Inside the Primary Election for the 2007 Samuel Adams Beer Lover's Choice

I've been sitting on this post for a week. Man, we really need to Beer Smack more often. Anyway ...
Last year, the 2006 Samuel Adams Beer Lover's Choice campaign presented "Candidate A" (a Honey Porter) and "Candidate B" (a Smoked Lager). More than 15,000 beer lovers in bars across the country voted, which resulted in Samuel Adams Honey Porter returning from the grave and earning a spot in the Brewmaster's Collection.
Last week, Jason and I were invited to at the Samuel Adams Brewery in Jamaica Plain for private tasting with Jim Koch, which also acted as a special primary election for the 2007 Samuel Adams Beer Lover's Choice. Our tasting comments would be used to help pick two finalists from an initial pool of four styles, which were:
Irish Red Ale Gorgeous to look at, toasty, some mineral, and a bit hoppy for the style, but the brewers are going to tone it down just a bit, which should allow for the malt to shine through a bit more. Personally, I really enjoyed the hoppier edge, but with the tweaks it'll be a great example of the style and great session beer with its below 5% abv.
Saison A base beer with coriander and orange peel, blended with some of their Gueuze. Good initial attempt, but the beer lacked a distinct Belgian yeast character and the carbonation wasn't effervescent enough; something that thing could mimic with CO2 levels, but in my opinion it would be the same as bottle-conditioning. I'm also not sure how this will sell a 12oz format, simply because nearly all Saison are 750ml.
Belgian Pale Ale A base with anise and licorice root, blended with Gueuze. Dark amber vs. pale, too sour, the anise and licorice didn't belong, the beer didn't have that Belgian funk to it, and it just didn't seem like much of a Belgian ale. But they weren't finished with this beer yet. Out of nowhere they decided to thieve off some beer from two other tucked away barrels which gave us an opportunity to blend the base beer with a brew infected with Brettanomyces and a Strong Belgian Pale Ale aged whiskey barrels. The blend with the Brett was much better, more Belgian-esque, though blending all 3 was even more interesting, but it still wasn't a Belgian Pale Ale.
Dunkelweizen Spot on for the style. Light bodied, green banana, a hint of smoke, touch of caramel, soft powdery clove, moderate alcohol, and a tremendous drinkability (under 5% abv, I believe). I wanted to stay and drink this beer all day long.
Our Picks We voted for the Irish Red Ale & Dunkelweizen. The Irish Red was just too damn tasty to not vote for and would be an easy sell with novices to geeks. As for the Dunkelweizen, there are simply not enough of these in the US market, it's an interesting style, and could help to break some dark beer misconceptions in the mainstream. After the tasting, it was cool to hear that the Sam Adams brewers were also leaning towards these two.
So why the thumbs down for the two Belgian-style beers? Four reasons: 1) they both needed too much work, 2) they lacked the depth found in authentic Belgian ales, 3) we couldn't see them selling in 12oz bottles, 4) the market has enough Belgian ales already, and too many of these are mediocre at best. So unless you're going to go all out authentic (from brewing to bottle), don't bother.
The public tasting took place yesterday at the brewery, so it'll be interesting to see which beers were picked out of that. We'll definitely post more as soon as we get it, but you can expect the winner to appear in the Samuel Adams Brewmaster's Collection 12-pack in the winter 2007 release.
Cheers to Jim Koch and Boston Beer Co. for their passion and creativity!
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