Last week, the Boston Beer Co. sent along a free sample mixed 12-pack, the company's Harvest Collection, which includes the new Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale along with a few other varieties and a couple bottles of the flagship Boston Lager. Also included in the package was a loaf of pumpkin bread made with the Harvest Pumpkin Ale.
They arrived at the perfect time. The pumpkin bread (tasty, though perhaps a tad dry from its voyage) sustained those of us chained to our desks during the hectic final stages of putting together the Best of Dallas issue. And, needless to say, the beers were quite a welcome way to unwind Friday after the issue was complete -- and helped us forget all the panicky "Oh, shit, did we forget to include so-and-so?" moments.
We were using paper cups and in most cases not even rinsing them between samples, so the sampling wasn't exactly scientific. Regardless, it was clear that some of the styles were far more popular than others -- and overall, the samples were far better received than the Michelob wheat beers last time we did an office beer-tasting. Following are general office reactions to the Dunkelweizen, Harvest Pumpkin Ale, Oktoberfest, Irish Red and Black Lager.
The Dunkelweizen, a clear amber color with a foamy off-white head, was generally well-received. Though it was hard to get a great look at it in a paper cup, it appeared surprisingly clear for the style and didn't have much of the banana and clove notes that some dunkels have. Girl Drinker Merritt Martin detected a bit of a coffee taste, though I thought it was more of a general toasty and malty flavor. Clubs editor Daniel Hopkins appreciated the wheat flavor, and that it's not as full-bodied as some dunkels. Web editor Nick Rallo agreed it was "very good" and thought it was pretty smooth for the style. Resident Dude Food dude Noah Bailey wasn't as impressed, declaring it merely "all right."
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The Harvest Pumpkin Ale was like meeting up with an old friend who quickly wears out his welcome after his general obnoxiousness reminds you why you stopped hanging out. It started out so promising, though. The reactions were quite positive at first. The pumpkin and pumpkin-pie spice aroma is subtle, and it seems light-bodied at first. "Those fuckers at Sam Adams know what they're doing," Noah declared. But the mood soured quickly as the flavor refused to go away, leaving the mouth coated with an unpleasant sickly sweet and slightly sour artificial pumpkin taste that Merritt deemed "beer socks."
Not faring much better was the Octoberfest (yes, they spell it with a C in Boston), which is thick, heavy and malty, not balanced at all by any discernible hop presence and similarly plagued by a sticky, lingering finish. "I don't care for this," Daniel said. "I expect an Oktoberfest to be full, but this is way heavier than I like. To me, Spaten is the benchmark for Oktoberfest." Everyone else echoed the sentiment save music editor and Boston native Pete Freedman, who calls Sam Adams his favorite beer and theirs to be his favorite Oktoberfest beer. (It should be noted, however, that he did not participate in the sampling as he was too busy firing rubber bands at us from his office to grab a cup.)
Redeeming the pack was the Irish Red, my favorite in the bunch. More amber than red in color, it had a nice tan head. Toasty, creamy and full-bodied with a bitter finish, it's a very good example of the style. Whether they were turned off by the Octoberfest and pumpkin brews, trying to get actual work done or distracted by the ongoing rubber-band battle, the structure of the tasting party started to break down at this point and Daniel and I had this one pretty much to ourselves. Reporter Sam Merten sampled a bit and agreed it was a fine beer indeed.
And adding even more color to the batch was the Black Lager, a clear, very dark ruby-brown schwarzbier with a persistent tan head. It was smoky and roasty with just a faint chocolate and coffee malty flavor, and a lighter body than the appearance would suggest. I liked it a lot, and would rank it just below the Irish Red and just above the Dunkelweizen as my second-favorite in the pack. Otherwise, reaction was mixed. Noah disliked the bitter finish, while Daniel raved about the brew. "It's almost a cheesy, smoked-Gouda taste," he said. "I bet eating smoked cheeses with this would rule."