Monday, January 24, 2011

Samuel Adams 2010-2011 Winter Classics variety pack

It's 6 beer reviews in 1 episode! I bought this winter mix pack to see if these Samuel Adams beers would hold up as most of them I have rated pretty highly in the pasted. But I didn't want to shoot six individual episodes, so I decided to do six mini-reviews in one episode with my final thoughts on all these beers. Would my opinion remain the same after all this time? Has Samuel Adams changed the recipe at all? Let's see....


   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 1/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (621) - Albany, USA - APR 4, 2010
I’m an ale man, so whenever I see the word “lager” I tend to roll my eyes. This is a type of beer style associated with mass-produced, watered-down brews that give American beer a bad name. Thankfully, Samuel Adams Boston Lager is nothing like Budweiser or any other those other big-name beers. The Boston Beer Company has actually managed to make a lager complex and give it some real bite – amazing!


In my experience, almost every beer in the Sam Adams line pours smoothly and generates a well-proportioned head. The same is true of the Boston Lager, their flagship label. Most critics commend it for its “long lasting” head, but I find it dissipates rather quickly (although it is quite tasty).


The Boston Lager is one of the most easily recognizable beers from its color alone. For a lager it’s quite dark and resembles ale with its dark amber/copper colors and crystal clarity. It looks a lot like the Boston Ale and shares the same aroma as its sister brew, which is almost no scent at all. The initial aroma is indicative of a strong hop foundation but only a real beer snob would be able to detect this. Its scent is rather weak, overall, but whatever lingers is surprisingly pleasant to the nose.


You might have seen the commercials where Jim Koch brags about how they use a full pound of hops per barrel whereas other companies use only a handful. They definitely weren’t lying, as the Boston Lager has a distinctive kick to it. In fact, it’s so strong it’s often a turn-off to novice beer drinkers and those who just want something smooth and easy to chug. Those drinkers need to grab something made in St. Louis or Milwaukee, because Sam Adams’ Boston Lager isn’t for them. Some might call it harsh, I call it an awakening of the palette.


Mr. Koch, are you sure this is a lager? It looks, tastes and drinks like an ale because it’s in no way a light body. This lager has the weight of a stout or a porter at the least. Its heavy density makes it a bit of a surprise, and not necessarily in a good way. You can easily get filled up after just two bottles or pints of this beer. But at least you’ll do so through some quality brew, eh?


The Boston Lager maintains its taste and complexity from start to finish which is always a good thing. Some say it finishes bitterer than it starts out, but I find this to be only remotely true. It does have a nice bite at the end, which is the only way to a beer with a constant bite throughout could naturally finish. It’s definitely a beer you can down quite a few in a row. However, it’s a high-end brew so doing so could be expensive. I think it’s best enjoyed in a Sam Adams mix pack or one pint at a time on tap.


It took me years to truly appreciate Samuel Adams Boston Lager for the craft that it is. For the longest time I just found it much too harsh to appreciate, but I eventually came around. I think their commercials describe it perfectly, “Don’t be afraid of the taste.”

How true that is.

Grade: 7/10


   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (621) - Albany, USA - APR 4, 2010
More often than not I find myself in situations where I really want to like a beer, but once I drink it I realize I cannot simply make myself enjoy something by sheer will power. Samuel Adams Holiday Porter is a good example of this. I was fully expecting a tasty, robust beer, but what I got was only average at best. I think it’s drinker-friendly, however, drinkability alone doesn’t cut it for me.


This beer pours to a seemingly black body which is actually a dark shade of maroon when held up to the light. It forms a generous layer of off-white, soapy head which dissolves fairly slowly, but almost completely, and leaves some lacing on the glass.

The aroma is fairly unremarkable with a touch of chocolate and vanilla sweetness as well as a general malty scent. It’s neither inviting, nor off-putting.


Having thoroughly researched this beer before I drank it I came into my review with some expectations. Porters, much like stouts, tend to have a robust palate with chocolate or roasted malts (or both), but Holiday Porter did not have much of either.

