I'll say this right off the bat: I've always been a big Sam Adams fan. Maybe it's because I live in New England. Maybe it's because I've met Jim Koch. Maybe it's because they helped kick the craft beer movement into high gear. Or maybe it's because they brew beer that's just plain good. Whatever the reason, there will always be a space in my fridge reserved for Boston Lager.
A few months back, I wrote about our visit to the Sam Adams brewery, and the opportunity it gave us to take a peek behind the Sam Adams curtain. The brewers are always cooking up new recipes in their brew lab, trying out new hop combinations, dry-hopping techniques, beer styles, and more. If there's one thing Sam Adams has done well in recent years, it's keep up with trends. They had the foresight to launch their beloved "Rebel" IPA series just as the IPA craze began to take the nation by storm, and today those beers are counted among the brewery's best. That said, any craft beer aficionado will tell you that it isn't IPAs driving beer lovers to breweries these days--it's double IPAs.
So, needless to say, when Sam Adams reached out and asked if we wanted to sample their upcoming double IPA release, I couldn't have been more excited. Rebel Raw was first released last year and yielded very positive reviews. I had the opportunity to try it myself, and I was very interested to see what tweaks the tinkerers in the beer lab might have made to an already successful recipe. Before we go any further, let’s give Rebel Raw a little overview:
As you can see, the beer pours a beautiful golden-orange color, with just the tiniest hint of that New England haze many of us have come to know and love. It has a nice, frothy head--not too much, maybe two fingers or so--that releases a very pleasant citrusy aroma and settles fairly quickly. The character of the Cascade hops is very apparent in this aroma--mostly citrus, but a little bit floral as well.
The first thing that strikes me is how incredibly smooth this beer is, especially considering that it sits at a pretty aggressive 10% ABV. One of my primary concerns with last year’s iteration of Rebel Raw was that the flavor of the alcohol came through very strongly. Not so this year. As with any good double IPA, the bite from the alcohol sits on your tongue just long enough to let you know it's there before being washed away by the beer's more flavorful elements. There is also very little stick with this beer. One thing that sometimes pushes people away from New England IPAs is that they tend to coat your palate, lingering long after the final sip. Rebel Raw has none of that, and instead finishes crisp and clean.
That's the power of pine, and also the thing that stops this beer from being pigeonholed into the "New England IPA" category. This beer is almost an olive branch to the west coast, with the addition of the Zeus hops pushing a much more earthy, piney finish that I would have guessed from the aroma of the head. It's a really wise hop choice for this beer, allowing it to strike a beautiful balance between east coast citrus and west coast pine.
The beer's malt base is Sam Adams through-and-through, which should come as no surprise. Sam Adams is known for their Boston Lager above all else, and even in a double IPA the brewers just can't help but crank up the malt factor just a little bit. It gives Rebel Raw just a little bit of added richness that plays very nicely off the earthy, piney elements. While my personal taste generally falls more on the "juice bomb" side of the line than the malty side, it gives the beer a really interesting and unique personality. I'm betting you could blindfold me and I’d still identify this as a Sam Adams beer. Although it's only been around for a couple of years now, that familiarity makes Rebel Raw feel like an old friend.
Rebel Raw will make its way to shelves beginning on November 14, and a full list of states and cities where it will be available can be found here. The shelf-life of this beer is just 35 days, so if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a four-pack, be sure to drink it fresh! The brewers at Sam Adams have worked very hard to strike just the right balance of flavors, and letting the beer sit any longer risks throwing that balance out of whack.
Sam Adams asks you to "imagine burying your nose in a pile of fresh hop cones--that's the experience we want you to have when you take a sip of Rebel Raw." That's a good description. There are a lot of layers to this beer, and every step along the way will treat you to a different experience. From the citrus aroma that hits your nose the moment you crack open the can, to the fruity, malty balance that hits your tongue on the first sip, to the crisp, piney notes on the finish, this beer will take you on a ride. I look forward to grabbing a few more of these once they hit shelves, and I also look forward to seeing what next year's iteration will bring!
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