Monday, December 22, 2008
Most liquor stores have yet to realize the true joy of the season that can be spread by putting together six spicy or malty holiday beers into one pack. And most brewers don't have the portfolio to make one of these mixed batches on their own.
Most lagers aren't complex, and this wheat bock spiced with orange peel, ginger and cinnamon doesn't break out of that mold. But while it is easy drinking, it is also refreshing and cooling and presents a slightly minty backtaste (not like sucking on a peppermint but like that strangely enveloping and pleasing burst on the back of a menthol cigarette).
Yes, I was thinking the same thing when I got the six pack: What is Sam Adams trying to pull by adding its oldest, distinctly non-winterized beer to this mix? Putting a little filler in, like those last three songs on the CD or the last 30 minutes of Saturday Night Live? There's nothing particularly Christmas-y about this.
This six-pack reminds you that one of the reasons to admire Koch is that he's gotten to the top of the beer world and isn't resting on the three to four beers that got him there. Take this tart-nosed take-off on a classic Belgian style: No average beer drinker in America was clamoring for it. But here is the only beer you'll find that features cranberry so prominently, and here is how Sam Adams is still trying to create.
That said, the Cranberry Lambic drew decidedly mixed reviews from the Fearless Tasting Crew. Some liked its sweet consistency, though the general opinion was that you want just one rather than a night full of these. Others, including me, wondered whether the cranberry taste was misplaced here in a slightly sour and fruity concoction that leaned toward the classic Belgian lambic but didn't quite commit fully toward the style. Either way, you are unlikely to forget this addition to the pack.
Nor are you likely to forget this gem of a beer. But there was no mixed opinion on this.
Like the Boston Lager, this isn't really a holiday-style ale. But when it's 22 degrees outside (as it is now), you want warmth in a bottle. And that, the Cream Stout is.
Brewed with extra portions of roasted chocolate and caramel malts, roasted barley and English hops, the initial taste here is one of cloudy darkness. Eventually it morphs into a more subtle stout, with a slightly toasty overtone. But what surprises you is that this dark-as-night creation carries a medium body rather than a feel that is overly heavy.
Just look at the art here. You think 19th century. Maybe something Dickens drank. Hell, the label tells you it's modeled after the drink of London's Victorian-era luggage porter. (Now, there's a piece of trivia designed to impress someone at a party.)
And in this bottle is Boston Beer's most English creation yet. Yes, there's the hops that keep Britain hopping - English Fuggles, East Kent Goldings. But it is deep and dark too, one of those full spheres of blackness that wraps around your mouth and consumes all of your taste buds.
The porter is fuller than the stout, a malt-centered treat that is made for distance, rather than sprint, drinking. And it's good that you take it slow: the more it warms, the more you taste the roasted chocolate.