Jim Koch came from a long line of brewers. For five generations, each of the eldest Koch sons pursued a career in the noble art of brewing, but when Koch came of age, the market for quality beer in the U.S. was virtually nonexistent. Instead, Koch attended Harvard University and pursued a successful career in management consulting, even landing a coveted job with the well-known Boston Consulting Group.
Koch never lost sight of brewing, though, and his keen business sense led him to make a timely entrance into the beer market in 1985, at the very beginning of the craft beer era. His business skills and brewing heritage led to the formation of one of the country’s largest brewing companies: the Boston Beer Co., which is known more generally as the producer of the Samuel Adams line of beers.
The Boston Beer Co. became a publicly traded company in 1995 and has done well ever since. Koch still retains full control of the company to this day. Many lament that the Boston Beer Co. has become too big and too corporate to be considered a true “craft brewery.” However, its beers are both interesting and tasty enough to satisfy most craft beer drinkers today, and they are at least several notches above many of the other mass-produced beers out there.
Colder weather is upon us, and while the autumn leaves may yet be on their way from tree to turf, and the branches whence they came are still reaching toward the ever-fleeting glow of the sinking sun, and the morning chill nibbles only gently on the cheeks of the weary, it is nevertheless a fittingly frigid time to seek refuge in the cozy warmth of winter beers. Wow, that was lame. Anyway, the point is that this week I checked out Sam Adams Winter Lager, a seasonal offering brewed in the bock style.
Bocks are traditional German lagers and are (according to folk etymology) so named because Bavarians, who speak a dialect of German distinct from their Northern compatriots, pronounced the North German town “Einbeck” as “ein Bock” (which humorously translates to “a goat”). Bavarians enjoyed the strong lager brewed in Einbeck and began calling it “Bock”. Bocks are generally rich and complex, perfect for the holidays.
The Sam Adams Winter Lager pours a deep ruby red and is strikingly clear. On the nose, I noticed caramel malts, earthy hops and minor spice notes. Taking a sip, slightly burned grainy notes come forth, with a pleasant sweetness and an element of complexity due to the spices. Like the classic Boston Lager, caramel flavors are prominent in this beer. This is a medium-bodied, drinkable brew, and it comes in at a manageable 5.6 percent ABV, so you can have a few and not worry about accidentally knocking over the Christmas tree.
Sam Adams has been a consistent force in craft brewing; its mainstay beers are neither exotic nor particularly exciting, but they are generally classic and well balanced. So it is with the Winter Lager. While this isn’t a beer that stands out in any spectacular way, it strikes a good balance between complexity and drinkability. Overall, Sam Adams Winter Lager is a warm, rich, palatable and drinkable beer with enough spicy complexity to be interesting and enough warmth to be pleasant on a winter day.
$2.60 for a bottle at Mad Greek’s.
My ratings (out of 5):