Here at Aleheads, our crack team of beer buffs spend countless hours researching breweries to determine which Ale Factories our fearless readers should purchase their suds from. We all have our favorites (the Trappists are universally loved), our least favorites (AMC…the unholy crapumvirate of AnheuserMillerCoors), breweries we think are underrated (Ol’ Sudsy is partial to Three Floyds), and those that are overrated (Dr. Van Drinkale despises Stone). But there is one brewery above all others that we here at Aleheads have changed our minds about so many times that we feel like Brett Favre when he’s trying to decide whether to lose a game with an interception or a fumble. That brewery is the Boston Beer Company…better known as the makers of Sam Adams.
Rational thinking goes out the window when it comes to Sam. First of all, the Aleheads mostly hail from the Boston area. And like all Massholes, we take a bit too much pride in our local institutions. The Red Sox are the best team in baseball…even when they suck. Boston is the best city in the world…even though it’s a driver’s worst nightmare and it’s freezing half the year. And the Prudential is the tallest building in the world (that one is true of course…everybody knows that). Sam Adams is our most renowned local brewery (even though most of their beers are brewed in Cincy)…so it’s hard to critique it. We also grew up drinking SABLs (Sam Adams Boston Lager…we called them “Sables” because we were huge losers), and you really can’t be objective about a beer that was so important in your beer-bildungsroman.
Still…Sam Adams isn’t quite the innovative producer of high-quality brews it once was. With AB being bought out by the Belgians, Miller by the Afrikaaners, and Coors by those mukluk-wearing Canucks, Sam is now the largest American brewery. It’s simply too challenging for a lumbering behemoth like the Boston Beer Company to churn out top-notch beers when they’re trying to please the palates of millions. When Jim Koch was brewing in his kitchen in the 80’s, he could make what he liked. And those first years of Sam were truly innovative (or so I’ve been told…I was 5 when the company was founded). Koch took on the Big Three and carved out a niche for his high-end brews…he essentially founded the craft brew movement. All of those wonderful American beers we have access to today owe a huge debt of gratitude to Sam Adams.
As the Boston Brewing Company grew bigger and bigger, it lost the ability to do whatever it wanted. The company went public, ramped production up to close to two million barrels of beer each year, and started advertising all over national TV (remember the mildly amusing “Always a good decision” ads?). It had stockholders to please, and drinkers across the globe to appeal to. Sam’s beers suffered with that overexposure and a lot of Aleheads began unfairly grouping the Boston Beer Company with the much-vilified Big Three.
But that’s the thing about Sam…he always surprises you. Just when it seemed like the brewery had hit its low point with the introduction of Sam Light in 2001 (and the simply silly Millenium and Utopia “extreme” beers), it started churning out some surprisingly good brews. The Octoberfest has been excellent in recent years. The new Black Lager and Dunkelweizen have been well-received. And Sam’s Imperial Series (including their Imperial Stout and always excellent Double Bock) are simply great beers. You can never count Sam out…that’s the yin and the yang of the Boston Beer Company. They make some of the blandest, least interesting offerings on the market…and some of the best stuff out there. It’s why the Aleheads can never quite get a handle on them. But good or bad, boring or complex, Coastal Wheat or Cream Stout…he’s our Sam, and we love him.