Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Samuel Adams - The Vixen

I was very pleased to see these Samuel Adams bombers on the shelf.  It seems I see plenty of the seasonal variety packs & sixers, but rarely their big, fancy, limited engagement bombers.  These must be an exception because I saw these all over the place.  "Good on ya!" to Sam Adams for not only producing 3 gajillion different seasonals, but also these more risque offerings that aren't necessarily aimed at "the masses."  It's a beautiful thing when a brewery is not "scary" to the macro crowd, still caters to the craft beer crowd, can "evangelize" craft beer by giving the macro crowd new things to try, and be large enough to do this on a national scale.

Samuel Adams just might be the most influential craft beer brewer in America and not just because they're the biggest.  Think of the sheer number of people they have gotten to try craft beer simply by being available, reasonably priced, and approachable by the average beer drinker.  The last characteristic is one that was created out of the first two, but they earned it all their own.  Let's face it, to the uninitiated those big ol' walls of bombers and crazy looking sixers might be rather intimidating.  Grocers, have tried to help my making the "pick six" variety packs, but ultimately it's a big wall of beer that most folks have never heard of.  Enter Samuel Adams.  They look like a 12 pack, sit with the other 12 packs, but have a reputation for being a better beer.  The taste has the good fortune to be of high quality, yet not avant garde enough to scare away the macro beer drinkers.  Who knows?  Maybe next time they pick up one of the seasonals.  It's like the perfect gateway beer.  Keep on spreading the craft beer gospel, Samuel Adams!

Editorial over.  Today's review is for one of the aforementioned bombers entitled "The Vixen."  It's a good choice for Valentine's Day, right?  Course it's also a good choice because Samuel Adams recently got their own Twitter account (@SamuelAdamsBeer) and I never properly welcomed them.  Let's pour!

Aroma 10/12
Nevermind pouring, simply opening the bottle puts the perfume of chocolate in the air.  The sniff from the pour shows why.  There are gobs of dark chocolate galore!  As in "Did I just place my nose into a chocolate fountain?"  The strong chocolate fades slowly in conjunction with the head, allowing eventually a roasted caramel malt to briefly appear, and what seems to be a lemony hop!  Lemon?  I must be mistaken, correct?  Absolutely not.  It's strange when it first starts to become detectable, but as the head dies out almost completely, this beer settles nicely into an almost equal parts blend of roasted chocolate malt, caramel malt, and the sharper, almost sour note of the Hallertau hops.

Appearance 2/3
The beer is very dark brown/black in shade and shows glints the color of stained cherry wood when held to light.  The head was enormous on this beer (see above pic), but fizzled down a bit quicker than I thought it would considering its size.  Thea head is a nice tan shade and is creamy looking to the point where each bubble is nearly indistinguishable from the next.

Flavor 17/20
The slight bitter of roasted malt shows itself first and then the chocolate from the aroma can be easily detected on the tip of the tongue.  The backbone continues this blend, but rapidly shows itself to be more than meets the eye (or nose!).  From its roasted, chocolatey beginnings, the beer rapidly becomes spicy with cinnamon which tingles on the tongue.  By the way, the chocolate is still running full force.  After holding the beer a while in the mouth, the tiniest hint of heat is becoming apparent toward the back of the tongue and it makes a pretty awesome blend with the super-smooth chocolate.  The sour hops are present, but with such strong primary flavors one almost forgets about them entirely.  The finish is a insanely bold stroke of cinnamon across the palate before it melds with the cocoa nibs, roasted malt, a distinct warmth, and a faint amount of heat from the chili peppers.  Whether or not someone from a culture that enjoys spicy foods would be able to taste this heat is debatable.  However, being a gringo that enjoys heat, I can say that it is barely detectable in the finish, but lingers on in the aftertaste when all the other flavors have dissipated, which helps it stand out a bit more.  In fact, that's about all the aftertaste is: a continuation of the earthy cocoa nibs and the gently rising and falling of the chilis' heat.

Mouthfeel 4/5
The chocolate smoothness that gets to take over (at times) is very nice and something that a lot of good malts can bring to a good bock.  Much like the head, the carbonation is initially somewhat aggressiv, though never prickly, and then fades away when held in the mouth.  This "aggressive" sensation is somewhat abetted by the spicy cinnamon, which does come across as a bit heavy.  The abundance of malt smoothness plus the lightly foaming carbonation lend a light level of creaminess that seems welcome and not out of place for the style.

