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In Defense of Sam Adams

2 February 2011

In Pennsylvania, you have to buy beer by the case.  Yes, there are ways around it, but the general crux of the matter is to buy beer outside of a bar, it has to be by the case.  Since I don’t usually want an entire case of the same beer, we generally only buy cases when we have visitors.  More often than not, the visitors aren’t as die-hard about beer as I am, so we need to find something that all of us can enjoy, something with a selection of lowest-common-denominator beer as well as a few interesting concoctions that I would be able to enjoy. More often than not, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of Samuel Adams.

As someone who considers himself a “beer person,” sometimes I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I buy so much Sam Adams.  A lot of beer people are prone to turning their noses up at it or writing off Boston Beer Company as a run-of-the-mill beer producer.  The backlash from the Brewer’s Association changing its maximum barrels per year from two million to six million in order to retain the Boston Beer Company as a craft brewer was swift and great.  At first, I got caught up in it as well.  But then I stopped to think.  Is Sam Adams beer really that bad?  Are they really just like the macros?  Would the backlash have been the same had Dogfish Head been the first craft brewery to break the six-million barrel mark?

The answer, quite honestly, was “no.”  I’m not saying all their beers are great—or even good.  I thought their Cherry Wheat, for instance, tasted like cough syrup.  But as a go-to, especially when the craftiest beer so many bars and restaurants carry is the Sam Adams seasonal offering, it’s still a damn good company when compared to much else that is out there.  They have strong seasonal offerings—I enjoy the Summer Wheat and the Oktoberfest as perennial favorites, and their Winter Lager was the absolute first craft beer I ever had.  Their less-produced seasonal or limited beers can also be quite good.  Just this year I enjoyed their Chocolate Bock and the Noble Pils, one of the first Pilsners I remember liking (though this could be due to the fact that for once I had the Pilsner before other beers and my tastebuds hadn’t been melted).  Last year, their Cranberry Lambic took me by surprise at Christmastime and I still talk about it.

Are they all delicious? No.  I don’t care for their Revolutionary Rye Ale nor do I particularly crave their Porter.  But the idea is there.  They may produce much of their beer for the masses, but they still have enough ammo in their clips to knock down some tried and true beer snobs with their selection.  Their Infinium and Utopias should call out to any fans of extreme beer and their “Longshot” series, which gives one winning homebrewer the chance to brew a beer with them, is a great boon to the budding brewers of tomorrow.  Do they do as much for the community as some other breweries?  Probably not, but the thought is still there and they’re doing things they don’t have to do for the betterment of the scene.

It’s easy, once you start to develop your views of beer and move on to bigger and better things, to forget your roots.  I’ve long since left Magic Hat behind, trading #9—which was once listed in my top 3—for an untold number of more interesting beers.  I’ve also found the Guinness, one of my all-time favorites, tastes thin and watery now—I remember a time when the most I could drink in one night was two if I was feeling crazy and had an empty stomach. But, there is still comfort in going back to Guinness every once in a while, just like there is still comfort in picking up a Samuel Adams mixed pack in the winter to re-experience the Winter Lager and find a new standout to enjoy.  And while I often find myself rolling my eyes when I buy the mixed case of Sam Adams, I always find at least one beer inside that makes me think, “Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t totally write these guys off.  Maybe they are doing something right.”  And I urge you to try the same.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 14 February 2011 9:32 am

    Well said Ryan!

    I have had similar experiences with the Sam Adam’s beers AND Guinness. I recently discovered the Blacksmith (half Guinness, half Smithwick’s), and that has brought me back to enjoying a Guinness (I was beginning to feel that it was a tad thin and watery too) on those nights when I need to cut back on the alcohol content that most craft beers have. I’m in the burbs, so having more than three 6.0% ABV beers at a bar (usually The Pourhouse in Westmont, NJ) and having to drive home could get me into major trouble.

    Interestingly enough, I thought the Sam Adam’s Chocolate Bok was awful, while I thought their Holiday Porter was pretty tasty. Overall though, Sam Adam’s is usually a very respectable beer.

  2. 15 February 2011 10:55 am

    Ditto, Ryan: well said indeed. The Sam Adams backlash confuses me, and gives me pause. Not to go all old fart on you all, but let me tell you: coming across a reasonably fresh Sam Adams 20 years ago often made my day when craft beers (we called them “microbrews” back then) were pretty thin on the ground. And it’s only gotten better. The Noble Pils is quite damned tasty.

    Good to see you at Victory, by the way!

  3. John permalink
    5 February 2012 3:39 pm

    A week ago I and my wife and daughter went to a resturant and I ordered a Alpine Spring and I loved it. This week I bought a six-pack of Alpine and it just doesn’t taste the same. Why does the draft taste so much better than the bottle? I never drink beer in a brown glass bottle, but this Alpine was so good I had to buy some. I was disapointed. Why? Am I strange or what?

    • Ryan permalink
      5 February 2012 3:56 pm

      As for draft tasting better, it could be for a number of reasons. A lot of times, it’s more fresh and served at the correct temperature. Even though the Alpine Spring has just come out, if it was sitting around for a while or stored incorrectly, that could affect the taste. Also, if you drank it too cold, the cold numbs your tastebuds and you taste less (which is why brands like Coors or Bud want you to drink their beer as cold as possible).

      As for the brown bottle, those are the best. They let in the least amount of light, which can harm the beer, and keep the beer fresh longer. I would encourage you to stick to the brown bottles rather than green or, even worse, clear. A lot of craft beer makers are switching to cans, though, because they let in no light and keep the beer even longer.

      Thanks for stopping by and if you have any more questions, feel free to ask or drop me an e-mail. Cheers!

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