Of-age beer drinkers of the last two decades have pretty much grown up on Sam Summer.
The first batch of Samuel Adams Summer Ale was released 23 years ago, and it quickly became one of Boston Beer Co.’s bestsellers, ushering in a seasonal approach that it’s hard to believe at one point didn’t exist. If you went to a New England backyard BBQ anytime after 1996 then you’ve almost surely seen a yellow can or bottle logo’d with a brewer-patriot floating in a cooler.
New for 2019 is an update: Sam Summer’s recipe is changing, to a “lighter and brighter’’ formula noted on the packaging. When I saw said labeling, I called brewery founder Jim Koch and asked him to explain further.
“For more than two decades, we haven’t changed the recipe,’’ says Koch. “We once brought in a different variety of lemons, but our drinkers quickly let us know they preferred the original. This is the first time we’ve made a meaningful change.’’
Last fall, Samuel Adams brewers started tinkering, brewing test batches in an effort to update the beer.
“We decided to update it only if we were blown away,’’ says Koch.
Apparently pleased, the team settled on a “juiced up’’ recipe with even more stuff, adding orange, lime, and lemon peels — as well as lemon puree — to the brew and re-balancing the other ingredients to make things lighter.
“We have seen our drinkers’ palates and preferences evolve — and so have ours,’’ says Koch. “During the hot summer months, we’re now drawn to lighter and brighter beers.’’
Koch is right that beer drinkers’ preferences are changing — I have a hard time sucking down IPAs or super malty lagers in an outdoor setting these days — but how did Sam Adams actually do with this one?
I recently cracked a couple cans of the new Sam Summer, keeping in mind my experiences pairing the classic recipe with hot dogs and watermelon and (when lucky) lobster. The new brew pours golden in a glass, with a few bubbles floating to the top (there could be more carbonation IMO). I smell orange and lemon zest and taste the same, that up-front citrus balanced by spicy grains of paradise, which is like a little shot of pepper.
Sam Summer (5.3 percent ABV) has always been an easy-drinking beer. The lighter recipe makes it more so, but the market has also changed, and something here still feels heavy compared with the fruited sours and ~ 4 percent ABV session brews (Lagunitas Day Time Session IPA, Harpoon Rec League) beginning to flood the market. You can bet I’ll explore some of those options in this space later this summer.