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The Boston Beer Company, Boston, MA, and Ceres, CA (this time)

by Markian Gooley

Watch Jim Koch and the Samuel Adams brand reach new heights of pretentiousness and downright silliness with Samuel Adams Triple Bock. Its bottle is blue glass, like those of milk of magnesia and the rose water my mother occasionally bought when I was a child. The signature "Sam Adams" and the words "TRIPLE BOCK" underneath are painted or glazed onto the bottle in gold; "1994 BREW RESERVE," "Samuel Adams Triple Bock, ale brewed with maple syrup," and the addresses and government warnings are on the opposite side in white. Plastic "foil" secures a sherry cork. A black tag with gold lettering hangs from the neck on gold elastic.

One of the famous Sam Adams lies already: bocks are lagers, not ales. ("Triple" calls to mind a style of rich ale called "trippel," also.) The tag includes these phrases: "should be savored like a fine cognac or a vintage port," "complexity and nobility of a great wine," "charred oak barrels for long and slow aging," "the cork finish preserves the delicate flavors," "this beer is like nothing ever brewed," and an address for a mailing list: "we'll let you know how this fine bottling is developing."

Let's see. It's June 1996, and the stuff is dated 1994, so how long is that "long and slow aging"? People have made barleywines before: what's unusual about this one? Shouldn't we get lead foil instead of plastic for fifty cents an ounce for eight and a half ounces, or is Koch saving us from heavy-metal poisoning? Is a (porous) cork really better than a (solid) metal cap, and what's a "cork finish"?

Thick syrup glued the cork (finish?) to the bottle but gave way readily. I poured what looked like dark brown sherry into a wide tumbler: no unequivocal aroma of hops or maple syrup, just alcohol, raisins, and perhaps madeira. No carbonation.

Until I noticed the sherry cork (finish) I'd expected a barleywine: very strong, very hoppy to try to balance a vast malty sweetness, carbonation light but definite. (Thomas Hardy's Ale is in that style; I've brewed several batches of barleywine myself, using sherry yeast: it can survive 18% or so of alcohol and keeps the sugar in check.) What I got was a bit like tawny port with that spoiled-wine madeira taste added, suitable alcohol, an aftertaste with a faint sherry nuttiness and an acrid tone possibly from hops, and viscosity more from malt dextrins than from sugars. I couldn't detect that slight gluey flavor unique to maple syrup, not at all. I muddled through a hodgepodge of flavors dominated by raisins, port, madeira, and malt syrup more or less in harmony: "complex" indeed, or perhaps "multiple-personality disorder."

This is a unique drink, and not acutely unpleasant: is it worth the money? No. After all, I paid $4.25 for my 250-ml bottle of Samuel Adams Triple Bock, and for $12.75 I could buy a 750-ml bottle of real sherry from Spain, real port from Portugal, real madeira from Madeira, or some good tawny port from Australia: none of these would be the best of their kind, but any would be a better drink. Almost any beer I can think of costs less per ounce, including the Swiss barleywine Samichlaus, Trappist ales, and those Belgian lambics.

Who is Mr. Koch appealing to, apart from poseurs, fools, and the curious (in various senses of the word)? Beer lovers will want something to balance that sweetness. I suggest the expectorant guaifenesin: it's very bitter indeed. Include some dextromethorphan hydrobromide, fit that blue bottle with a screw-cap and change its shape, and one has Samuel Adams Triple Bock-tussin DM, the world's best-tasting cough syrup. As the label might put it, "Sip the two tablespoonsful of your dose, savor the aroma and complexity, marvel at the perfect balance between bitterness and sweetness. Don't overindulge. The next time you have a cough, note how this unique medicine has developed and matured over time."

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