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99 Bottles

Amber ambrosia

Tröeg’s limited Nugget Nectar is richly deserving of yearly frenzy

Tröeg's Nugget Nectar. (Steve Greenlee/Globe Staff) Tröeg's Nugget Nectar.
By Steve Greenlee
Globe Staff / February 19, 2011

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Behold: Nugget Nectar has arrived.

Nugget Nectar is a so-called “imperial amber ale’’ made in Harrisburg, Pa., by Tröeg’s Brewing Co. Despite its immense popularity, Nugget Nectar is brewed only once a year, so once it’s gone from liquor store shelves, it’s gone for a year.

Its devotees take pains to make sure they get some before it runs out. Message boards on BeerAdvocate.com have been filled with posts in recent weeks by people wondering if the prized ale has landed yet. Queries were posted with the kind of breathless excitement one would expect from a UFO fanatic watching the aliens land at Devils Tower. “Any updates on Nugget Nectar in the Boston area yet?’’ reads one board, which is peppered with comments about which liquor stores are getting six-packs and which bars are putting it on tap. When the beer finally hit stores in the city and on the South Shore a few days ago, the board lit up with sightings across the region.

The frenzy has increased gradually in the five years since Tröeg’s started brewing Nugget Nectar. “It certainly caught us off guard,’’ said Chris Trogner, who co-owns Tröeg’s with his brother, John. “You can’t guess what people are going to love.’’

But is the beer’s popularity a result of its limited availability? Or is it really that good? Let’s have a taste.

An extreme version of Tröeg’s HopBack amber ale, Nugget Nectar has a striking color that’s somewhere between orange and copper. The beer pours with a small head that quickly dissipates but leaves some nice webbed lacing sticking to the glass. The aroma is that of a West Coast IPA, with a blast of hops and alcohol. As the label indicates, a fistful of hops — five varieties of them — hit you in the first sip, along with notes of oranges, grapefruits, and caramel. While the beer is bitter, it’s not one-dimensional. It has a smooth and warming finish, with just enough earthy malt character to distinguish it from an imperial IPA.

No question, this is the best amber ale I’ve ever tasted, and it’s no surprise that it’s one of the most sought-after brews in the Northeast. All of which prompts another question: If the beer is so popular, why not brew it year round?

The answer: Tröeg’s doesn’t have the capacity to make more — yet. The company is building a new brewery that should be running by fall.

“We hope by next year we should have more Nugget Nectar,’’ Trogner said.

He’s not the only one.

Tröeg’s Nugget Nectar. Style: Amber ale. ABV: 7.5 percent. Price: $12 for a six-pack.

New Sam brews

The Boston Beer Co. has unleashed a new 12-bottle variety pack, and it includes a brand-new beer from the venerable brewery in Jamaica Plain.

The Samuel Adams American Originals pack features the new Revolutionary Rye, which is brewed with rye as well as roasted malt, giving it a mildly spicy character. The choice of a new beer was left to consumers — drinkers across the country were asked to vote between the rye and a Belgian IPA. The voting was decisive: Revolutionary Rye took 63 percent of the vote.

After trying a bottle of the rye, I wish the vote had gone the other way. Revolutionary Rye is a perfectly fine beer, but it’s too similar to other brews in the Sam Adams stable. Reddish brown with a small head and a nose of toasted malt, it looks, smells, and tastes a lot like Sam Adams Boston Lager, perhaps with more breadiness and a bit of pepper. It’s a good beer, but there’s certainly nothing revolutionary about it.

The American Originals pack includes a solid lineup of Sam Adams beers: the Boston Lager, Scotch Ale, Irish Red Ale, the White Ale (a Belgian-style witbier), and Noble Pils. How Scotch, Irish, Belgian, and Czech beers qualify as “American originals’’ is unclear, but we’ll take them — especially the Noble Pils.

The Noble Pils debuted last winter but proved to be a great summer beer. Light and crisp with a low alcohol content (4.9 percent), it’s the kind of beer you want at a cookout or by the pool.

This pilsner is brewed with five so-called noble hops — central European varieties that are high in aroma and low in bitterness. They rear their heads here. For a pilsner this is a hoppy beer yet not at all bitter.

Straw yellow with a fluffy head, Noble Pils is well carbonated. Tiny bubbles continuously rise to the top of the glass (a Sam Adams lager glass helps). Smooth with a mild hop bite, this beer won’t be mistaken for an IPA, but it won’t be mistaken for a run-of-the-mill pilsner either. Noble Pils is the style perfected.

Samuel Adams Revolutionary Rye. Style: Rye ale. ABV: 5.45 percent. Price: About $14 for a 12-bottle variety pack that includes two bottles of each beer. Samuel Adams Noble Pils. Style: Bohemian pilsner. ABV: 4.9 percent. Price $9 for a six-pack or $14 for a 12-bottle variety pack.

Steve Greenlee can be reached at greenlee@globe.com.