The New England beer scene is booming, and Vermont ranks 1st in the nation for breweries per capita and beer production per capita as of 2016, according to the Vermont Brewers Association. And a recent article in The Atlantic explored some of the reasons for this recent craft beer boom, including the regulated three-tier system and ever-changing consumer tastes that the large consolidated beverage companies like MillerCoors and ABInbev are having a hard time fulfilling.
Last week, we came across this New York Times article titled “Two Big Brewers try to Cash in on the IPA Craze“. The article covered Sierra Nevada’s new “Hazy Little Thing IPA” and Samuel Adam’s “New England IPA”, both of which are new releases and intended to be “hazy and hoppy” like the classic Vermont IPA.
In fact, the New York Times sought out the opinion of Stowe’s very own John Kimmich, owner of The Alchemist Brewery and famous for production of the cult favorite Heady Topper Double IPA. Depending on who you ask, Heady Topper defined and kickstarted the Vermont beer scene, drawing fans from across New England into the small Vermont towns in search of the fleeting silver cans.
After a thorough reading, we felt it was time to give these beers a shot. We started with the Samuel Adams New England IPA. Here are our thoughts:
Packaging: Following the current trend, Sam Adams goes with the 4-pack of 16oz cans. Its a classic look for a craft beer, with a big bold “IPA” feature and then the Sam Adams logo imprinted in the middle. It says “Hazy and Hoppy” and along the bottom an arguably cheesy cursive line of “Independent American Craft”.
Distribution: I got my 4-pack at my local Wegmans. Pricing is very competitive ($8.99 for a 4-pack) and a few dollars below other popular craft beer 4-pack options. The New England IPA was actually in the cooler featuring other craft beer options such as Night Shift and Lawson’s, rather than being grouped with the classic Sam Adams beer portfolio. I found this to be an interesting marketing strategy.
Taste: After downing a can, I come out with mixed reviews. For Sam Adams, I think they did a good job building a solid IPA that is hoppy, a light floral finish, and balanced. It’s 6.8% ABU and not overpowering in any way, and its very drinkable. I can almost taste the typical “Sam Adams Flavor” throughout. For the price and likely high availability, its a worthwhile option. On the other hand, it doesn’t stand up to the Vermont IPAs we enjoy regularly such as Focal Banger, and is certainly several levels below the leading Double IPAs from craft breweries in the Vermont beer scene.
In conclusion, its interesting to see the New England beer scene get broader attention from national brands, and likely will only further grow the craft beer community in our backyard. The Sam Adams New England IPA will have wider distribution than local craft options, so its a choice you can make when there is not much else available. But Sam Adams has a few steps to go before they reach true New England IPA upper echelons,.