In defense of Sam Adams: Why the venerable Boston Beer Company still matters

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For many people, Sam Adams Boston Lager is the gateway into craft beer: a light, drinkable beer that actually had flavor. Not threatening or overpowering like some microbrews, it's a baby step to drinking better beer. Other offerings include the Boston Ale and several seasonal choices, and recently some new additions to the regular lineup have garnered some attention.

One of the newcomers was the Latitude 48, the brewery’s first India Pale Ale and a nice, drinkable IPA with a good balance of citrusy hops and sweet malt. It’s not a “hop bomb," but it wasn’t made to be. Pouring a clear deep copper color, it is refreshing and crisp, coming in at around 6-percent ABV. It could be a great “gateway” beer into IPAs for those turned off by bigger, hoppier offerings.

Every winter, a Holiday Sampler is released, and usually the same beers are included. This past year, however, there was a new addition: The Chocolate Bock. Usually I am wary of chocolate beers, as few really deliver the goods beyond a hint of chocolate roastiness. But this beer is amazing! With a base of dark roasted malts and Noble hops, it’s aged on cocoa nibs and really brings those flavors to the forefront. Creamy and flavorful, the Chocolate Bock is only available, unfortunately, in the Holiday Sampler (2 bottles per 12 pack).

When I saw that Sam Adams had released a new pilsner selection, the Noble Pils, I was skeptical. Pilsners are among the toughest beers to do well because they are so delicate. There are no big malts to hide imperfections behind and the light-hopped nature of the style does not allow anything to be covered up. A good pilsner is truly difficult to find, but delicious when you do find one. So when I tried the Noble Pils, I was amazed. This is probably the best regular-release beer I have had from the Boston Brewing Company in a long time. Made with all five of the Noble hops (Hallertau Mittelfrueh, Tettnang Tettnanger, Spalt Spalter, Saaz, and Hersbrucker) and in the Bohemian tradition, this beer is light, crisp, refreshing and absolutely delicious. At only 4.9-percent ABV, it's a beer you can enjoy a few of without going over the top. According to the Sam Adams website, this beer will be gone for the season soon, so get it while you can.

So, if you're one of those beer geeks with a pretentious grudge against Sam Adams, I challenge you to give them another try. I promise you'll be surprised at the quality, craftsmanship and innovation that the Boston Beer Company has and continues to put into their brews.

Photo: Katie Machol

Ask almost any self-professed “beer geek” today his opinion of Samuel Adams or the Boston Beer Company, and it is quite likely you will get a snide remark about the brewery being “not really a craft brewery anymore,” or faint praise along the lines of, “Well, it’s better than Budweiser.” With the recent explosion of the craft beer industry, and the amazing number of new breweries and beers, the venerable Boston Beer Company often gets left on the sidelines, to be spoken of with a certain disdain. What many beer geeks either forget or fail to realize is that not that long ago, Sam Adams was one of the only craft beers readily available. Along with industry icons Sierra Nevada and Anchor, the Boston Beer Company — and CEO Jim Koch — were instrumental in laying the foundation for what is now a fast-growing and vibrant industry in the United States. They are huge supporters of the Brewers Association and encourage homebrewers with their Longshot Brewing Competition.

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