According to Samuel Adams press material included with a sample bottle of Infinium (and an ice bucket and pair of flutes -- aww, you shouldn't have!), 60 percent of men would prefer to toast with beer instead of Champagne if given the choice.
Whether or not that's a good reason to dress a beer in Champagne drag is debatable. Many beer lovers, myself included, have already been toasting the New Year and other celebration-worthy occasions with a strong, tasty corked beer for years. But regardless of their motivations, Samuel Adams and Germany's Weihenstephan have collaborated to create Infinium, which is touted as the first new beer style created under the Reinheitsgebot (German beer purity laws allowing only water, barley, yeast and hops as ingredients) in more than 100 years. The result is Infinium, which comes in a corked Champagne-style 750-ml bottle, packs a 10.3 percent ABV level and comes with a $19.99 price tag.
But why do this? Is the Boston Brewery trying to win over Joe Sixpack with the assurance that there's a fancy beer that's just as good as Champagne for toasting? Is it trying to lure craft-beer drinkers away from the many other (most of them cheaper) large-format corked beers suitable for toasting? Do they think they can convert Champagne lovers with fancy packaging and a high price tag? Or is it just a chance for the brewers to flex their creativity, have some fun and get some attention?
While I wasn't quite as disappointed (or insulted) by Infinium as I was by Damm Inedit, the last time I tried a beer intended to win over a new audience, I don't think I'll be buying it.
The cork came out with a satisfying pop, and the beer poured a pretty clear golden, slightly amber hue sparkling with tiny bubbles and topped with a very fizzy, white, puffy Champagne-like head. It certainly looks like Champagne, but the nose -- sweet toasted pale and pils malts, with the Champagne yeast providing some spicy and fruity notes -- has more in common with a barleywine than sparkling wine. The taste proves surprisingly sweet, with a kind of funky caramelized taste followed by a crisp finish. The first sip is by far the best, though. Without enough hops to sufficiently sweep the palate on the finish, the sticky sweetness builds up over the course of even a single glass. The texture is somewhat Champagne-like thanks to the effervescent carbonation, but it's significantly fuller bodied and eventually coats the mouth in a rather unpleasant way. Not a bad beer, but not an especially good one, either -- and certainly not worth the price tag.
And of the four people -- all fairly adventurous beer drinkers -- who tried it at a friend's small birthday get-together, I was the only one who even liked it. One who has lived in Boston said it was his least favorite of the Sam Adams beers he'd tried. A second said it was far too sweet, and a third friend was convinced it had allspice in it until I mentioned Infinium's adherence to the German four-ingredient purity law; she thought it might taste better with Indian food.
Maybe I'm holding it to an unfair standard, expecting it to be both an exceptional beer and a similar drinking experience to Champagne. But if you're wanting a Champagne-like drink that isn't sparkling wine, there are plenty of lighter, crisper, even more effervescent beers that would be far superior replacements for celebratory drinking.
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Infinium isn't the only beer the Boston Brewery has sent to Hophead HQ. Also sampled lately were the Winter Classics variety 12-pack and the brewery's new Revolutionary Rye Ale.
The variety pack proved good, if somewhat frustrating. It includes Old Fezziwig, one of my favorite Samuel Adams brews, as well as the very good Winter Lager and Holiday Porter. But it's packaged with a couple of mediocre brews and, of course, two bottles of the flagship Boston Lager -- a fine beer, sure, but one that's been around for decades and isn't especially intriguing anymore.
The Chocolate Bock was very sweet and far thicker than expected, with overpowering cocoa taste that makes it seem something like a marriage of Negra Modelo and a mug of hot chocolate; it needs more of the roasty bitterness at the finish to balance it. The Holiday Porter also has some chocolate notes, though far more subdued, with a just-thick-enough, not overly luscious body and an interesting blend of earthy hops and roasted coffee-like bitterness at the finish. The White Ale (formerly the spring seasonal) was a decent witbier, with very pronounced spices. The Winter Lager is very good, malty yet dry with notes of cinnamon, orange zest and ginger and a crisp finish -- it would make a great winter session beer. Best of all was the winter warmer, Old Fezziwig. It's a nice deep amber-ruby color with a tan head. Spices like cinnamon, clove, ginger and orange peel are noticeable but not overwhelming, and the body is just on the thick side of medium. Why it's not available on its own as a six-pack is beyond me.
The Revolutionary Rye Ale is a fine rye beer, with more rye spiciness than, say, Real Ale's Full Moon Pale Rye. The spicy, bitter rye and hops aren't quite balanced by the caramel malts, but there's a good contrast between the initial roasty sweetness and the dry finish. It's good, but not what I'm in the mood for these days. The beer is intended to be a transition from winter to spring beers, and I can see it being more appealing then. But even without having tried the Belgian-style IPA "Sample A," Samuel Adams' other option in its Beer Lover's Choice contest to determine which will be included in the American Originals variety pack in January, I think I'd have preferred it.