When you hear the name Samuel Adams you might not think “craft brewery” or even a brewery that pushes boundaries with new things that we haven’t seen in beer before, but the reality of it is that they are some of the “O.G.’s” of the craft brewing scene and have been pushing boundaries for decades. Founded in 1984,1 The Boston Beer Company (or as it’s more commonly called, Sam Adams) went from producing 63,000 barrels a year in 1986 to 1.2 million ten years later, which was still a veritable drop in the bucket compared to the big breweries like Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing. Craft breweries however were exploding onto the scene in the 90s, with over 500 breweries opening their doors by 1995 and double that by 1996.
With all the new competition, Sam Adams was trying new things that hadn’t been seen on the market before, which included their limited production Triple Bock. An experimental beer that was only brewed in 94, 95 and 97, its first vintage had the highest ABV up to that point at 17.5 percent. The brewery describes it as almost more of a port wine than beer, using Tettnang Hallertauer Noble hops, two-row Harrington and chocolate malts and two different Samuel Adams yeasts. This was the breweries first forray into extreme ABV beers, to be followed up by Millenium in 1999 and the Utopias, first released in 2002.
With such a high ABV, the Triple Bock was a prime candidate for something that wasn’t really heard of from beer before—the ability to be cellared and aged for long periods. While I doubt that they originally had almost two decades of age in mind, that’s exactly what we’re here to look at today. Having smoked many vintage and aged cigars, it was always a curious thing for me that I was smoking a cigar that was rolled when I was still in elementary school2, so again I find myself in that odd situation. The vintage I’m reviewing today is from 1995, which was the year I finished sixth grade.
Sharing this experience with Brooks Whittington and Charlie Minato, it was with some trepidation that we peeled off the seal and uncorked the bottle. Well, the truth is we tried to uncork the bottle, but after 20 years it had become brittle and the top half broke off. Without a corkscrew at our disposal, a knife was gently pushed into the cork to pry it out. Well, again – that was the idea, but instead the complete lack of carbonation caused the slight pressure to push the remaining cork into the bottle.3
Moving onward, we poured the dark, motor-oil colored liquid4 into our glasses. As previously mentioned, the complete lack of carbonation in the Triple Bock didn’t produce any head – unless you want to count the cork pieces floating on top as a stand in. Though I’m already getting whiffs of what’s to come, I tentatively bring the glass up to my nose and the potent aroma fills my nostrils with a strong raisin, fig and a slight sourness.
With as much of an odd and unpleasant aroma coming off of this beer, I was even more hesitant to taste it. Nevertheless, for you dear readers,5 I took the first sip which instantly filled my mouth with a bitter, almost to the point of being sour, rotten fruit flavor. As it looked motor oil-esque, it likewise coated my mouth in that flavor, with the unfortunate notes of saltiness, raisins, figs on the long and unfortunate finish. The mouthfeel is heavy, as previously stated, and the complete absence of carbonation leaves much to be desired. After suffering through several more sips to make sure I got the notes I needed, I gladly put the glass down with the majority of my pour left in the glass.