UPDATE: The Sam Adams Winter Classics pack has gone through several iterations through the years… when the review was first written, these were the six beers, however the Classics for 2011 now includes Holiday Porter, Chocolate Bock, Old Fezziwig, Winter Lager, Boston Lager and the very new Black and Brew Coffee Stout. Prior retirees from this sampler include Samuel Adams Cream Stout, Samuel Adams Light, Vienna Style Lager (circa 2002 or 2003) and the Pale Ale & Boston Ale (reviewed here).
While hosting a recent holiday party, Belly Buddy Mark Higgins gave me what I would consider one of the best presents I could get- a naked lady bottle opener. Not that my wife agrees, but I thought that was pretty special. And as if they were thinking ahead, Belly Buddy Dave Lauterbach brought a case of Sam Adams Winter Classics.
This seemed like as good a time as any to write up our opinions of the 6 brews included in this festive case, so we all grabbed the naked lady bottle opener and a beer and went to work.
While there were several good brews included, the one I whole-heartedly DIDN’T like was the Old Fezziwig Ale. I have to admit, from the start I wasn’t expecting that much out of it- the label said “brewed with cinnamon, ginger and orange.” Sounded like an exotic tea… and it pretty much tasted that way. Sorry Jim Koch, but this beer doesn’t fit in with the fine variety of beers Sammy A generally offers.
Quite honestly, the first thought that crossed my mind after tasting was “Nyquil.” And I made sure my palate was clean, too. I even attempted a second taste- and it didn’t get much better. Maybe my taste buds have been dulled by years of Bud and Coors Light- I don’t know. I do know that this ale wasn’t very appealing to me. I’m really not into the “fruity” beers.
Along the same lines, I didn’t go for the Cranberry Lambic… I had tried it several years ago in the Sam Adams Brewery in Boston- a Mecca for all beer lovers- and wasn’t that fond of it either.
However, I will be as fair as possible. If you like a bold, fruity and strong tasting beer, Old Fezziwig is the one for you. When poured, it had a strong aroma, a deep amber color, and a great head! If your taste buds are sophisticated enough to pick out a pinch of cinnamon in a brew vat, go for it.
Another that I sampled in the winter pack was the Pale Ale. This was more my style of beer- I liked it. It was a more of a traditional ale- golden in color, with just enough “bite” to it. It had a fairly strong taste. Don’t be confused with the “Pale” name- the beer is rich in flavor. I didn’t find it dry like most pale beers- it was very refreshing. It’s also possible that, coming off the Fezziwig, warm Schaffer would’ve tasted good (Granpa McShea would kill me for that one). This was a very good beer.
I wanted to start with one of the two beers included in this case that I hadn’t tried in quite some time. After seeing Ed’s face when he sampled the Old Fezziwig, I decided to go with the other brew available only in this package… the Cranberry Lambic.
I should begin by mentioning that I’m not a fan of wheat beers- I always felt that they left residue in my throat… not so much an aftertaste as an afterthought that I had flem on my larynx. Call me crazy.
But when you add to that the slightly bitter taste that cranberries are known for, this Belgian lambic became a beer with no hope for redemption as far as I was concerned.
Disappointed, I later moved on to the Boston Ale (I had tried this before). This amber ale has a malty flavor which is a bit more spicy that most ales. I’m not sure I’d go all the way and call this “robust” as the bottle suggests, but it did something for me. Not definable as bitter or sweet, the aftertaste was pleasant. I had another.
I decided to try the Winter Lager. The label introduced it as “a dark wheat lager brewed with winter spices.” What the hell are winter spices? The first thing that came to mind were sugarplums dancing in my head. But realizing that sugarplums were in fact a candy and not a spice, I settled on the fact that it must be a combo of the same type of stuff in the Fezziwig Ale. It turns out I was correct, with the core spices being orange, cinnamon and ginger.
It takes on a dark red amber in the glass. With a wheaty malt taste, I felt it was a bit too bitter for such a dark lager. Perhaps too much orange & ginger and not enough of the sweet spices. I wouldn’t call it fruity like Ed calls the Fezziwig, but it definitely has a seasonal feeling… I wouldn’t drink this on the beach in the summer. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t drink more than one of these by a fire in the winter either.
After carefully watching the faces of the boys as they sampled these brews and used words like “bitter”, “malty” and “spicy”, I decided to grab the one I knew I could get down without a problem… Samuel Adams Boston Lager.
If you’ve never had one of these, get with the program. In a word, it’s good. In a few words, it’s rich and it’s the opposite of every other beer you may usually order on tap at a bar.
At the end on the evening, the cooler still held two Fezziwigs, two Cranberry Lambics and one Winter Lager. The rest of the Sammy A, as well as the rest of the beer supply, was gone.
Read Belly Buddy David Lauterbach’s review of the Michelob Winter Sampler Pack.