- Oct 26 '16
The biggest-selling craft brewer in the United States, and one of the oldest, Boston-based Samuel Adams began in then-management consultant Jim Koch’s kitchen back in 1984. Using his great-great-grandfathers recipe, Jim made his first batch of Samuel Adams Boston Lager, the kind of full flavored beer that used to be common in America, but was no longer being brewed. Jim began going from bar to bar trying to sell his beer, a process initially filled with rejection. But good taste prevailed. Boston Lager quickly won the title of Best Beer in America in the Great American Beer Festival’s consumer preference poll. Sales picked up steadily and Jim helped fuel the American craft beer revolution. Today, Samuel Adams produces more than three million barrels of beer a year and the company’s flagship Boston brewery (it has two others elsewhere) attracts nearly 200,000 visitors each year. Michael’s visit to the brewery was – incredibly – his first, despite a friendship with Jim Koch that dates back more than 20 years.,
As was obvious during Michael’s visit, Jim insists on using traditional methods and ingredients, even when he is pushing the envelope with a unique style or flavor. The barrel room of the brewery features several massive Italian-made brandy barrels Jim says are now being put to better use — housing beer instead of brandy. Specifically, these barrels hold a Sam Adams staple, the Kosmic Mother Funk (or KMF). The brew is sour, wine-like, and funky - and used almost exclusively to blend with other Barrel Room Collection beers. The KMF takes nearly a year to develop and soften to its ideal levels of fundamental flavors: barnyard, horse blanket, and leather (all attributed to wild yeast). In the Belgian tradition, local bacteria play a key role in developing the KMF’s flavors – and some of those bacteria were actually gathered from the walls of the 140-year-old brewery. Among the beers in which the KMF is used is Tetravis, a unique Belgian Quad Jim and Michael sampled. Unlike most other quads, the Tetravis features added complexity with fruity and sour notes – thanks to the KMF. Another is New World Belgian Tripel, which Michael helped brew on this visit.
Jim brought Michael to meet brewer Dean Gianocostas, the second employee ever hired at Samuel Adams thirty years ago, who was milling in for the Tripel. A key feature of mill-in here is Jim’s decision to move the grain to the mash tun via what he calls a brewer’s necklace, a special chain that replaces an auger and causes less damage to the grain. Also notable in the brewing process is the way hops are added (in this case Czech Saaz for a nice, subtle spice, and Tettnang for a richer, noble flavor). Instead of making the addition the old fashioned way (opening up the vessel doors to dump the hops in), Samuel Adams now uses new computer controlled equipment (but still hands on, it’s set by the brewer) that sends hops into the kettle at an exact time, in an exact amount. This allows the for a consistent hop slurry that prevents pocketing and protects brewers from splashing. The finished product is a pale golden beer with both spicy and sweet qualities, and the added KMF provides its own twist to the brew. Although it contains a surprising 10% ABV, the kick of the alcohol is balanced by the sweet, fruity notes created by the Belgian yeast.
Perhaps Samuel Adams most prized beer is something called Utopias. Blended from a wide range of beers that are barrel aged for up to 21 years, Utopias is reminiscent of a vintage port, a fine sherry, or an old cognac. At nearly 60 proof, Jim says it is the strongest naturally fermented beverage in the world. Since it’s virtually impossible to duplicate the exact flavor, every year’s brew has similarities to Utopias of the past as well as qualities that are unique. Consistent notes from year to year include orange, maple, brandy, cognac, vanilla, and oak. The finished 2012 batch in particular boasts dark fruit, cinnamon, and chocolate. Jim actually shared a taste with Michael directly from one of the barrels. It was amazing, but even more amazing was the full bottle of finished Utopias they got into later. Jim says he created Utopias to stretch the boundaries of what beer can be.
In fact, stretching boundaries, pushing the envelope, is a big part of Jim’s agenda. For example, from the beginning Jim refused to sell Samuel Adams in cans because the design of standard beverage cans restricts the aroma and flavor of the beer. Jim decided to find – that means invent – a beer can without those limitations. A million dollars and countless prototypes later, Jim’s team created a new can with a slight hourglass shape at the top and a bigger lid. It allows the beer drinker to pick up the scent of the beer (after all, aroma is 70% of taste) as well as putting the beer on the right part of the palate. The result? Michael gave it a try and declared that Sam Adams beer out of a can tastes like, guess what, Sam Adams beer — without any bitter or metallic taste or loss of flavor. Jim is now offering the can design to other craft brewers at no charge.
Offering more than 500 beers, Boston’s Sunset Grill & Tap is owned by a huge craft beer fan, Marc Kadish. While some enthusiasts are content with simply tastings and pairings, Mark takes it a step further by introducing beer into his cooking. His kitchen creates dishes - from burgers to fajitas – that are cooked with beer, and Michael joined Marc in the kitchen to make the beer infused fajitas. The meat is marinated in a combination of Sam Adam’s Boston Brick Red (a dark beer with a medium body), Worcestershire and A1 sauces, fresh pureed garlic, and Cajun spices. It’s grilled, covered in hot sauce made with Samuel Adams Boston Lager, and served with veggies on a sizzling hot skillet.
When it was time for our pairings dinner, Jim paired the fajitas with that same Boston Lager (an amber with roast malt, pine, and citrus notes). The steak’s subtle sweetness balanced perfectly with the faint malty flavor of the beer, and the caramels from grilling the steak complemented those from roasting the malt.
The next dish—swordfish with El Paso butter sauce, shrimp, scallions, corn, jalapeños, garlic, and red pepper sauce— was paired with the Grumpy Monk, a Belgian IPA that’s hoppy with a spiced fruit flavor. One of our diners felt the fruity notes and the hops paired well with the spiciness of the meal, but Michael preferred the Summer Ale (an American wheat ale with a crisp citrusy flavor). As everyone knows, lemon and fish often make the perfect pair, and this was no exception.
The last pairing was a basic (yet juicily delicious) burger and the Double Agent IPL. The beer’s bold hop aroma and sweet fruity notes are its defining characteristics. When consumed next to the burger, the vinegar from the ketchup and the malty sweetness of the beer worked very well together.
Oh, and we can’t forget dessert. Simply a glass of Samuel Adams Utopias. The perfect end to a fabulous visit.