While out in Boston with my wife, we decided to take a tour of the Sam Adams Brewery there. Sam Adams actually has three breweries. One in Cincinnati, Ohio, one in Breinigsville, Pennsylvania, and the one in Boston, Massachusetts. All their main products are brewed, bottled, and distributed from the other two breweries. The location in Boston that we toured is their research and development location, which does bottle some specialty brews, but only a very small number.
This was my first brewery tour, and I was honestly a little disappointed. The tour is completely free and takes you through the brewery, ending with three 7oz tastings of their beers. That’s right, 21oz of completely free beer! Unfortunately, it’s quite clear that the free beer is the highlight of the tour and that most people couldn’t care less about anything else along the way. The tour guide (who was really great) even mentioned several times that no one really wanted to learn anything, they just wanted free beer. Well, he was wrong. I would have gladly paid for every ounce of beer I was given (and even for the tour) for the chance to learn something new.
The tour begins with a quick trip through a glass fermentation tank from the “bad old days” when someone actually had to climb into it to clean it. The job was cold, damp, and miserable, and it seems that the father of Jim Koch, one of the founders of Samuel Adams, had this very job.
Once through the old tank you walk past all the new tanks currently in use and into a room with four wooden barrels at the far end. One of the barrels contained hops, and the other three contained different malts (a light, a dark, and a caramel). This is your chance to learn a little, but only if you know almost nothing about beer. The tour guide explains that there are four main ingredients in beer (water, grain, yeast, and hops), and passes around cups of each of the various items from the barrels. He explains how to rub the hops between your hands in order to break in down and experience the aroma from the oils, how the color of beer comes from the malt that is used, and how lager and ale yeasts are different.
Then you go back into the main portion of the brewery where the tanks are. The tour guide rushes through the explanation of how the process progresses from grain to beer. The interesting part here is that you find out that this brewery only has the capability to bottle or keg by hand, and that they had three oak-aged beers available in the gift shop that were indeed bottled by hand at that location.
The tour ends in the tasting room. The tour guide give you one last speech as he explains the five step tasting process that Sam Adams recommends, which is exactly what we use here and is a great reference for anyone learning to taste and review beer:
- Appearance: This is the look of the beer. They want their beers to be clear and sediment free. They recommend holding the beer to the light and wiggling your fingers behind the glass. If you can’t see them through your beer then something is wrong.
- Smell: How does the beer smell. Really get your nose in there and smell it. Their classic Boston Lager should have a hoppy aroma.
- Mouthfeel: How does the beer feel in your mouth. Again, their Boston Lager should be medium bodied. Light enough that you can enjoy a few, but heavier than water. There should be medium carbonation, and it should be somewhat refreshing.
- Taste: The obvious one, but they break it down to the ABCs. It should have an Abundance of flavor, a well Balanced flavor, and a Complex flavor.
- Overall: How good is it? This is obviously the most subjective of the steps, but You need to decide: Did you like it? Would you drink it again? How does it rate?
To my surprise, the tasting did turn out to be the best part. We started by tasting their Boston Lager, which I enjoy but it’s nothing to get too excited about. Then we had their Oktoberfest, which I don’t particularly care for, but my wife enjoyed more than the first (it’s less bitter). However, the exciting part was that we got to taste a beer that they were currently developing. They called it Santiam. We have no idea if it will ever see the light of day, and if it does it will be called something else, but I really hope it does. It was a truly great beer.