There's at least one lie on the label of every bottle of Samuel Adams
beer. Draw an analogy, depending on your views, to some figure in or
near American politics, who lies again and again yet retains a following.
(You'll find someone no matter where you are on the political spectrum.)
Don't misunderstand. I have never tasted a Samuel Adams beer that I
thought undrinkable, and some varieties are excellent. The generic
"Boston Lager" is almost ubiquitous now. Until about a year ago I
would take part in a little dialogue again and again at bars and
Gooley: What do you have on tap?
Hireling: Bud, Bud Light, Lite, Coors, [regional monstrosity
such as Rainier, etc.].
G.: Oh. [Pause.] In bottles?
H.: Bud, Coors, [regional monstrosity], [anti-beer such
as Zima], Heineken, and Sam Adams.
G.: [Sigh of relief.] Sam Adams, please.
Microbrews are more common now, but for several years Sam Adams beer
saved me from having to drink ice-cold Hardly Burgundy, or, Heaven
forbid, nothing but water. I was grateful, despite the habit that
Jim Koch, who runs Sam Adams, had of suing anybody who tried to use
the name "Boston" in association with any other beer or brewery.
Little of his beer is brewed in Boston, anyway: it's contract-brewed
in Pittsburgh and Portland.
Lies. Well, Samuel Adams was probably not a brewer but only a maltster,
the generic Sam Adams beer is a lager (something that probably didn't
exist in 18th-century Boston -- they drank ales), and no "special"
Sam Adams beer is quite true to the style on the label. The bocks are
all worth drinking but far too strongly hopped: a bock is supposed to
be rich and malty without too much bitterness. The Cream Stout is
one of my favorite beers, with almost a chocolately taste combined with
the texture of a lager, but Koch's explanation -- that in the past
other stouts were thought of as analogous to milk but a stout of this
style "was the cream" -- is pure buncombe: a cream ale is so called
because it is fermented with both ale and lager yeast, and forms a
peculiar creamy scum on top during fermentation. (I've never heard
of the cream-ale method being used for a stout before, either, though
it probably has been in the past.) The Cranberry Lambic was simply a
good wheat beer with a touch of cranberry flavor, not properly thin and
strong and sour from the action of "wild" lambic yeast: as much like a
lambic as I am like a supermodel.
Golden Pilsner is new to me, and unless I argue that "pilsner" indicates
not a style but a place of origin, perhaps the first Sam Adams beer
without a glaring lie on the label. It's golden, at least some of the
aroma hops are Saaz, the level of bittering hops is about right, and
it's a tasty, well-balanced beer. And yet...some pundit with more
experience will probably correct me, but this beer just doesn't taste
like a Pilsner. There's a slight fruitiness, as produced by an ale
yeast, or by a lager yeast working at too high a temperature, as with
a steam beer. Shortly after the Communist government fell in Prague,
my local liquor store was selling Czech pilsners at under a dollar for
a half-liter bottle. I drank a lot of them, and this beer is roughly
the right style but clearly different, clearly American. It's better
than the generic Sam Adams lager, and well worth a try.