Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dark Depths Baltic IPA – Samuel Adams

Samuel Adams, or rather The Boston Beer Company is the largest craft brewery in the country and the 5th largest brewery in the US once the major commercial breweries are included.  They have brewed a wide range of beers, ensuring that they have something for everyone.  In that spirit they brewed their Dark Depths Baltic IPA, a Baltic porter with overt hoppy character of an American IPA.  Before going onto the review, how about a bit of background on the brewery?

Jim Koch, one of the three founders of the Boston Beer company, comes from a long line of brewers.  For five generations beginning in the 1800’s the first born son’s of the Koch family were brewmasters, including his father.  The orginal recipe for Samuel Adams Boston Lager was developed in 1860 in St. Louis, Missouri by Louis Koch and was sold as Louis Koch Lager prior to prohibition and after until the early 1950s.  As Maureen Ogle points out in her excellent book Ambitious Brews, American tastes had taken a turn towards the bland post-Prohibition with even big breweries finding that they could no longer sell a full flavored lager to the American public.  As the big breweries switched to lighter flavored lagers the breweries that produced hoppier brews went under.

By the time Jim Koch was deciding on a career path, his families brewery was long closed and the American demand for a bland product had overtaken the market (not that I blame the big three for it, they were merely responding to American demand).  The original 1860 recipe was all but lost until Jim Koch found it in his parent’s attic.  Prior to starting the Boston Beer Company, Jim Koch was a homebrewer. 

In the early 80’s, armed with his secret family recipe, he realized that he could brew a high quality, full-flavored beer that the American public would enjoy.  Sure, in the early 80’s it was a small niche but he believed it still existed; and the rise of craft breweries during the period proves that at least a subsection of the American public was ready to return to a more flavorful brew.  At the time Jim Koch was a consultant at the Boston Consulting Group, and along with two other Harvard graduates, Harry Rubin and Lorenzo Lamadrid decided there really was a future in craft beer.  By December 1984 they had founded Samuel Adams, which would become the Boston Beer Company.  In April 1985 they officially rolled out Samuel Adams Boston Lager.  At the Great American Beer Festival that year it was voted “Best Beer in America”.  By the end of 1985 they had sold 500 barrels of Boston Lager and expanded distribution across Massachusetts, into Connecticut, and exported to West Germany.

In 1995 The Boston Beer Company went public, selling shares on the New York Stock Exchange.  Fast forward to 2012 and Sam Adams Boston Lager is on tap or available in bottle at almost every bar in the country, even the bars that only have products from the big three as alternatives.  Their current lineup is 56 beers including the original line, seasonals, the brew master’s collection, the barrel collection, specialty beers and limited release beers.

The philanthropy of the Boston Beer company is legendary.  They have a history of selling excess ingredients at cost to other craft breweries.  In 1996 they began the LongShot brewing competition which ran again in 1997.  However, beer drinkers weren’t ready and the program was put off until it resurfaced in 2006.  In 2008 they rolled out their Brewing the American Dream program focused on providing the financial backing and training required for aspiring individuals to start and sustain their own small business.  The strong support that they show for brewing and fostering the growth of small business is a sign of their commitment to corporate stewardship and they deserve a lot of credit for it.

I could go on, but you are here for a beer review so lets move on to that.  On Beeradvocate, Dark Depths has a score of 85 with an 82 from the Bros.  Over at ratebeer it has a 95 overall and an 81 for style.

They say:

Dark, and fierce, this English porter was transformed, from a mild ale to a dark and complex lager that confounds definition.   Immersed in dark, roasted malts and a bold citrus hop character, these big and contrasting flavors are brought together with the smoothness of a lager for a brew that’s rugged, mysterious, and full of flavor.

Baltic Porters date back to 18th century when the English style was exported along the trade routes of the Baltic Sea.  However, the beer that took hold there was different than its English original.  The new Baltic Porter retained the dark roasted malts but was higher in alcohol and used a lager yeast, common to the region from other beer styles.  India Pale Ales have a similar history as they took the basis of an English Pale Ale and were strengthened and fortified for the journey to India.

In creating Dark Depths we began with the idea of the Baltic Porter, using dark roasted malts like Munich and Carafa that added a deep espresso character.  To this base we added the bold and citrusy hop character of an IPA.  The combination of American, Australian, English, and German hops give the beer a layered hop complexity with notes of grapefruit, orange, floral, and earthy pine.  The lager yeast and cold fermentation brings together the rich malt and spicy hop flavors and adds a smoothness and balance to the brew.

Flavor: This beer has a lot of hop complexity with notes of orange citrus as well as earthy, herbal, and floral flavors and a big spicy character.

Color: Dark mahogany, 60 SRM
Original Gravity: 18.5° Plato
Alcohol by Vol/Wt: 7.6%ABV – 5.9%ABW
Calories/12 oz.: 254
IBUs: 55
Malt Varieties: Samuel Adams two-row pale malt blend, Caramel 60, Munich, Carafa I
Hop Variety: Zeus, Ahtanum, Saaz, East Kent Goldings, Topaz, and Simcoe hops
Yeast Strain: Samuel Adams lager yeast
Availability: Year round
First Brewed: 2012

I say:

                Dark Depths poured a translucent dark mahogany with a thick creamy tan head that held terrific retention and left excellent lacing in the glass.  The aroma coming off the glass and out of it during the pour were overwhelmingly citrus.  This “Baltic IPA” was bursting with orange, tangerine, and floral hop aromas.  However, this is definitely not a beer to confuse with a Black IPA, sometimes called a Cascadian Dark IPA.  The Baltic IPA also has the strong roasted, caramel and coffee malt backbone of a Baltic Porter.  The aromas are extremely well balanced and slightly confusing because they contain the best of both an IPA and a Baltic Porter.

                The flavor was equally complex.  It had equal parts orange citrus notes from the hops and roasted/coffee notes from the malt.  It was surprisingly smooth with hints of spice and bitterness from the hops.  It finishes smooth, full and almost velvety.

                Dark Depths is an excellent beer!  It does not fit into any of the current BJCP or AHA styles, but in the end is that really a requirement for a beer to be exquisitely brewed and delicious?  Shouldn’t beer be an art form where creative expression is rewarded?  I may not be a fan of Sam Adam’s Boston Lager, their flagship beer (although to be fair, I haven’t had a pint of it in almost 8 years), but Dark Depths is truly a great beer and if you can find it near you, you should definitely pick up a bottle!

 While you are at it, check out this great interview with Boston Beer founder Jim Koch:

                That’s all for today, check back on Friday for another review, likely on either Founders Frangelic Mountain Brown or Oasis from Tallgrass Brewing.

                Happy Drinking!!

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