Review Date 8/20/2003 Last Updated 4/16/2015
Way back in
1996, I happened to be working in a liquor store in little old West Warwick,
Rhode Island called Mac’s Liquors. It was a really cool gig, and I
always enjoyed chatting and comparing notes with the steady clientele of
beer enthusiasts we managed to build up. One day, the owner came along and
gave me a few passes to an upcoming event being sponsored by the Boston
Beer Company, brewers of the Samuel Adams line of beers. Several
new beers were being introduced, including Samuel Adams Summer Ale.
This was the first taste I had of Summer ale, and it was also the first time I got to meet Jim Koch, founder of the company and a true pioneer in the beer world. Koch has worked hard over the years to make the Sam Adams brand a household name, and in the process has introduced countless legions of beer drinkers to the wonderful world of craft brewed beer. Over the years, Boston beer has covered just about every imaginable style, and even thrown a few variations on the classics at us. Such a beer is Summer Ale.
Samuel Adams Summer Ale was also introduced. This brew was probably the least flavorful of the lot, but being a summer ale I can see where it would be quaffable on warm summer evenings. Made with lemon zest (peel) and Grains of Paradise ( a West African Spice) the beer claims to be a Belgian inspired Wit but is not even close to that style.
The beers were served with a buffet consisting of entrees prepared with Sam Adams beers, most notably the new selections. Most notable was pork tenderloin marinated in Cherry Wheat. The sweetness of the Cherry Wheat came through quite nicely.
In addition to sampling these beers, I got to meet Jim Koch
for the first time. He is an amiable, pleasant man, and I spoke with him at
length about several topics. He seemed rather shy, but went out of his way
to express the fact that he could not have gotten to the point where he is
today without the help of the retailers who sell his product. He did not
come off as the "sheister" he has been labeled as by some, and seemed
sincere about his efforts to bring quality beer to the US. Neither did he
claim all the credit himself, instead he stressed the role of ALL craft
brewers in the beer revolution.
Samuel Adams Summer Ale is a loose interpretation on a Belgian Wit (White). Since the introduction of Summer Ale, Boston beer has also produced a more authentic Wit, Samuel Adams White Ale. Wit beers get their name from the color of the beer, which is pale and almost white due to the wheat content. Like Belgian Wits, Summer Ale is spiced, although with lemon zest instead of orange peel and Grains of Paradise in lieu of coriander.
What are Grains of Paradise? They are a spice from West Africa that were a common seasoning used in beer during the middle ages. The spice adds a pungent, slightly bitter character to foods prepared using it. The bitterness makes it a natural for use in making beer, since it helps to offset the sweetness of the malt. Today, hops are used for this purpose, but Grains of Paradise still make a welcome contribution to Samuel Adams Summer Ale, imparting a unique and herbal flavor to the beer.
According to Boston Beer, Grains of Paradise are also reputed to possess aphrodisiac qualities. Whether or not this is true is debatable, but one thing is certain: plenty of beer fans do seem to have fallen in love with Summer Ale. It has been going strong since 1996 now and is one of Boston Beer’s perennial favorites. Sold from April to August, Samuel Adams Summer Ale recommends drinking the brew before October for freshest flavor.
Samuel Adams Summer Ale pours to a golden orange color with a thick creamy head and a tart lemony nose. The palate is crisp and refreshing with a crackery wheat body and lightly toasty biscuit like malt flavor. There are rather strong notes of tart lemon here, as well as an appetizing herbal spiciness.
The spices and the lemon intensify into the finish where their respective bitterness and tartness begin to emerge. There, they combine with the tartness of the wheat and a touch of Hallertau hop bitterness to make this a very, very quenching beer perfectly suited to hot weather drinking.
I think many people tend to drink this beer at too cold a temperature. That may seem natural for a summer brew, but the flavors really come out when the beer is allowed to warm slightly. Refreshing enough to be paired with most dishes, I enjoyed a bottle with Teriyaki glazed pork chops, fresh summer corn, and a baked sweet potato.
Update, July 13 2013: I've been enjoying Samuel Adams Summer Ale each summer since I typed the words above back in 2003. Most recently, I got a few bottles in the 2013 Beers of Summer variety pack, a 12-pack sampler that includes two bottles each of five other beers. The beer itself has changed hardly at all over the years, and tonight's glass is extremely refreshing with light malt and tart wheat underneath, sharp citrusy lemon peel, peppery spice, and grassy hops to finish off the whole affair. A very refreshing and delicious glass of summer.
Update April 16 2015: One of the great things about the Taco Mac Brewniversity program (and similar programs at other establishments) is that you get to try a lot of really neat and different beers. The drawback is that as you strive towards that next level of the program, you often miss out on the chance to revisit beers you've had before but know and love. Taco Mac knows this, and every now and then they bring back old favorites as a new credit. For the opening of baseball season 2015, we have an assortment of "Around the Horn" credits, and one of them is Samuel Adams Summer Ale. This beer is always a treat on tap, and the tart wheat laced with light malt, citrus peel, peppery spice and herbal hop bitterness at the last are just the thing for the dawning of warm weather. I very much enjoyed this delicious beer and at $5.25 for a brimming 20-ounce mug, who wouldn't?
And remember, try a new beer today, and drink outside the box.
*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.