The Beacon#039;s brewery breakdown

by Beacon Staff • April 9, 2008

This past Monday, April 7, beer enthusiasts across the United States celebrated the 75th anniversary of the lift of the ban on beer after 13 years of national Prohibition. A full eight months before the end of Prohibition, this change to the U.S. laws was strongly encouraged by President Roosevelt, and highly embraced by the American public.

During the first 24 hours of the legalization in 1933, Americans consumed over 1.5 million barrels of beer, according to The Brewers' Association Web site. In honor of this historical date, breweries and bars nationwide will be holding special events and celebrations. Two of the most well-known breweries in Massachusetts offer free tours and tastings for the over 21 crowd just a few T-stops away.

The Boston Beer Company brews the popular New England staple Samuel Adams beers. Founded in 1984 by Jim Koch, the company has won at least 650 awards worldwide for some of their 17 different beers. The brewery in Jamaica Plain opened in 1988, three years after the Boston Lager debuted in a mere 25 bars in the Boston area.

A quick walk from the Orange Line brings you onto the Boston Beer Company property, where tours of the brewery occur every 30 minutes. The waiting area is full of trophy cases, memorabilia and televisions looping mini-documentaries on the history and merits of Sam Adams.

Before beginning, a $2 donation is requested, with proceeds going to a local charity. A tour guide then shows a six-minute documentary before bringing the group into the brewery, where he passes around plastic cups filled with hops and encourages everyone to taste them. After a walkthrough of the brewing facilities, everyone is carded and led into a room resembling a bar and the tasting finally commences.

The flagship beer of the Boston Beer Company is their Samuel Adams Boston Lager, an example of the popular American lager standard. Although the style is typically associated with nondescript generic beers, like college staple PBR, the quality of Sam Adams Boston Lager is far superior to that of many of its peers. The first thing that comes to your attention is the translucent amber color of the beer-much richer and deeper than any of its mass-produced counterparts.

"You should be able to see your fingers on the other side of the glass," said tour guide Andrew. "If you can't see your fingers through the beer, or if you happen to see fingers in your beer, you should send that beer back right away."

The aroma is pleasant but mild, releasing mostly caramel tones with only a slight infusion of hops. Well-balanced and well-rounded are the best ways to describe this beer-while there is nothing distinct about the brew, it is undeniably satisfying in its subtlety and simplicity. There is little to no aftertaste; while this may be a selling point for some beer drinkers, it is vaguely disappointing for others.

The next sample was Sam Adams' current seasonal offering, the White Ale, sold only in the early springtime and brewed with coriander, orange peel and grains of paradise. This abundance of spices is one of its most distinct qualities. It boasts a light golden yellow body obscured with a whitish cloudiness-wheat beers such as this are often left unfiltered of proteins and yeast, which causes this characteristic haze.

A burst of sweet and fruity flavors first finds the tongue, but its high carbonation teamed with hops keeps it from being overwhelming. Slightly unbalanced, the hops, spices and citrus carry it most of the way, with the malt mostly absent until the end. This tends to be the point of fruity wheat beers such as this. The White Ale is clearly an American imitation of a Belgian style, but unique in its own right.

The final taste was a Bohemian Pilsner, brewed in a limited batch as part of Sam Adams' Beer Lovers contest, and only available on draught at the Boston Brewery. Very light, as with the last two offerings: this pilsner releases a sweet, piney aroma with a bit of citrus, although not nearly as much as the White Ale. It has a very light, translucent yellow color-beer detractors might criticize its likeness to urine.

The first taste is remarkably hoppy, and each consecutive sip follows suit. The malt is only noticeable in the aftertaste, and remains isolated to the tongue while the hops flavor clings to the sides of the mouth. This is a beer for inexperienced beer drinkers who think they like hops, but aren't quite ready to indulge in an IPA.

The Harpoon Brewery, located on the waterfront in the Seaport District, was the first brewery to be issued a permit in Massachusetts to brew and bottle commercial beer in 1987. Realizing that the only reason most people go on brewery tours in the first place is for the free beer, the folks at Harpoon have tastings rather than tours.

During the tasting times, everyone is given a seven-ounce glass that is filled and re-filled by two "bartenders" with whichever of the nine varieties you shout out over the crowd. The bartender who also doubles as a tour guide introduces the beer, serves for twenty minutes, stops to give a more in-depth profile of each type, and then commences another twenty minutes of drinking. There is no limit to how many times you can fill up, and it's a first-come, first-served basis at the bar, so it is up to you to throw them back.

Harpoon's seasonal offering is an Irish-style Red Ale. The Hibernian-after the Romans' name for Ireland-does not give off much of an aroma, but pours a beautiful amber. The flowery tones of hops rule the aftertaste, and it could easily be described as a more distinct, robust and flavorful version of the Sam Adams Lager.

The India Pale Ale came into being when beers from England were infused with extra hops that were intended to act as a natural preservative to help the beer survive the long trip to India. Harpoon's IPA is the most popular in New England, and accounts for 65 percent of their sales, according to the tour guide. The flavor is undeniably hoppy, as IPAs should be, but it is hardly overwhelming; the flowery tones of hops seem to balance out their own bitterness more than the malt does.

Every few months, to break up the monotony of brewing the same beer every day, Harpoon selects an employee-past or present-to brew 100 barrels of anything they'd like. The 100 Barrel Series brews are available only for a limited time, and once the 100 barrels are all gone, these beers become only memories to those that tasted them. The current offering, Steve Stewart's Firth of Forth Ale, is a twist on traditional Scotch Ale made with American ingredients. Its mahogany-amber color gives way to a smoky aroma of hops that is pleasantly light and unobtrusive.

Harpoon recently stumbled upon one last barrel of their previous offering, a Weizenbock, which they were gracious enough to offer to their visitors this time around. Although not traditionally a bock-bocks are usually made using lager yeast, and Harpoon only uses Ale yeast-this dark wheat offering is easily the most unique beer of the trip. A cloudy amber color, much darker than your typical wheat beer has an aroma that screams banana and cloves.

Next to the IPA, Harpoon's most popular beer is a wheat beer, cleverly titled UFO-for UnFiltered Offering. Similar to the Sam Adams White Ale, though without the overabundance of spices, UFO pours a cloudy yellow color. The first flavor is crisp and citrus.

Although the tastes and wallets of the average college student may run closer to Natty Ice and Milwaukee's Best there is n

o reason that co-eds should option out of the chance to expand their palates when it comes to the sixth and most potable food group.