Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sam Adams Single Batch Series

DBNE recently attended a release party at the Sam Adams brewery in Jamaica Plain, MA, in honor of their new, limited-edition, Single Batch Series. The series consists of four new beers touted as “the brewers’ favorite beers”. They’re available nationwide in 22 oz. bottles ($4.99 - $6.99), and this is the only time they’ll be brewed, supposedly. Hence the “single batch” moniker.  

Now, if they’re previously unreleased, I don’t understand how they could be the brewers’ favorites. Favorites out of what? Have they been brewing these behind scenes for personal consumption? What else do they have hiding back there?

The lineup includes four beers: Griffin’s Bow (barleywine), Tasman Red (red IPA), Third Voyage (double IPA), and The Vixxen (chocolate chili bock). Needless to say, these are all bigger, more intense beers.

The event was intimate and well attended without being too overrun. Each of the four beers had their own station with a savory food pairing. Interestingly, most of the stations had unique cupcakes to pair as well. Though the cupcakes ran out quick at some stations.

We received four tokens to sample four beers, and two tokens to sample two food items. The fact we weren’t each given enough tokens to sample all four food items was strange. The food seemed specifically chosen to pair well with, and enhance, the flavors of the specific beer it shared a station with. Regardless, my wife and I split our food tokens to sample everything equally.

In short, the verdict on the beer was that there were two hits and two misses.

Griffin’s Bow was the surprise. It’s an Oaked Blonde Barleywine. What’s funny is that neither my wife nor I get excited over blonde ales. And, while I do enjoy some barleywines, my wife generally steers clear of them (though she appreciates their flavors). Despite all that, we both enjoyed Griffin’s Bow immensely. It’s complex with layers of flavor. Notes of vanilla, cinnamon, oak, caramel, and fresh hops, are all there. It got better with each sip and paired well with the quesadilla served with it. While Griffin’s Bow packs a punch, it's not overwhelming as long as you sip slow.

Next was Vixxen – a chocolate chili bock brewed with ancho and chipotle chilies. We didn't hate it. It just lacked complexity. The notes of chili spice were noticeable, pleasant and subdued. Chocolate was definitely there, but beyond that, there wasn't much to it. There was no visual head to speak of when poured, and I had a hard time creating one in the glass. The mouthfeel was smooth and had that slick feeling that many Sam Adams beers have. Overall, Vixxen wasn’t bad but we expected more excitement, and therefore, felt let down. The food pairing here was chicken mole, and while it seemed to make a nice enough pairing, the food sample was so small one could hardly tell. The cupcake we received along with the chicken had a Mexican chocolate kick and was delicious.

The Tasman Red – a red IPA – is brewed with Topaz and Galaxy hops grown near the Tasmanian Sea. It was nice enough, but not the best hoppy red we’ve had. I wouldn’t choose it over, say, Bear Republic's Red Rocket. But it was still enjoyable and I gladly have another if someone handed me one. The red-malt profile seemed a bit thin with a strange note of plastic. Its hop presence didn't smack you in the face (which we sometimes like, frankly), but it was assertive and pleasing. The macaroni and cheese paired with this beer didn’t elevate anything and was merely a snack. But I never turn down a snack. Heck, I even make a point to go to BJ’s Wholesale Club to eat the free samples, regardless of whether or not I need to shop for anything.

Lastly was Third Voyage. It’s a double IPA (DIPA) brewed with Cascade hops from three different regions of the world. Third Voyage tastes exactly how I expect Sam Adams to make an DIPA – not enough hops, too much malt. While its flavors were nice enough, “enough” doesn’t cut it in the loved DIPA corner of the beer universe. There are too many great DIPAs one can easily find to warrant settling for Third Voyage. What bugged me most was its hop character. In both aroma and flavor, its hops were weaker than what we just experienced in the Tasman Red. And Tasman Red is only supposed to be of “regular IPA” strength. That’s backwards, and speaks to Third Voyage’s folly as well as Tasman Red’s relative success.

In the end, the two hits were Griffin’s Bow and Tasman Red; the two misses were Vixxen and Third Voyage. Griffin’s Bow was the unanimous winner of the lot in our eyes. But see for yourself. They’re all worth trying once.

The event was organized in collaboration with the Boston-based Pintley ( website. Pintely is another beer-rating website that’s still relatively new, but fun and easy to use.

Pintley has partnered with Sam Adams again for another event (tomorrow) around the release of this year’s Infinium. DBNE will be there. A champagne-like beer brewed in collaboration with the mighty Weihenstephaner, Infinium was first released last year and suffered mixed reviews which lead me to believe we would never see it again. We hear this year’s recipe has changed for the hoppier, so we’re excited to get a sneak peek. Stay tuned. 

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