Sam Adams Redesigns the Beer Can

A guest at a recent private beer-tasting event sent me into a rant. We were discussing the relative value of cans when he suggested that the reason some people might taste a metallic flavor in canned beer is that they are putting their mouth all over the top of the can. At that moment I was seized by the spirit of Ninkasi. “At least 85% of what you taste is actually what you smell.” I said. “If you drink from the can or bottle you smell nothing. You are cutting yourself off from the majority of the experience of the beer.” I ended with the admonition, “I don’t care what kind of glass you drink from. Just drink from a glass.”

Now the Boston Beer Company is telling people to drink Sam Adams Boston Lager from the can.

Well, not really. They still want you to drink it from a glass, but they acknowledge that sometimes that’s impossible. Maybe you’re hiking or canoeing far into the backcountry where glass is not allowed. Cans have long been touted as a solution to such situations. So should you just accept that you will only get 15% enjoyment out of that backcountry quaff? Ever the innovator in beer-service technology, Boston Beer says, “No.”

Following up on the Sam Adams Perfect Pint glass and the Spiegelau IPA glass, they have revolutionized the beer can. Called the “Sam Can,” the new package is the result of two years of “intensive sensory research.” It features a wider lid to allow more airflow into your mouth, a more centered can opening to bring the beer closer to your nose, and an extended lip to deliver the beer to the tip of your tongue.

I was skeptical. Really? These little changes were going to make a big difference? The Sam Adams press release did a good job of adding to that skepticism. Like the media reporting on the underdog in a presidential debate – “he just has to avoid looking like a complete idiot” – the materials stressed that the difference was “subtle, but noticeable.”  The bar was set low. Maybe they had learned a lesson from the over-hype of the IPA glass.

I was skeptical, but curious. So when the media package arrived at my door containing one regular can and one Sam Can, I had to give it a whirl. I opened both at the same time for a side-by-side face-off. Just for comparison I poured a bit from each can into a glass.

Of course the beer in the glass tasted the best. Really, drink your beer from a glass! But to my surprise, the Sam Can delivered on its promise, and then some. The improvement in flavor was more than “subtle, but noticeable.” I found there to be a significant difference in all three areas of sensory evaluation; aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel.

Aroma: In this area I won’t say that the difference was huge, but it was there. Aroma was non-existent when drinking from the regular can. While the Sam Can didn’t deliver the aromatic blast of drinking from a glass, hops and malt were noticeable.

Mouthfeel: The regular can delivered a beer that was unpleasantly prickly. Carbonation felt excessive, lightening the impression of the beer’s body. The Sam Can smoothed out the bubbles. The impression was more like that of a beer that has been poured into a glass and allowed to degas. Boston Lager isn’t a full-bodied beer by any stretch, but the reduced carbonation allowed the viscosity that is there to come through.

Flavor: The beer from the regular can was bland and sharply bitter. Spicy hops almost totally obliterated the malt, leaving only the faintest impression of caramel. The excessive carbonation mentioned above gave it a distinct carbonic bite that amplified the already harsh bitterness. From the Sam Can the beer was much more balanced. Bitterness was there, but kept in check by noticeable malt sweetness. Spicy hop flavors made their appearance, but malty caramel provided a welcome counterpoint. It was a much more pleasurable quaff. The cynical thought crossed my mind that they had perhaps put a different beer in each can, but poured into a glass the two were indistinguishable.

I went in a non-believer. I came out convinced. The Sam Can may not be an earth-shaking development, but the difference is real. Still, drink your beer from a glass.

Stone Enjoy By 5.17.13 IPA

“ENJOY BY 5. 17. 13!” The bottle in my fridge had been relentlessly nagging me for three weeks. The big black and white letters on the green label glared at me from the shelf. I was away when it arrived on my doorstep, but it even from afar it scolded me for my neglect, imprinting guilt upon my mind – nee my soul – that I was allowing it to fade with each passing day. And now the dreaded deadline had arrived. I had let it go until the last minute. It was 5. 17. 13.

I pried the cap off of the bottle and poured its copper-colored contents into my Sam Adams/Dogfish Head IPA glass. I raised it to my nose with anticipation. Had I waited too long? Would the lupuline nectar be degraded; a mere shadow of its once bitter self? Only a taste would tell.

