06 December 2007

Sam Winter, tested in Boston

The Beer: Sam Adams Winter Lager
The Food: clam chowder, turkey club
The Restaurant: 75 Chestnut, Boston, Mass.

Sam Adams is always a most respectable, if, to my mind, rarely an astonishing brewery. However, one is always correct to sample the local brews in any place, and so, when in Boston and faced with choosing among Guinness, the silver bullet, Harpoon IPA, and the Sam Adams Winter Lager (it was a pretty shallow draught list), I went with the Sam Winter, which seemed like a perfect choice for a snowy night in Beacon Hill.

One never has, of course, a pure tasting experience, in a sterile white room and no distractions. But who would want that? A sterile room with no company calls for 30 Busch Lights and a urinal, not something savoury, something worth considering, worth tasting. Of course we all know that the company and the food and the setting can enhance a beer, making the good better, and the great sublime, but virtually nothing can make a bad beer better (except another bad beer to follow). And anyway, where matters of taste are concerned, the scientific process should take a hike: bias is king, and not something to be controlled.

But back to the beer.

My first impression was that it looked like exactly what I needed. The color was an ideal coppery brown, dark but allowing light to pass and refract: sort of like a delicious brown swimming pool on a clear day in my glass. The head was present but not overwhelming, about a quarter inch deep, and of the color of peanut shells.

Not much aroma. It isn't done to draw too much attention to oneself in Boston. Puritanism runs deep (for more on Puritans and beer, even the English varieties, see video HERE, which comes from a website that will give one particular pause).

The taste delivered, gently, all of winter. Sort of like a carol sing in the mouth. Snappy and spicy: cloves, a bit of orange, cinnamon, maybe some ginger, which lingered on the finish, at least until replaced it with I a spoonful of chowder. Again we must remember that this is New England: Sam doesn't shout, he doesn't gesture – he used up all of those instincts in the Revolution. Rather, winter is suggested, or intoned.

This is not, in keeping with brewery custom, an astonishing beer, but a good, sound workhorse, something one could drink happily throughout the winter, a good companion to good food and good company. The aficionados might turn up their noses and scoff, but then they would forget that basic drinkability and pleasantness are the marks of a good beer. Luther seldom, I imagine, drank alone, whether his companions were men or books, and we know that our (the editorial we) northern European ancestors have always relied upon their beers to facilitate camaraderie. I recommend the Sam Winter for those times when one needs to be held by one's beer, comforted, and not challenged.

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