I know that it’s not cool to admit this amongst serious beer geeks, but I’ve always had a fair bit of admiration for the Boston Beer Company, aka Samuel Adams. They were indisputably one of the main impetuses behind the American craft beer movement, and their Boston Lager was probably the first American beer I tried that didn’t completely suck. In fact, I still consider it a benchmark in the Premium Lager category, a stance that some people still agree with, even if others don’t.
Even though they’ve grown to become the largest craft brewer in the US (so large that some argue they no longer fit the “craft beer” definition), they still have the balls to produce some really crazy, out-there beers. Not all of them have been successful, of course – helloooo, so-called Cranberry Lambic – but at the very least they deserve props for redefining what a beer can be with their Triple Bock, Millenium and Utopias.
Their latest laudable experiment is the Brewer Patriot Collection, a set of 4 beers that I will lazily describe by taking an excerpt from the press release:
“The Samuel Adams Brewer Patriot Collection honors our fine American brewing tradition by bringing back historical beer recipes and by using many of the same authentic ingredients the founders used,” said Jim Koch, founder and brewer of Samuel Adams beers. “Brewing beers that the founding fathers would have brewed and enjoyed themselves is a one-of-a-kind experience. It gave me a true sense of connection not only to our country’s heritage, but also to these first American brewers.”
When I heard about these back in June, I knew I wanted to try them, and thanks to my buddy Harry‘s sister who called him from a bottle shop on her way through Ohio to ask if he wanted her to pick up anything, I was recently able to do so. Here’s what I thought:
Traditional Ginger Honey Ale
Ginger beer was quite common in the 1700s, and according to the label of this beer, “records show that Thomas Jefferson and his wife brewed 15 gallons of ginger beer with fresh lemons and honey every two weeks for daily consumption”. It pours a hazy yellow-gold with a small head. There’s lots of honey in the aroma, along with some fresh ginger notes, and a bit of maltiness. The flavour has a nice hit of ginger off the top, followed by smooth honey notes, and a floral/lemony finish. A nice one to start with.
1790 Root Beer Brew
Being a big fan of root beer, I was really looking forward to this one. It ended up being not what I expected at all. My tasting notes started “wow, this is some weird-ass shit!” and went from there. Colour is a hazy ruby-orange with a tiny tan head. Aroma is very herbal and medicinal – smells like some old timey snake oil remedy or something – with notes of dark sugar and vanilla as well. Flavour of bitter herbs, wintergreen, anise, licorice, vanilla, and some stuff I just don’t recognize. I wanted to love this beer, but sadly, I didn’t. It’s an interesting experiment, and I’m glad to have tried it, but I’m also glad to have shared it with my friend Jeremy who came by to split the pack with me – and I’m really glad that my wife liked it, ’cause Jer didn’t much like it either, so at least the rest of the bottle didn’t go to waste.
James Madison Dark Wheat Ale
Appearance – hazy dark amber-brown with a small white head. Aroma is quite muted, with a hint of sweet malt and a faint smokiness – my wife says “It smells old, with an e on the end”. Soft mouthfeel, and flavour of toasted malt and brown sugar. Seems like it could be a good beer if the flavour were pumped up a bit more.
George Washington Porter
I expected this to be the highlight of the pack, and I was right. Clear dark brown appearance with a strong tan head. Very nice aroma: dark malt, coffee, a bit of molasses, and some sour herbal notes. Body is thin, but active. Flavour has a nice roasty quality, complimented by notes of licorice, coffee and molasses, and finishing with more licorice and a slightly acidic bitterness. A really nice offering that is comparable to some of the better old style porters I’ve had from the UK.
So all in all, this pack ran about 50/50 for me, but even the ones I didn’t like were interesting in their way. That’s more than I can say for a lot of beers that I’ve tried. It just makes me sad that SA’s Canadian distributor, Sleeman, is so worried about these superior south of the border brews making their line-up of bland “premium” beers look bad that they will only import the Boston Lager for sales in Canada. Thank god for good beer stores just across the border…