All photos by Kevin Gibson.
The new year had barely begun when Samuel Adams announced a pair of new seasonal beers for winter and early spring. The beer styles they chose are a tad surprising.
Back in 1988, the first-ever seasonal brew from Sam Adams (whose Nitro White won gold in the 2016 NY International Beer Competition) was a double bock, a traditional German spring release. But the two new ones for 2017 are far more subtle: Sam Adams Fresh as Helles and Sam Adams Hopscape.
I’ve always considered Sam Adams to be a brewery of restraint; even at times when the brewery being creative, there is accessibility in the recipe. These two brews are right in that wheelhouse.
Hopscape, which is available now, is in a similar ballpark with its easy accessibility. This one is hazy yellow with a thin, white head like many wheat beers, and that familiar grassy note is present in the aroma. But four West Coast hops — Chinook, Citra, Centennial, and Zeus – have their say as well.
What sets this one apart from a traditional, easy-drinking American wheat beer is that the hopping adds some crunch to what otherwise would be a soft presence on the palate. In this one, the brewers show some real restraint, focusing on the hop flavors, and leaving just enough bitterness on the finish to give the beer a bigger presence.
Fresh as Helles, which is still a few weeks from release, is a version of the traditional German beer that takes on a bit of a different form here. Brewed using Mandarina hops and orange blossom petals, what is normally a straw-colored beer pours to more of a slightly hazy, golden-copper color. The orange blossom emerges immediately in the aroma, with the citrus notes almost conjuring a session IPA.
But the body and flavor are more helles, with a smooth mouthfeel, a bit of crisp carbonation, and an easy finish with just a hint of the bitterness from the Mandarina hops. This one has a bit more of a malt presence which add a touch of sweetness thanks to a blend of two-row malts with honey.
Now, all that said, I would never call this a “flavored” beer, such as of the Leinenkugel ilk. It is accented by its ingredients, but is primarily just a refreshing change-of-pace beer that will tantalize but not challenge your palate. In short, this is one you could easily share with your mom, for better or worse.
Either of these beers could serve as a nice bridge for the uninitiated to venture into more flavorful or hop-forward brews. Which is to say, if someone orders a Blue Moon, you might be able to persuade them to try either a Hopscape or Fresh as Helles as an obvious next step. Which no doubt was Sam Adams’ idea from the get-go.
Hopscape will be available nationwide through February, while Fresh as Helles will be available nationwide in March and April. Both will be sold in six-packs and 12-packs, as well as in 16-ounce single-serve cans.