What I noticed up front was a faint sour red grape followed by a burnt chocolate finish and a bitter, dry aftertaste. I’ve encountered these flavors before in imperial stouts, but they were much more intense. Here, they’re surprisingly mild.

The palate is surprisingly watery, as well. I did notice and enjoy a general malty sweetness, which would have been great had it lingered rather than been replaced with such a dry aftertaste. It’s not repulsive in the least, but a beer like this should be much more intense.


Considering the target audience for this beer, I think Sam Adams’ Holiday Porter at least hits its target. Even though it doesn’t have a lot in the way of big flavor, its drinkability is commendable. Of course, it doesn’t really surprise me the beer is so smooth since it’s so mild. And at 5.8% ABV it’s just a tad heavier than the average beer drinker might be used to, but nothing Joe or Jane Six Pack couldn’t handle. It would work well with dinner, or substitute two bottles of this for dessert.


Frankly, there isn’t much to say about Samuel Adams Holiday Porter since it’s one of those rare beers that lies directly on the line between good and bad. It’s got some flavor to it, but what’s there is entirely too weak for my taste. However, considering its target audience and how easy it is to drink is almost enough to make up for it… almost.

Grade: 4/10


   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (621) - Albany, USA - APR 4, 2010
The connoisseurs often scoff at American brewers who attempt to co-opt European niche beer styles and try to make them more drinker-friendly. However, just because a beer is intended for a wider market doesn’t necessarily make it bad. Samuel Adams White Ale is a good example of this as it has the spiciness of a European beer, but the body and finish of an American brew.


This beer is based on the Belgian White style, which are known for having a chalky white complexion. However, Samuel Adams’s take more closely resembles an India Pale Ale with a hazy orange body. There is some carbonation present and just the slightest bit of sediment. It pours to a large, white, fluffy head which lasts until the last drop and leaves some lacing on the glass. The aroma is bursting with sweet spices – hinting of clove and citrus notes.

Just before drinking my White Ale, I decided to visit Samuel Adams’ website for a detailed description of the beer. In retrospect, I wonder if there were any spices they DIDN’T use in this beer!? Not that this is as intense as any kind of winter warmer, but for a light spring beer it’s a very complex palate.

Orange peel, lemon zest, coriander, and grains of paradise are all prominent ingredients in this beer and are definitely noticeable form the first sip to the last swig. Clove and banana might also contribute to the sweet, spicy taste. But, paradoxically, the composition seems a little thin and watery. So as varied as the palate is, the flavor itself seems a little subdued. It’s sweet with noticeable hop presence, but in the end it still tastes like beer (at least it’s not gimmicky).


The spicy nature of this beer gives it a bit of an intense mouthfeel. Although it’s lightly carbonated, White Ale definitely makes its presence known. However, since the overall taste is rather mild and the beer has a thin viscosity, it finishes smooth.

Belgian Whites have always been one of my favorite styles of beers because of their genuine flavor and light body. While Sam Adams White Ale isn’t quite as slender as a summer beer, at least not statistically speaking (5.4% ABV, 175 calories), it certainly feels like it.


A beer like Samuel Adams White Ale is a great introductory beer for those looking for more genuine flavor but with the drinkability of a mainstream beer.

Grade: 5/10


   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 13/20
Chad9976 (621) - Albany, USA - APR 4, 2010
Poured a 12oz bottle into the official Samuel Adams Boston Lager glass.

Appearance: Pretty copper color, very bubble, some nice head but minimal lacing and retention.

Smell: Mostly ginger and some cinnamon, otherwise mild.

Taste: I used to really like this beer, I’m convinced they changed the recipe because now all I get is ginger all the time. Thankfully the cinnamon flavor helps balance it out. Not much hop bitterness here, certainly no malty sweetness. Ginger is way too strong for a lager.

Mouthfeel: maintains a decent carbonation throughout.

Drinkability: They sure this is a lager? it drinks like an ale. Not crisp, quite full bodied for a bock.

