Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Samuel Adams - Latitude Series (part 1)

No, my friends, the title did not lie to you.  Today's review will be for the whole Latitude 48 series from Samuel Adams.  OK, so it's not really a series, but for those of you unfamiliar with Samuel Adams Latitude 48, here's the scoop.  Samuel Adams Latitude 48 IPA is made with 5 different types of hops.  This summer, Samuel Adams was selling a "Latitude 48 IPA Deconstructed" 12 pack.  In this twelve pack the individual types of hops are given their own pair of bottles. 2 bottles of the "blend" and 2 bottles each of the 5 different types of hops used: Zeus, Goldings, Ahtanum, Simcoe, and Hallertau.  Whether or not you dig Samuel Adams or think they're "too big," this is a really cool idea and completely caters to the craft beer community.  There is no other place I would be able to easily sample this many single hop beers and compare/contrast them so quickly.  Plus, this is a great tool for developing your palate and being able to single out flavors in future beers!

Two final notes before I pour.  I will evaluate the first beer (Ahtanum Hops) with my customary 5 categories: aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel, and overall impression.  However, since I assume many of the characteristics to be extremely similar (mouthfeel, appearance) I will not be reevaluating those for every single hop variation unless one of those differs from the others.  Wouldn't it be safe to assume the appearance and mouthfeel would be similar?  Well, we all know what happens when one assumes.

The second thought is that I may be drinking these beers a bit too late.  As is common knowledge in the craft beer community, time breeds passive hop flavors.  This was proven to me recently in my Hop Juice Black that had lost its bite since its purchase only 2 months ago.  Needless to say, that episode definitely increased the urgency with which I wanted to sample this variety pack.  I only hope I didn't wait too long again and spoil what could have been an otherwise excellent exbeerience.

Let's pour!

First up, the Ahtanum Hop:

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.

Aroma 9/12
As the head arranges itself, a strong aroma of molasses comes forward and then melds into hops as the head settles.  The hop aroma is more complex than I would have assumed for a single hop!  A grapefruit citrus is first (and bold), but eventually settles into a wonderful blend of citrus, floral, and light hints of grass.  Quite nice and a challenge to those who wish to naysay against Samuel Adams.

Appearance 3/3
This brew is becoming more and more impressive.  It pours a fiery, brilliant copper and a lasting cream-colored cap.  Little lacing and high clarity are also of note, but do not capture the attention like the prior mentioned characteristics.

Picture is my own.
Flavor 17/20
An initial assault of prickly carbonation makes it difficult to pick out flavors.  The beer does start out with the molasses from the aroma and some crystal malts.  The sweetness is brief and takes a back seat to our featured hop.  The hop flavor is almost nothing like the aroma.  The sweet, nuanced blend of the aroma is gone, and instead we are given a strong pepper and resin mix.  The pepper is primary to the resin, but both do allow an underlying sweetness that is more akin to caramel than molasses.  The backbone also features a slightly-higher-than average hop bitter.  A nice touch to see in the middle, when many lesser IPAs wait until the suds wash over the back of the tongue to relay their bitter notes.  The finish here is almost a lighter bitter than the backbone (odd!), but after a few moments a second wave of bitter comes and is a neat surprise when you thought it was all said and done.  Aftertaste is light, but bitter and lightly resinous.

Mouthfeel 3/5
As you saw earlier, I couldn't even wait until the appropriate section to note this beer's initially inappropriate amount of prickly carbonation.  It falls dramatically (and thankfully) throughout the bottle and eventually compliments the beer quite nicely and maximizes refreshment.  Speaking of refreshment, this is a bit heavier than I would have anticipated by being just barely over what I could consider a "medium body," but it is partly caused by the dramatic fall in carbonation.  It seems a narrow window in which to drink this beer, being either too carbonated or almost too flat.

Overall Impression 8/10
A surprising offering from Samuel Adams considering the amount of "poo-pooing" that is often aimed their way.  This beer proves that they are not too big to make good beer.  A wonderful, though far from strong aroma, superb appearance, and a substantial flavor all make this beer worth buying.  It is also a strong argument to seriously consider their next seasonal variety.

Total 39/50
Good for you Samuel Adams!  This beer alone should shut some mouths about you being "too big," and I haven't even gotten to the rest of the variety pack yet.  This is pretty impressive.  I'll admit, I too don't exactly dive into the cooler to snag a Sammy Light, but I would for this.  This is hoppy, tasty, and well made.

