For as long as I can remember the Boston Beer Company, America's largest craft brewer and producer of the famous Samuel Adams range of beers, has had a policy of entering its products into as many competitions as possible, all around the world. With an astonishing array of beers - some 50 or so different styles - the company claims to have won more awards in international beer competitions than any other brewer in the world.
That success has been echoed here. For more than a decade the Boston Beer Company has sent Samuel Adams beers to New Zealand's annual international beer awards,emerging as the champion overseas brewery several times, including last year. Unfortunately for Kiwi consumers, great though the beers are, the only people that got to taste them were the judges. Until now.
At long last, three of the beers have made it to New Zealand.
The Boston Beer Company dates back to 1984, when Jim Koch brewed the first batch of Samuel Adams Boston Lager in his kitchen, using a recipe from his great-great-grandfather. Just one year later Sam Adams was selected as "The Best Beer in America" in a consumer preference poll at The Great American Beer Festival.
Having started by selling his beer door-to-door, Jim Koch opened breweries in Pennsylvania and Cincinnati. A publicly-traded company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, the Boston Beer Company now produces in excess of two million barrels of beer per year.
In October 1976, eight years before Koch brewed his first batch of Boston Lager, Jack McAuliffe set up America's first brewery of the modern era, in Sonoma, California. The New Albion Brewing Company failed in 1982 but the legacy of Jack's beer, a pale ale, lives on. A revived version of New Albion Ale was launched last year as a limited release, brewed by the Boston Beer Company. It's unlikely any will be sent to New Zealand. However, at last - and thanks no doubt in part to a favourable exchange rate - a trio of Samuel Adams beers have finally made it here - Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Boston Ale and Noble Pils.
Boston Lager is by far the biggest selling beer in the Samuel Adams range. The beer is brewed with two-row pale malts and caramel malt, and hopped with two classic German varieties, Hallertau Mittelfrueh and Tettnang Tettnanger. Traditional techniques such as decoction mashing, krausening and dry hopping are labour intensive but deemed essential in developing the beer's balance and character.
Darker, fuller bodied and bigger in aroma and flavour than most modern lagers, Boston Lager (4.8 per cent) pours a deep golden to amber hue beneath a bright white head. Floral hops are obvious in both the aroma and palate but in my sample bottle the sweetness of the lightly caramelised malt was blunted by a cardboardy, aged note. This tiredness was surprising given the bottle had a best-before date of November 2013. Although the beer's class and character still shone through, I hope subsequent batches make it here a little fresher.
Boston Ale pours an amber/bronze colour - just a shade darker than the lager - with an attractive, deep, cream-coloured head. English hops and a warm fermentation contribute an earthy, fruity complexity but the aroma is sweetish, with candy-like and caramelised malt notes dominating. Medium-bodied and notably smooth, the palate is similarly malt accented, with a suggestion of lightly toasted malt and fruitiness showing late and leading into a gentle drying finish. My sample bottle, which had a best-before date of September 2013, once again showed early signs of age, with the hops in particular somewhat subdued.
Samuel Adams Noble Pils was released in 2009 as a seasonal brew for spring but has since become a year round member of the range. Featuring all five "noble" hops (Hallertau Mittelfrueh, Tettnang Tettnanger, Spalt Spalter, Saaz, and Hersbrucker) from Bavaria and the Czech Republic, as well as pale and Czech pilsner malts, the beer is modelled on a traditional Bohemian pilsner.
Pouring a bright golden hue with a slight haze, it is the palest of the three beers. Honeyed malt and citrusy hops combine in the aroma and there's an early malt sweetness on the palate, but this soon fades as citrus and pine hop notes emerge and the hops gradually take control.
The drying finish is elegant, resiny and lingering and the overall effect is European and classy. Once again my sample bottle could have been fresher (the best-before date was October 2013), but I still enjoyed it.
With a recommended retail price of $19.99 for a six-pack of 355ml bottles, I reckon the Samuel Adams beers represent fine value for money.
As for me, I'm just delighted they are available here and can't wait for more of the range to join them.