. Velky good to see your safe and enjoying america's finest. If you ever stumble across Sam Adam's Utopias, it's worth the price, like nothing you have ever had in a beer. That said heading to Zly Cas tonight, will have a few in your honor. jlwaltman

  10. Barry,

    That is something of a puzzle to be sure, and I think it was the 16 I gave you rather than the 12. They also add sugar to their stronger lagers, but not to their specialities. I am not really sure how many of the smaller regional brewers would fit into a strict definition of craft brewery rather than simply a medium sized regional industrial brewer. Perhaps it is possible for non-craft brewers to make a craft beer, even though the majority of their line would fall outside that description?

    Jlwaltman - enjoy!!!

  11. Indeed, you are correct, it was the Primátor Excluziv 16° (which also contained E300 antioxidant :D).

    I've no problem with sugar going into a beer before fermentation. Look at all those beautiful Belgian beers :D I use the term craft pretty loosely. As long as it tastes good I'm happy!

    They were selling Utopia in the Porterhouse at one stage. Never made it over for it as it was something like €125 for a bottle. I had hoped my company would buy me one when I left Ireland. Oh well...

  12. Just one more reason to become a beer judge...I've tried Utopias twice without paying a cent for it!
    A fine-though extreme- interpretation of the English Barleywine style.

    I am anxious to try Sam Adams new "Imperial series"...



I worked out the other day that each day I was in Prague I walked about 7-8km, which is about 4.5-5 miles in old money. The longest walk tho...