Next up: the East Kent Goldings

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.

Aroma 4/12
The initial aromas are not attractive at all.  This is funky.  It's a battle to tell if it smells more like boiled vegetables or the well water from your grandmother's tap.  Thankfully, that fades away eventually though not completely.  Eventually a very sweet malt smell arises from it that seems to include some honey.  Crystal malt is again present as is a light, fleeting "tea" aroma.  I neglected to mention the tea aroma in the first review since I thought it was just a brief misstep on my part.  It was not, as it was present in this beer as well.  Virtually no hops present in the aroma, unless they are responsible for the earlier funkiness.  Not a good sign in an IPA.

Appearance 2/3
Head is not nearly as generous (1 finger), but it does leave better lacing.  Clarity is also higher.

Picture is my own.
Flavor 13/20
Again with the distracting carbonation.  I had to let it warm a bit.  There are lots of pale malts of front that charge headlong into a backbone of light pepper, lighter floral, a faint sour citrus, and hints of smoked meat.  Notes of the funk show through, but they are largely kept in the shadows.  The smoked meat becomes a lot stronger in the finish and joins a bitter than is intense, but not particularly abundant.  The aftertaste is a bit smoky and more the bitter from the finish.

Mouthfeel 4/5
Still ridiculously prickly in the beginning, but more creamy overall.  It also seems to hold its carbonation toward the end of the bottle a bit better than the prior bottle.

Overall Impression 4/10
Unusual flavors presented in a mild way.  Tea aroma, peppery backbone, and smoky lingerings are an unusual combination to say the least.  However, this is not to say that it could not be done in an enjoyable combination.  This simply doesn't seem to be said combination.

Total 27/50
I can see this hop's place and unfortunately it is not by itself nor surrounded by crystal and caramel malts.  This could really add to a rauchbier or a other beers requiring a smoky/peppery styling and a concentrated bitter finish.  Looking back, I could probably name several beers that have utilized this hop that I thought were a bit unusual.  The hop has potential, but its setting is dramatically holding it back.

Third will be the Hallertau Mittelfrueh

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.

Aroma 10/12
Starting out strong with rich, bready malts this beer quickly transitions into caramelized orange rind and other sweet citrus tones.  This is quite nice.

Appearance 3/3
A bit more orange than its counterparts, with a good amount of lacing from only a finger-sized head.  Its clarity matches that of the Goldings hop.

Picture is my own.

Flavor 15/20
Again with the carbonation.  This is a bit more of a crisp opening than the last two with their heavy crystal malts.  It also doesn't provide the sweetness, leaving a bit of a flavorless entry into the backbone.  The primary flavors in said backbone are a rush of spicy and bitter, but calmed by a second wave of biscuity malt, a caramel, and a citrus backdrop.  In an unusual twist, it almost becomes salty while sitting in the mouth.  The finish is creamy and bitter with the aftertaste bringing out a bit of pine plus some some concentrated bitter notes, even if the bitter notes' abundance (again) is somewhat lesser.  A quicker sip refocuses on the  main themes of orange, caramel, and bitter flavors.

Mouthfeel 4/5
Initial carbonation aside, everything is par for the course and similar to the other varieties.

Overall Impression 6/10
An average offering.  It tastes like an overly bitter amber ale.  Granted, this ale has more orange and not just the straight amber malts (an nice twist), but an citrusy sweet (yet not tart/sour) amber ale nonetheless.

Total 38/50
OK, so I'm a little embarassed to say that I just discovered that the descriptions of the hops are on the backs of the individual labels.  However, I'm glad I trusted my palate because the flavors that are stated to be in this beer are not detectable at all.  The label claims flavors of lemony citrus (I'll allow that) and resinous pine.  There was no pine to be found in this bottle.  Granted, that could be confirming my fear that I didn't drink these IPAs soon enough, but I stand by my taste buds.  Whether I read it or not, the song remains the same: caramel, citrus, bitter.   In that order.

In closing, I find that I should deviate from my plan to review all six Latitude 48 varieties in one sitting. I feel that 3 of them at 6% ABV each on an empty stomach, is not only getting me a little bit tipsy (not a bad thing), but effecting my writing and ability to clearly convey what I am experiencing.  That said, this will be Part 1, with part 2 to follow in the near future.  As it stands currently..

Ahtanum: 39/50
Hallertau: 38/50
East Kent Goldings: 27/50

To be continued...

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