If you’re currently someone who drinks beer, there’s a pretty good chance your first “craft beer” was brewed by Samuel Adams Brewing Company. After all, they sell beer in every state in virtually every fashion: at bars, in stores, at ballgames, pretty much everywhere you would consider purchasing a beer. Along with Sierra Nevada (I believe) they are the only non-megabrewers to currently run a fifty-state sales strategy.
Though Samuel Adams easily claims the title of largest craft brewer in the country, as the ads say it brews less than one percent of all beer consumed in the US. While the brewery is based in Boston, it’s unlikely we in New York City are drinking Boston beer: much of their capacity is located in Cincinnati (check your bottle). The recipes and quality control are duplicated everywhere, though, so if you boycott Boston, you can still drink Sam Adams!
Today’s post concerns the Noble Pils, the spring seasonal offering from Sam Adams in the Bohemian style, and — spoiler alert — it’s a very good beer. Basically there are two pilsner styles you’ll find on shelves and taps (neither of which is Miller Lite, incidentally): Bohemian pilsners originated in Pilsen, of the old Czechoslovakia, and featured a soft, clean reasonably bitter pale lager well-suited to the soft water in the region. Pilsner Urquell is the benchmark of the style, and it’s fortunately not changed too dramatically with ownership changes. North German pilsners are similar, but they are more bracingly bitter and highly carbonated. Jever comes to the city from Germany, and Victory Brewing in Downingtown, PA brews the excellent Prima Pils to this style.
So how does the Noble Pils stack up? For starters, the label proudly proclaims that it’s one of the few beers using all five Noble hops. These are hops that are traditionally grown in Europe for the locally-brewed beers, and traditionally are used mainly as bittering hops, not flavor or aroma; the pilsners and lagers of the region tend to be flavored more by the grains used in brewing, with that bitterness on the palate and on the finish. Only a little of the aromatic compounds in the hops survives the long boil to produce aroma and flavor. Honestly, there’s not much call for using all the noble hop varieties — they say “all five,” but last I checked there were only Saaz, Spalt, Hallertauer, and Tettnang — at once, except to use in marketing. Draw your own conclusion there.
Samuel Adams Noble Pils pours a brilliantly clear pale gold, topped by a thin white head of tiny, packed bubbles. My nose is greeted by a faint grassy, herbal aroma, scrubbed clean of anything else but a side of thinly sweet, grainy notes. As expected, Sam Adams has brewed a flavorful, sessionable beer (5.2% alcohol by volume): like any good pilsner, the Noble Pils is awash in fresh-mown grass, minty-herbal flavors, and a little questionably, a significantly sweet malty backbone carrying everything across the tongue. No fruitiness spoils the taste. The high carbonation creates a rather thin mouthfeel; viscosity isn’t exactly appropriate, so this is a Good Thing. The pleasant background bitterness coating my mouth is followed into the finish, drying out my throat for the next sip.
Overall, I do like this beer and hope it returns, or better yet goes year-round. Noble Pils works as a solid, thirst-quenching lager perfect with food, as it’s not particularly complex or assertive. It’s not as soft and mellow as a Pilsner Urquell, but it doesn’t knock you over with the massively bitter hop doses of the Prima Pils. The level of care that seems to have gone into brewing this beer is reflected in the quality of the finished product.
I purchased this six-pack to make a long weekend in Florida bearable; it succeeded in this endeavor. There I paid $8, though it’s typically another dollar or so here. Most grocery stores carry Samuel Adams, so it’s really about finding these special releases. I know there are beer nerds who disparage anything brewed by Samuel Adams, but there’s no need to slam a brewer’s entire lineup just because they succeeded enough to become huge (though there are plenty of Sam Adams beers I find repulsive). The Noble Pils typifies the brewery: make a solid core of year-round beers, and periodically let the brewmasters show off their brewing chops and This beer, fortunately, case, it happens to be well-made and worth finding.