New Brew: Sam Adams Rebel Rider Session IPA

photo by Paul Jones
photo by Paul Jones

Once upon a time, Samuel Adams (aka Boston Beer Company) was the pre-eminent craft beer brand. It made beers no one else was doing at the time and managed to find distribution all over the world.

Today, however, the old brands like Sam Adams Boston Lager seem passé to many craft beer enthusiasts. It isn’t that the beer is bad, just that craft beer has gone in a different direction, one that more or less mandates that it be hip, funky or otherwise weird.

In an attempt to reach that audience Sam Adams last year introduced Rebel IPA, a solid product with a branding look that was far removed from the brewery’s traditional style. And to follow that, Sam Adams recently introduced the sort of little brother to that beer: Rebel Rider Session IPA.

The idea of a “session IPA” is one that is debated in beer nerd circles. The premise is to offer up a beer that is lower in alcohol so that one can more safely drink two or three beers in any given “session.” Hey, some of today’s IPAs and double IPAs knock on the door of 10.0 percent ABV. Sometimes higher. You can’t drink many of those before you feel like lying down.

So, theoretically, a session IPA like Rebel Rider gives craft beer nerds their hops, while taking away some of the wallop. I get it – a beer with full, hop flavor but with roughly the same alcohol content as a Miller Lite.

But for some, a session IPA is little more than a diet IPA or an IPA light, and that flies in the face of what an IPA is generally meant to be. It’s kind of like when a vegan decides to eat vegan “wings,” which are usually seitan slathered in hot sauce. A carnivore would probably opine that, hey, if you’re going to eat a chicken wing, eat a chicken wing. If it’s soybean or seitan, just call it what it is. You’re not fooling anyone, you know?

That said, the ultimate bottom line for me when trying any beer is this: Is it an enjoyable beer to drink? Forget styles, labels and preconceived expectations, just give me a few swigs of the stuff and I’ll decide if I like it or not. It is still beer, after all, and beer is a wonderful thing.

Anyway, as a general fan of Rebel IPA and Sam Adams beers overall, I was fairly intrigued to see the bright blue packaging of Rebel Rider, which closely mimics the look of its red-clad big brother. I was also interested to see how the taste compared, so I grabbed a six pack.

My first impression when I poured the contents of one of the 12-ouncers into a glass was that the straw-yellow color was a far cry from the deep orange of Rebel IPA (or any other IPA, for that matter). That’s to be expected, as fewer malts go into a session IPA so as to reduce the sugars and resulting alcohol from the fermenting process. But the difference does leap out at you.

The second big notice was the aroma of the beer, which is grassy or hay-like. Interestingly, it smells very much like a rich pilsner. Not a bad thing, just not exactly what I was expecting. But anytime I can so readily smell the grains in a beer, I’m happy.

The flavor follows suit. In fact, to my taste buds, Rebel Rider tastes more like a hoppy pilsner than most of the session IPAs I’ve had. Again, that’s not necessarily criticism; the brewers use a two-row pale malt blend in the beer, which is also used in Boston Lager. So, assuming these ingredients match up, it’s no wonder I was getting that pilsner-y sensation.

However, Rebel Rider is also lightly hopped with Citra, Topaz, Cascade, Centennial and Simcoe, so the overall flavor profile takes on some subtly different notes, with just a bit of the expected citrus and pine one expects from an IPA, although these flavors are not terribly forward.

Bottom line, would I drink it again? Yeah, probably. It’s a crisp, refreshing beer with a nice presence.

Rebel Rider IPA also avoids the pitfall of some session IPAs I’ve had, which tend to taste like, for lack of a better term, “hop water.” Hey, to me a pale ale of any kind needs some balance. This one does a fair job at that, even though I still get some lager/pilsner qualities from the nose and flavor. My biggest complaint about Rebel Rider would be that the price point for a sixer is about the same as Rebel IPA and many other IPAs on the market.

All in all, I would give Sam Adams Rebel Rider Session IPA a positive grade, even if my first choice would still be to reach for a full-on IPA when my taste buds are in the mood for that kind of beer. But if you’re in a spot where drinking a sessionable beer is important – and you don’t want corporate light swill – you could do a helluva lot worse than this. (Note: There's also a Sam Adams Rebel Rouser Double IPA on the market. I'll be looking forward to testing that one out, too.)