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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Sam Adams Brewery Morning Mash In Tour

Sam Adams Brewery Tours usually start at 10:00am and go until 3:00pm but if getting up early isn’t a big deal you can join them for what they call their Morning Mash Tour. They occur on Saturday mornings at 9:40AM and are by RSVP only and feature a special tour experience that includes a specialty tasting.

That sounded right up my alley so I registered a small group of us for the first Saturday I could get tickets for. There was a 5 week waiting time for tickets. When we arrived they were preparing for Octoberfest and we learned that our tour was the only tour that day. Our tour guide Eric handed out bottle labels which would serve as our tickets and he explained that later in the tour he would tell us how those labels could get us each a free beer glass.

While we waited for the remainder of the ticket holders to arrive we explored their showroom where banners for the Best Beer in America hung for many of their different brews. They also had all kinds of other interesting things like the anatomy of a beer can & the anatomy of a barrel. 

It was a very cool space and all it was missing was a bartender to pour us a pint or two while we waited.  One of the coolest things was the wall of a bottle beer. Each bottle represented their different brews that make up the Sam Adams Beer Family. It included everything from you IPA’s, Pale Ales, Rye Beers to your Wheat Beers, Stouts, & Porters. 

As all the other tour participants arrived he rounded us up at the mouth of a vintage glass-lined tank used in the “Bad Old Days’ of brewing. That vintage tank was the portal into the Brewery. As we were lead into the brewery Eric apologized for the Octoberfest preparations going on and explained that the tour would be abbreviated slightly as a result but that he would make sure we learned everything we needed to know.

Eric went on to explain that the brewery opened in 1989 and before it there were only 44 breweries operating in the United States who made nothing more thing light beers. Sam Adams opened in response and operated obeyed a German purity law that there were only four ingredients in beer. Today there are more craft breweries in the US than anywhere else in the world.

There are only four ingredients in Sam Adams’ Flagship brew; Boston Lager. Those ingredients are malted barley, hops, water and yeast. Eric then explained that the malted barley give the body, texture, color & sweetness of the beer. The hops give the beer its spice, aromatics & bitterness. The water gives it liquidity and the yeast makes it alcoholic.

When we brew beer there are special steps that Sam Adams does that most other breweries don’t do because of cost and time. All of the barley, and make a grist and put it in a mash ton where the water activates the enzymes and breaks down the starches and simple sugars creating mash. One of those special steps is next. They take extra barley and put it in the mash kettle where they boil it where the more complex sugars are unlocked which are left over by the yeast at the end giving the beer more body, texture, viscosity & ultimately flavor. Both are then blended together and filter them in the lauter tun where it’s filtered producing wort. 

That filtered wort is what they brew into a beer. They boil the wort for roughly 90 minutes in a copper vessel where the wort is purified. They add the second ingredient called hops at this stage. It gives the wort its spice and bitterness. Its filtered, fermented and then its bottled, canned, and kegged.

In the fermentation tanks its fermented once. Then we pour 20% more malt/wort on the then dormant yeast which revitalizes yeast and a secondary fermentation occurs and then they crash the tank to leave more sugar. That creates a beer with more layers and complexity. It is for that reason that Sam Adams has won more awards than any other brewery.

Next we headed to the tasting room where they handed each of us a tasting glass as we entered the room. The tasting room was a large room with cafeteria style tables. We found a spot we liked and got ourselves settled in for the 4 different brews we would taste.

The first beer we tasted was the award winning Boston Lager. It started the craft beer revolution and is the most award winning beer on the planet. It is brewed in pre prohibition style. They handed out pitchers to fill our sample glasses. Before handing those out he asked us to wait until he explained what to look, smell and taste for. 

Eric went on to explain that before beer is distribute they check every beer for a few things. First is visual. It should have a nice caramel and amber color. Next you check for clarity. It should be clear. All Boston Lager is filtered. Aroma is the third thing they check for. You should be smelling the pine/citrus smell from the hops. If you smell the hops that means its fresh. Fours is taste. It should have an even flavor with a nice viscosity. Boston Lager is a medium beer and should be a perfect balance of bitter and sweet.

Octoberfest was our second sample brew. It is heavier on the malt and less on the Hops making it a sweeter beer. The style was born in Germany 204 years ago at a wedding party for the crown prince of bravaria. The village people brought their beer and drank for 14 days. The following year they celebrated the wedding and repeated it the following year. It became a tradition and is known as Octoberfest in Munich Germany.

Every year a competition is held in Germany to decide what brewery makes the best Octoberfest Beer. In 2010 Sam Adam’s entered and won. It’s a little heavier in body and a little sweeter and has 5 varieties of malt including a Munich malt which gives it its distinctive Octoberfest taste.

Next Eric explained the unique perfect pint glass. In 2008 Jim Cook was in Germany to select hops and while there he stopped in a pub and picked an obscure style but the bartender wouldn’t pour one because he didn’t have the proper glass for that beer. Jim decided that he wanted to develop the perfect pint glass. It took 2 years. It features a specific design.

A bulbous shape called the hop aroma catcher. It bels back in at the top where it creates a ledge that holds the head. The head helps give off the proper aroma. That ledge helps suspend the head at the top of the glass. The inside lip of top is called the turbulator. It creates turbulence when you take a sip of the beer. The next feature allows the beer to stay cooler longer. It does this because the glass tapers in at the bottom and the glass is thicker. It’s double thick and reduces heat transfer. The final design element is at the bottom of the glass. It is there they create a nucleation site. That intentional imperfection is where carbonation bubbles will burst. Putting on at the bottom of the glass causes the beer to rotate and maintain the perfect amount of head.

He went on to explain that the beer label he handed out earlier if brought to Doyles where Sam Adams was first carried on draft. They will let you keep the glass if you order a beer if you provide the beer label.

Our third sample was Harvest Saison. It’s a French flavor/style of beer full of aroma. It has a distinctive clove taste and has a very malty aroma with a golden amber color. It was my least favorite one.

The Morning Mash In Tours gets one more sample. It’s a special beer called Fat Jack which is an Imperial Double Pumpkin Ale. He explained that it takes 28lbs of pumpkins to brew one barrel. I would describe the taste as sweet with a good deal of spice and a smokiness.

Before leaving Paul who I would guess is the manager got up and explained that as an apology for an abbreviated tour everyone would get a 2014 Octoberfest Beer Steins on the way out. With 28 ounces of craft beer consumed we made our way for the gift shop and picked up our complimentary beer stein. They graciously provided paper to warp our new glasses.

Typically this tour included a more in-depth explanation of the brewing process. Since it was cut short or more accurately accelerated to move us through so they could prep the brewery for the day’s festivities we got the opportunity to drink more beer in the tasting room. No one complained and it was a great experience. Eric our guide was both knowledgeable and very funny. His comedic delivery of the information created a light and playful mood that easily made every participant want to join him at the bar for another round. I don’t think the accelerated speed of the tour affected his delivery of the information. He was eager to interact with the guest and able to answer every question sent his way.

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