Overall: this used to be one of my favorite Samuel Adams brews, not it’s just an annoying overly-spiced winter seasonal. Less ginger, more everything else please Jim Koch!

Grade: 5/10


   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (621) - Albany, USA - APR 4, 2010
I like to think of myself as something of a “formalist” critic, meaning that whatever I review, I judge it against itself. However, there are certain times when you can’t help but judge something based on external factors. Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock is a good example of what I mean. Since this is a rare, expensive seasonal beer I found it very underwhelming. Had it been a more standard craft beer I might have given it a higher grade. But when you pay $17 for one bottle of beer you have an expectation and this just didn’t live up to it, hence the average rating.


Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock is bottled in 25oz bottles, resembling a bottle of wine. It pours quite rough at first but eventually smoothens out. It forms a small, tan, soapy head which doesn’t linger for very long. The appearance is seemingly opaque black, but is actually dark ruby red.

There isn’t much of an aroma to speak of; just a dry scent reminiscent of most bocks or black lagers.


I didn’t know what to expect with Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock. I’d recently tried another chocolate beer and was underwhelmed. Surely a $17 bottle of chocolate beer that contains imported ingredients from Europe and Africa MUST be rich and tasty, right?

Well, not exactly. This brew tastes like a generic bock with just a hint of dry chocolate flavor in the aftertaste. Much like other bocks I’ve tried, I found the flavor to be slightly sweet but without the nasty cough syrup quality of most bocks. This tastes more like a black lager and has almost a cola-like taste.

But where is the chocolate? The description on reads like pure hyperbole compared to the actual taste of this beer which is rather bland. Not that it tastes bad, not in the least, but for $17 I want a much tastier beer.


At least this beer is very easy to drink. It doesn’t have any harsh, spicy qualities to its palate and does have just the sweetest finish so it goes down extremely smooth. I have a feeling this clean finish was specifically engineered since this beer is likely meant to appeal to anyone who likes chocolate, not just craft beer drinkers. Even the lightest lightweight will have no trouble downing this brew. But considering the price, this isn’t a beer you’d want to slam anyway, so feel free to savor it.


I was able to drink an entire 25oz bottle in about 30 minutes without feeling overwhelmed in the least. Unique beers like this have a reputation for being “extreme,” but at only 5.5% ABV Sam Adams Chocolate Bock is weaker than some mass market beers. It should be noted that it does contains 230 calories per 12oz serving – ay, there’s the rub. You might want to opt for it instead of cake or ice cream for dessert.


This is one of those beers that stumps me because I cannot think of anything negative to say about it, yet I can’t enthusiastically endorse it, either. It would work well as a Christmas or Valentine’s treat as it could be easily enjoyed by the non-connoisseur and by men and women equally. Just don’t expect this beer to be the liquid, alcoholic equivalent of a Godiva bar.

Grade: 6/10


   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 4/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 12/20
Chad9976 (621) - Albany, USA - APR 4, 2010
Poured a 12oz bottle into a Victorian pint glass.

Appearance: mostly clear ruby red/mahogany with plenty of foam. Decent retention and lacing.

Smell: Ginger and pretty much nothing else. Slightly phenolic.

Taste: What the hell happened? I used to LOVE this beer! It was advertised as a liquid Christmas cookie. Now it tastes just like the Winter Lager but with even MORE ginger! How much ginger does a beer need? I suppose they were going for a sugarplum flavor, but it just tastes like ginger and nothing else. Ginger lingers forever, leaving a dry, pasty taste in the mouth. If you like ginger you might like this beer, but I can barely tolerate it.

Mouthfeel: thick with a dry, pasty sensation in the aftertaste.

Drinkability: massive ginger spice makes this a sipper. The body is thick and the aftertaste is very annoying. I could barely finish this.

Overall: a major disappointment especially considering this used to be an "A" beer for me a few years ago. I’m sure they have changed the recipe since then. I refuse to believe my palate has changed THAT much!

Grade: 4/10