By Lew Bryson
What do Boston Beer founder Jim Koch and legendary musician George Clinton have in common? They both do things that are “funkin’ kinda hard” and they “ain’t never gonna stop”.
George Clinton revolutionized music during the ’70s, twisting soul music into funk by adding influences from several late-’60s acid heroes: Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and Sly Stone. Think this music legend’s star has faded? Think again. He’s still collaborating with hip-hop heavyweights like Kendrick Lamar and Ice Cube on the remix of his epic track Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?
In the beer world, we might see Clinton’s equivalent in Jim Koch, who helped start the craft beer revolution when he first brewed Sam Adams Boston Lager over 30 years ago by modernizing a pre-prohibition lager recipe of his grandfather’s, who was a brewer by trade.
Clinton and Sam Adams collided when he headlined at a special Philadelphia launch party for Koch’s newest beer – Sam ’76, a revolutionary union of lager and ale. With a beer backlog as colossal as Sam Adam’s, each new brew represents a new phase in their story – but Sam ’76 might just be the beer that represents the kind of innovation and reinvention trailblazers like Sam Adams and George Clinton have become synonymous with.
“Sam ’76 is a truly unique brew,” says Boston Beer founder Jim Koch. “We experimented for over a year and tested more than 60 iterations to develop this beer. It takes two active fermentations and blends them together in a final maturation step, when both yeasts depend on each other during a tag team fermentation, to create an aromatic and delicious beer.” Or, as the brewers up in Boston put it, it has the slight fruitiness of ale, with the balanced drinkability and smoothness of a lager.
Boston Beer makes a lot of different beers, adding new styles to their portfolio all the time to keep both consumers and their brewers interested. But it’s not often that they add a new beer to their core lineup.
That’s what you’ve got with the new Sam ’76. You knew Sam Adams first for their Boston Lager; then you got to know their Rebel IPA. Sam ’76 is both. That’s right; Sam ’76 is a lager and an ale.
I couldn’t get any more details out of them. Is it one brew, split in two? Even amounts of ale-fermented and lager-fermented brews? Are the beers dry-hopped, dry-hopped differently? “Our secret” was all I got.
They did let us know the hop blend: Cascade, Citra, Mosaic and Simcoe, a selection that imparts a tropical citrus aroma and a bright, juicy citrus hop flavor. Like the New England IPAs that are so popular, Sam ’76 has low bitterness, but big aroma and flavor through generous, late dry hopping for a short period; only a few days, as opposed to a few weeks for Boston Lager. The beer is unfiltered, but superior brewing techniques give it the bright, juicy hop flavor. It’s going to be a draught and can-only release. Six-packs of 12 oz. cans and single-serve 16 oz. cans are available now. You will be able to sample it on tap around the first of April.
Still… a lager and an ale? What is this beer trying to be?
Koch says the goal for Sam ’76 was literally to “create something revolutionary that hadn’t been done before. With Sam ’76, we wanted to create the perfect union of an ale and a lager. It wasn’t enough for us to create something that just tasted like a combination of an ale and a lager, we wanted an actual union of the two yeasts.”
Revolutionary? Sam ’76? That sounds like a name that should resonate here in the cradle of liberty, the home of the 76ers. Koch laughs in agreement.
“1776 marks the year our Founding Fathers – including Samuel Adams – sparked the American Revolution,” he says. “Philadelphia was a historic town where our Founding Fathers once congregated, but now, it’s going down in history as one of the epicenters of the American craft beer revolution. Sam ’76 salutes brewers and drinkers in Philadelphia and nationwide, who have ignited a passion for great beer.”
I thought the “an ale and a lager” hype of Sam ’76 was just talk, but drinking one tells a different story. This drinks smooth and slippery like a cellar-aged lager, but carries the round body of an ale. Definitely not the same story as the Sam Adams IPL of a few years ago: that was aggressively crisper; this is less sharp-edged. Aromas of lemon and tropical fruit lead into a lightly quenching mouthful – and you can easily take a mouthful, too. This is an easy drinker, and at 4.7% that’s a good thing!
Philly’s industry folks got a special launch party on January 14th. There was plenty of Sam ’76 flowing, and a special performance by George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic. It was revolutionary!