Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Samuel Adams: Still Got It

Thirty-two years into your lifespan as a brewery, you might think you'd get a little staid and just rely on people coming back for the drinks they know so well.

But while sitting down for an interview today with Boston Beer Co. founder Jim Koch, I realized that settling wasn't something that would come naturally to one of craft beer's true pioneers. And the brewery's new nitro series is evidence of that.

Boston Beer released three nitro beers a couple of months ago - an IPA, a White Ale and a Coffee Stout - in cans with widgets (for lack of a more scientific term) in them that offer pressurize the vessel with nitrogen. Though rare, other breweries have done this before, meaning that Koch thought his brewery had to develop truly unique beers for them in order to stand out.

And this was where Boston Beer really earned its stripes. Too many nitro IPAs that are found on tap are softer versions of a brewery's regular offering, with the hops taste ending up muted. But Koch said he understood that carbonation is an essential part of the IPA, and so taking that away required him to change the recipe for the beer entirely.

What he arrived at was a 100-IBU delicacy that lacks the acidic bite of many IPAs but packs a grassy taste that fills your mouth and makes its hops presence known. And it's so smooth that the beer could go down more easily and quickly than expected, as I found out today.

"It's been a lot of 'Wow, that's different.' Other brewers, they say "How did you do that?'" he said. "Not everybody likes it, which is OK. You have to be open and knowledgeable about transforming beer flavor."

The Coffee Stout too is notable. Though it carries a pillow-like softness typical of the genre, it's imbued with a deep roasted flavor that can be lost in some nitro efforts. It's quite a flavor bomb.

Koch was in Denver Tuesday for a signing of his new book, "Quench Your Own Thirst," which details his three-plus decades in the beer business, examining both successful philosophies and notable mistakes. There have been times that Sam Adams has seemed to fade from the beer scene over that period. But the new nitro series ensures it will continue to be a pioneer - and shows that the first craft brewery to do things correctly on a national scale still has some great tricks up its sleeve.

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