Overall Impression 8/10
I dig this beer!  It's LOADED with flavor and very unique ones at that.  It labels itself as a "chocolate chili bock," but it strays far from the bock style with its hop aromas, roasted malt, and lack of clarity.  That said, I don't really care about the "straying from the style" as much as I once did.  What I do care about is the rather abrasive cinnamon that yells at you to sit up and pay attention.  It enters loudly, causes a ruckus, and then leaves almost as abruptly as it came.  It's a great ingredient to include in this beer, but I should've liked to see it blend more harmoniously with the other flavors.

Total 40/50
This is a tasty, chocolate forward beer that I would not be afraid to drink again.  It's a unique experience and if you're looking for something different to try, then have I got a Vixen for you to meet.  I feel that the strong cinnamon held it back in several areas.  It interrupted the flavors instead of complimenting them and it lent itself to an aggressive carbonation.  I feel that this score should be higher given the beer's flavorful nature, but I stand by my ranking.  Samuel Adams has done to me what it has done to so many other drinkers - gotten them to try something new.  I've only had three other beers in my life that have had a chili in them (Rogue, Bent River, Cave Creek) and this one was vastly different than any of them.  The smooth, chocolate-laden malts, bit of chili heat, and alcohol warmth were definite highlights that allow this beer to be a lesser expensive bomber to share among friends.  I guarantee they've not had anything like it.  It all goes to prove their old slogan, "Samuel Adams.  Always a good decision."

And so it was.  Welcome to Twitter!


  1. Nice, I look forward to trying this one soon, as it's already in my fridge!

    Have you had Stone's 11.11.11 Vertical Epic Ale It's described as a "Belgian amber, and is tweaked with the addition of mild but flavorful Anaheim chilies from New Mexico’s Hatch Valley and cracked cinnamon sticks?"

    It was excellent and redefined the "Chili Beer" for me, in every way!

    1. I have two bottles actually. One to try and one to cellar. Looks like I'll have to break out that bottle sooner rather than later. :)

    2. My brother had this first and enjoyed it. I have one bottle in the cellar that I will probably crack open next month. This has just made me look more forward to it. I would open it sooner but I'm plowing through stouts this month.

      I also grabbed a bottle of the Stones 11.11.11 but I think I am going to sit on that just a bit longer.

  2. I cracked one of my bottles open last night and agree with your assessment... highly carbonated, very chocolatey and too much cinnamon! I look forward to aging the other bottle, to see how the chocolate and cinnamon flavors change over time... hopefully they back off a bit, because overall I though it was a little too sweet for my taste.

    It's been awhile since I had the Stone Brewing 11.11.11, but I think if memory holds... I liked it better. Maybe when I open my other 11.11.11, down the road, I'll try The Vixen again to compare them more closely.

    Thanks and let me know what you think of the 11.11.11 when you finally open it!

    1. You're not the only one to mention the 11.11.11. Looks like I'll have to move that to the "up-and-coming" pile!

      That said, if you (or anyone else reading) enjoy spicy beers you need to come to the Quad Cities (Moline, IL specifically) and try Bent River's Jalepeno Ale. It has more heat than any other beer I've had and is a definite sipper. You gotta try it at least once!

  3. Actually, there's a place down in Santa Barbara, CA called The Brewhouse that does a Habañero Pilsner, which was the hottest thing I've ever tried (and that's saying a lot)! It's served in a taster glass, because any more might burn a hole through you -- if you know what I mean... It was worth a taste (and maybe again, next time I'm in Santa Barbara), as it was extremely unique, but I'd never order it as a pint.

    Here's a photo I found: http://www.foodspotting.com/places/72684-the-brewhouse-santa-barbara-/items/159567-habanero-pilsner

    1. That's a rather intimidating pic! Of course, I should clarify that the local Jalepeno ale is the warmest beer I've had, but I've also never had the Ghost Faced Killa. My ulcers think that I should keep it that way.

  4. Wow! This beer sounds intense. Love the sound of the creamy dark chocolate malts and chilli warmth. I'm a sucker for cinnamon and spiced ales too so could probably look past its overuse. Thanks for the review, I'll see if any online UK sites are stocking it.

    1. Oh absolutely! If you love a more heavily spiced beer (like in some Christmas or Pumpkin seasonals), then this will be right up your alley. It's not a lingering spice, but it IS quite a flash.

      Having originated with a larger brewer, I bet this is one that might make it over to the UK! Good luck on the search!