Monday, December 26, 2011

Samuel Adams - Infinium (2011)

They said it couldn't be done.  They said I'd never make it.  The odds were not in my favor.  Well, I'm here to tell you that I did it.  I turned 30 today.  I lived just long enough to make my parents feel really old and to sprout a few silver additions to my hairline (which is wonderfully intact, thankyouverymuch).  Days like today call for celebration, which is why I'll be breaking out a beer meant for celebration: Samuel Adams' collaboration with Weihenstephan called Infinium.  Quite a namesake to live up to and I hope it does.  Let's pour!

Aroma 10/12
Lots of citrus fruits in the nose, but not in a way that one is accustomed to having them presented.  There is quite a nice blend of tangerines, orange rinds, lemons, and what could be argued to be a near-pear aroma.  However, these are not the bright, sharp citrus notes that one finds in a fresh fruit.  Instead they linger in the glass as a dull sweetness that is not quite the flavors with which we are familiar.  It's like eating candy from a foreign country: it's sweet, you know it's good, but it is unusual.  A wonderful medium roast rises from the brew and as the head dies, more of rich caramel tone joins in and blends interestingly with the citrus.  This unique blend, plus the alcohol warmth only enhances it intriguing peculiarity.  As the beer warms, a slightly musty or straw-like aroma joins the fray and paints a more complete picture of the hops involved in making this brew.

Appearance 3/3
The champagne presentation is not uncalled for considering the contents within.  The head rises exuberantly like champagne and fizzes just as noisily at the top.  It dies fairly quickly, but is still impressive given the head-destroying nature of citric acids.  It even leaves some nice lacing on my glass - not something I was expecting from a beer that smells of fruit.  The carbonation is very busy on the inside and constantly rises in a single, centered column.  The shades of gold and orange in this glass are also foreshadowed in the packaging (which is gorgeous by the way.  I almost felt guilty opening it!).  The eye captures loads of honey colors, burnt oranges, rusts, gourd flesh, and when held to light is quite striking.  The ascending carbonation makes it appear vibrant & alive!

Flavor 16/20
The amount of malt flavor in this beer is impressive.  The first sip is a full load of the caramel malt that was first detected in the aroma.  The backbone has quite a bit of warmth exposed - this is not a beer afraid to tell you it means business.  However, it threatens to overpower the overall composition of the beer.  This backbone is an orange liqueur (but thankfully not nearly as orange-laden as a liqueur) and a big, round, occasionally salty caramel malt.  Now that isn't terribly complex, but the interesting nature of the combination makes it very worthwhile.  This is a very big beer and it can be difficult to be nuanced when this large.  The finish is a continuation of the backbone with no large changes.  The only change is extremely subtle.  It is a glimmer of bright citrus trying to poke through like a distant, shining star on a cloudy night.

Mouthfeel 4/5
There's a lot to talk about with the mouthfeel of this beer.  First of all, it's boozy.  Not always a bad thing in a beer, but in this beer it seems like the alcohol is trying (successfully) to be part of the flavor profile and not just an attribute of the beer.  It's not hot, but I think it comes closer than any other beer I've sampled.  Second, the carbonation is a very interesting choice.  Yes, the brewers are trying to mimic the effervescence of champagne, but it is quite a contrast from the big beer that contains it.  One normally expects a big beer to be a bit smoother and gently carbonated.  Infinium, goes the complete opposite direction, filling this beer with lively bubbles that foam up and fill the mouth when sipped.  The body is immense and smooth, and despite the large amounts of caramel malts it doesn't leave the mouth the least bit slick.  In fact, true to its champagne roots, the aftertaste is quite dry.

Overall Impression 7/10
This is definitely a sound, very big beer.  However, it has elements which make it not seem too large.  The carbonation is vivacious and delicate, the smoothness coaxes the beer down your throat, the citrus flavors are gentle, and the color is bright and cheerful.  On the other hand, the body is a behemoth juggernaut that could probably take over a medium-sized metropolitan area and while the warmth isn't strong enough to be a flaw, I feel that it covers up a lot of the details that I'm sure each brewer would want to shine.

Total 40/50
First things first, this is some of the most elegant, well-designed packaging I've ever seen.  It draws the drinker in and intimidates them in the same breath.  Second, I almost didn't make it to 31.  This cork POPPED, slammed into the ceiling and surprised the hell out of me when it did it.  Had I known it was going to make such an entrance I would've opened it around more family members and scared them as well.

This beer has many of the champagne's characteristics it seeks: wonderful carbonation, great aroma, drying aftertaste, and alcohol.  It also has many of the beer characteristics that it sought not to lose: large body, rich malts, dry-hopped aroma, sticky head, and overall character.  It's a great blend of two celebratory beverages!  My only complaints are thus:  I wish the flavor had erred more on adding a bit more bright citrus to balance out the heaps of caramel malt, and I wish the alcohol were a bit more camouflaged to let those flavors work their magic.  That said, this is a big beer on par with any of the other big boys in the market.

Probably more important that any other aspect of this beer is the "listening" behind it.  I'm glad to see that Jim Koch and the folks down at Sam Adams listened to their consumers' complaints with this beer and tweaked the recipe from last year.  That shows humility and a desire to satisfy the customer.  I think with another tweak or two, this beer will be at the level Samuel Adams and Weihenstephan are seeking: sophisticated, festive, and above all, supremely tasty.

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