Samuel Adams Summer Ale, Boston Beer Company, Portland and elsewhere.
Jim Koch and his henchmen at Boston Beer seem to be learning not
to lie -- or at least not so often or flagrantly. A few years ago,
they might have called this beer Samuel Adams Belgian White and flavored
it with coriander and orange peel; instead it's Summer Ale, "White Ale
Brewed with Grains of Paradise and Lemon Zest," and it's only "inspired
by the traditional Belgian White ales."
What are grains of paradise? Like nutmeg, they taste bitter and
unpleasant when the beer is cold, but improve as the beer warms; the
flavor is familiar. The neck label: "a long-forgotten and mysterious
spice used by Renaissance brewers centuries ago." I got out my _Webster's
New International Dictionary_ (second edition, of course) and learned
that they are either "the pungent seeds of a West African plant (Amomum
melegueta) used in veterinary medicine and as a spice," or "the dried
fruits of an East Indian woody vine (Anamirta cocculus)." The venerable
Webster's Second is outdated, so I checked my _Merck Index_ (eleventh
edition) and found that nowadays they are better known as cardamom seed.
Cardamom is common enough in homebrewed spiced ales: the homebrew-
supply shop here in Billings, Montana even stocks it. "No label without
a lie" is truly the motto of Boston Beer: they may have hunted down the
other spice mentioned in the dictionary, but what I taste is cardamom.
Samuel Adams Summer Ale is light amber, without the chill-haze
cloudiness of a real Belgian white. There's some wheat flavor, but it's
not the hard-wheat flavor of the archetype. Nor can I swear that there's
any lemon peel or tell much about the hops, because the cardamom overwhelms
everything else. Perhaps the peel and some bittering hops join to create
a faintly unpleasant bitter aftertaste. The cardamom brings back memories
of great Indian meals with my office-mate during graduate school -- we'd
munch the seeds afterwards as breath-fresheners -- but there's too much
here for my liking. Consider it a parody of a Belgian white, drinkable
but a beer more to puzzle over than to enjoy.