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Hopped Up

by Matt O'Connor

Welcome to my little bi-weekly corner of this neat website! Here I hope to cover one of my favorite topics: beer. First off, I’m no beer elitist, nor do I drink beer exclusively, but I decided to do a column on beer because there’s something great about beer culture in that it’s approachable for everyone. The styles of beer are myriad; the prices of beer are just the same. You’ll see me review beers that can be picked up at your local packie (Boston for bodega, if you will) for a buck a serving, but you’ll also see me recommend some delicious beers you may have to seek out at your local craft beer store or bar, that can fetch past $10 a serving because of either their limited production, high quality, high alcohol content, or all three. In writing up a few beers a week, one in a longer format and a few blurbs, I’ll also attempt to find beers available in many markets, so that this doesn’t become a pointless read for the many people I know spread across this great beer brewing land!

For my first review, I’ve chosen a new beer that debuted this summer as a part of Boston Beer Company’s Samuel Adams summer styles mix-pack. Now, Boston Beer Co. gets a lot of flack around the beer world because it’s such a difficult entity to wrap your head around. Are they still craft brewers? Am I hurting my other local breweries by buying Sam Adams products, are they merely a wolf in delicious craft-beer clothing? Was that last sentence one or two questions? However, I don’t come here to settle this debate, but I will say since its founding in 1984, Boston Beer Co. has done its part to advance the cause of tasty beer. They may have made $464 million last year in sales as the largest American-owned brewing company, but it is still tiny in comparison to foreign-owned Bud, Miller, and Coors, so I tend to give Sam Adams a heavy benefit of the doubt. Unless and until Sam Adams stops making tasty beer, I will hold them in high regards. They are not the best beers in the world, but they will always be a founding father of the “beer with flavor” movement.

The beer in question, Sam Adams’ Rustic Saison, is only available in their summer styles mix-pack, so rush out and buy it as the crazy beer gods have already begun putting out the Sam Oktoberfest seasonal. Sorry, did I just spoil the ending? I like the beer, but please keep reading. Saison is French for season, so as you may guess it’s a beer made for drinking in the great season of summer. Traditionally, saisons are brewed in Belgium in the winter to be ready for summer consumption, when you want what they offer: a low-alcohol refreshing beer. Pouring into a glass, one gets a one-inch head of small elegant bubbles. My beer’s head went away after a few minutes, but the beer left nice laces of foam as I drank it to completion. This beer is surprisingly clear for a saison, normally a hazy gold, but this may be a compromise on the traditional style to achieve a cleaner beer for the larger American market. The smell has the rustic notes Sam Adams is looking for, probably from the Belgian yeast they use. There’s some light fragrant clove (think spices used for baking) that smells delicious. Do keep your nose in there as it warms up; I noticed a bit of the grassy hops coming out. As the color hints at, this beer is not as complex as some other great saison brews (e.g. Saison Dupont from Belgium, or Jack D’Or from Pretty Things in Massachusetts). There’s a prevailing dry mouth feel, with a nice hoppy bitterness that hangs around in the mouth. It’s not a beer I’d call sweet. If anything, it’s sweeter in the smell than taste. But you have to understand the style they’re after was meant to be refreshing not due to its temperature, but it’s tartness.

Bottom line, it’s a good take on a classic style by an accessible brewer. As with most Sam Adams products, the beer isn’t an ABV killer, so technically it’s very drinkable, but it isn’t quite sessionable. By definition a session beer is sub-5% ABV, so as to facilitate consuming several in one “session” of drinking, but if you did this with the Rustic Saison, you’re liable to start downing Sugar in the Raw packets to get a taste of sweetness back in your mouth. If you like this beer (or simply can’t find it) try the two above mentioned saison styles. You will not be disappointed. 

Now on to the grade! For reference, as it’s my first review here, I’m grading on a B- curve, so a B- beer I’d happily accept, anything above is a good beer and the grades improve from there. I love cheap beers too, so though something like Miller High Life may get a C/C+, I still buy a ten-dollar 18-pack of them for hot summer days. Here, the Sam Adams Rustic Saison is not the best Saison I’ve ever had, but it’s a solid beer worthy of a try or two. Grade: B

Sam Adams Rustic Saison
ABV: 4.4%
Glass: Crate and Barrel Beer Tulip (Buy a set, $5 each)
Enjoy at 45-50° (Bit above fridge temp)

Also Try:
Aventinus, Schneider & Sons (Kelheim, Bavaria, Germany). A wheat doppelbock, pours dark and fragrant, with classic wheat beer banana aromas. Grade: A

Left Hand Milk Stout, Left Hand Brewery (Longmont, CO). Branch out past the Guinness and grab one of these on tap, a sweet stout made with milk sugars and roasted malts to balance. Grade: B+

Narragansett Lager, Narragansett Brewing Company (Rochester, NY and Providence, RI). A classic 5% ABV lager made with a mix of malt and Iowa corn, resulting in a flavorful, refreshing lawnmower beer.  Grade: B-

Matt O’Connor lives in Boston and is a proud graduate of Boston University. Explore beer with him as he quits his job in the sciences and starts law school. Send any requests, beer, or job offers to him at: matt.oconnor[at]