Here’s my notes:

Enjoy by 5. 17. 13. IPA
Stone Brewing Co, Escondido, California
Style: Imperial IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz. bottle

Aroma: Light apricots and pineapple. Hint of sugary grain. Aromatics very low overall.

Appearance: Golden color and hazy. Substantial and persistent, off-white, rocky foam. The head really hangs around.

Flavor: Bit of chives right off the bat. Brown sugar, but not sweet. Light toast. Bitterness is high, but not unbalanced. Malt sweetness is enough to counter. The bitterness hangs on in the finish though, coming back for another bite long after swallowing. Hop flavors are low, with hints of chive, herbs, mint, and  citrus peel. Some stone-fruit flavors pop in as well. Alcohol is noticeable, but not hot. Very dry. Although I have picked several things out, it’s all very subtle. Bitterness dominates.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium carbonation. Mild astringency. Alcohol warmth.

Overall Impression: I really wanted more. More hop aroma. More hop flavor. More interesting malt. The whole seemed a bit one-dimensional to me, and that dimension was mostly bitter. Sure, there were some other things going on, but as I stated above they were all pretty subtle. I found myself thinking, “Well, there’s another 9.5% IPA. And the world certainly needed another one of those.” Maybe I did leave it too long.

Schell’s Goosetown

The folks down at Schell’s keep trotting out the new brews. I have to say, I was devastated to learn that Chimney Sweep, my new favorite, was not a year-round offering. Somehow I had got it in my head that it was. Maybe wishful thinking. In fact it’s a six-month beer that will alternate with Goosetown, a new Gose-ish summer beer.

Goosetown is part of a new trend in brewing to recreate extinct or nearly-extinct beer styles. One could say that the trend began in 1967 when Pierre Celis opened the Hoegaarden brewery to revive the Belgian witbier style that had sputzed out of existence ten years earlier. Today microbrewers are brewing modern interpretations of such long-lost beers as Gose, Mumme, Berliner Weisse, Grätzer, and Burton Ale.

Gose (pronounced GŌ-zuh) seems to fit into the family of “white beers” that once existed across Europe and Great Britain. It includes Hefeweizen, Berliner Weiss, and witbeir among other styles. Gose originated in the region near Leipzig, where water high in sodium lent the beer a saline profile. It’s a wheat based beer, often with coriander added. Lactic fermentation gives it a lemony tartness.

Goosetown isn’t exactly an authentic, traditionally brewed Gose. I don’t think the brewers at Schell’s would dispute that assertion. It is a tasty and refreshing summer ale, though. I actually tasted this long ago. I’ve been tied up in an all-consuming project in Chicago, however, and am just now getting around to posting my notes.

Here’s My notes:

August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Gose
Serving Style: 12 oz. Bottle

Aroma: Wheaty. Bread and Saltines. Very light fruity notes – like a light lemony citrus. Aromatics are very subtle and mostly malt.

Appearance: The first sample was light golden and brilliantly clear, although later bottles have had a haze. Long-lasting fluffy white head. It really sticks around in a thick layer on surface.

Flavor: Bready wheat malt with smooth edges. Background salinity, but not enough to say it’s salty. It adds a mineral note and gives emphasizing contrast to the malt. Light sweetness. Bitterness is low and hop flavors are nearly non-existent. Only the lightest note of spice and something that reminds me of Indian lime-pickle. Maybe it’s the salt and noble hops bringing that to my mind. There is an afterthought of lemony acidity, but not nearly enough to say it’s sour. Maybe not even enough to notice outright unless you really pay attention. Like the coriander and orange in a witbier, it enhances without drawing attention to itself. Finishes with a parting shot of light bitterness and lingering bread and lemons.

Mouthfeel: Light body. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: Delicate yet flavorful. Exceptionally clean and balanced. Billed as a Gose. It’s Gose-ish, but I’d call it more of a slightly salty American wheat beer with a hint of acidity. But that’s okay. It’s a delightfully drinkable brew. It almost makes up for taking Chimney Sweep away for the summer. Almost, but not quite. I really want to try this with Indian lime pickle. The intensity of the pickle may overpower the beer, but something tells me it would be a good pairing.