The Boston Beer Company knows how to assemble a fancy 12-pack. For years, the major micro known for its Samuel Adams beers has released a rotation of samplers under different themes. This year's Summer Styles variety pack includes two bottles of their popular Boston Lager and Sam Adams Light, along with the citrusy Summer Ale wheat, a very hoppy Latitude 48 IPA, and two brand-new efforts — the Rustic Saison (a Belgian-style farmhouse ale) and the East-West Kölsch. It retails for $13.99.
The Latitude 48 IPA (6 percent a.b.v.) is a great beer to session in any season. Crystal clear, light amber in color, and bursting with fragrant hop aroma and zesty flavors, it's delicious. The name refers to its unusual international blend of hops from Germany, England, and the U.S., all of which are grown close to the 48th parallel, known as the "hop belt" of the Northern Hemisphere. It's not over-the-top with bitterness, though, thanks to a balance from bold pale malts.
In this pack, the big treat is the Samuel Adams Rustic Saison (4.4 percent a.b.v.), a light, delicate rendition of the traditional Belgian "farmhouse ale" style. Made with a Belgian ale yeast, it boasts a mix of buttery, estery, and floral aromas, and some bready, green apple flavors. Less earthy and pungent than its Belgian counterparts, it's a refreshing and flavorful nod to the style. And the cool thing is you can only get it in the Summer Styles pack.
The biggest surprise of the collection is the crisp and malty East-West Kölsch. It's another 12-pack-only release. Brewed to resemble the German Kölsch style, it's as pale-golden as a pilsner but also has the fruitiness and biscuit flavors of lighter continental ales. Samuel Adams enhanced the flavor by aging the beer on a bed of Jasmine Sambac, a flower from Southeast Asia. They use a little malted wheat, too. It's a clever embellishment that complements the citrus hop character and grainy maltiness.
If the Samuel Adams' summer 12-pack is going for seasonal refreshment, Sierra Nevada's wild new Best of Beer Camp mix aims for huge flavors and full-bodied fun. The Northern California micro released the variety pack this month, with four varieties (three bottles each) per box.
The brewery's annual beer camp, hosted at its Chico, Calif., brewery, results in some interesting, one-of-a-kind styles created by participants. The weirdest beer of the set is the roasty Juniper Black Ale #16. At a hefty 8.2 percent a.b.v., the black beer is as strong as it looks. Its aromas are a briny blend of roasted malt, coffee, molasses, and cola (most likely from the juniper berries, which are normally the basis for gin). It's a big sipping beer with loads of malt goodness. These are definitely worth saving for cooler weather.
The Double IPA #29 (8.5 percent a.b.v.) is much, much hoppier, thanks to a massive dose of Sierra's classic Northwestern hops and a few new experimental hops. They call it a "classic West Coast IPA." It's surprisingly balanced, with a long, bitter finish. The accents are on the grassy, piney notes of the hops for sure.
Modeled after their neighbor-to-the-south Anchor Brewing Co.'s flagship Steam Beer, the California Common Beer #8 (6.5 a.b.v.) presents a fine balance of malt, hop, and fermentation flavors. It's a tough style to emulate (the caramel sweetness of the malts can easily overpower), but they nailed it with this drinkable ale/lager hybrid.
My favorite of the camper pack is the bold and yeasty Weizenbock #37 (6.8 a.b.v.), a wonderfully fruity and full-flavored version of the strong, unfiltered Bavarian wheat beer. Fermented with their own Kellerweis yeast, it pours cloudy and light brown with a fluffy, dense head. Banana, clove, and pumpernickel aromas are immediately detectable. It's creamy, thick, and smooth, with a warm finish, perfect for a summer evening when things start cooling down ever so slightly.
While seasonal and variety 12-packs are common, the breweries have upped the excitement level by including one-of-a-kind brews, which makes them worth checking out if you're in the mood for a unique session.