When a husky, bearded American tells you he likes craft beer, he is most likely referring to craft ale. While high-end lager has recently started to make modest inroads (particularly pilsner), the good-beer renaissance of the past three decades has revolved almost exclusively around ales.
A quarter-assed yet sufficient definition for the blissfully unaware: Ales and lagers are differentiated by the type of yeast they employ during fermentation, and consequently by the temperature at which fermentation occurs. Here’s a thorough explanation. But for our modest purposes here today, there are two main things to remember: The most popular styles among beer-raters—stouts and IPAs, and the countless subdivisions of each—are ales. And nearly all of the very worst beers are lagers. Budweiser, Bud Light, your various flavors of Miller and Coors, Heineken and Corona, whatever the fuck a Straw-Ber-Ita is: lagers all.
But lagers don’t have to suck! There are tons of good ones in Europe, allegedly, though most of them fall to shit by the time their green-bottled carcasses make it to the new world. And here’s a list of eight good lager-only breweries in America. And here we are staging a fight between two of America’s most venerable craft lagers, Samuel Adams Boston Lager and Brooklyn Lager, which are both of the Vienna variety, a reddish, caramelish, lightly hopped version further described here.
This is a battle of great historical significance, so we’re going to take a rigorous, scientific approach to determine the winner by evaluating the contenders in eight different categories. Let’s get to it.
Price: They’re an identical $10.99 per six-pack at the couple of stores I checked yesterday. To add an anecdotal touch to that thorough data analysis, I’ll note that bars serving both generally seem to charge the same price. TIE.
Color: Both kinda browny-red; couldn’t tell the difference. TIE.
Alcohol Content: Brooklyn Lager’s a healthy 5.2 percent alcohol-by-volume, which would seem to give it the clear edge over Samuel Adams Boston Lager’s 4.9 percent. EXCEPT, this lower proof allows Sam to sneak just under the most liberal definition of “session beer,” which means it’s entirely appropriate to drink as many as you’d like at any hour of any day. But you can’t discount Brooklyn’s slightly better bang for the buck, either. TIE.
Qualitative Relationship to America’s Best-Selling Amber Lager: uh, TIE.
Graft Provided to Your Humble Beer Accountant: Brooklyn Brewery and Boston Beer Company have both sent several bottles of this and that over the years, and both have also greased me real good with a couple of noteworthy bribes: The Massholes gave me a bottle of Utopias, an over-the-top brandy-like beer that retails for about $200 a bottle, and they also sent a bunch of cheese last Thanksgiving. Strong effort!
Brooklyn, for their part, hooked me up with tickets to their Beefsteak, a ridiculous meat-and-beer carnival that was one of the coolest events I’ve been to this year. It’s part of their Brooklyn Mash tour, which has upcoming stops in Chicago, D.C., Philadelphia, and Austin. Check your local listings. Oh, and buy a bottle of Samuel Adams Utopias. Totally worth it. TIE.
Brewery Experience: Both companies do the bulk of their work out of town. Most Brooklyn beer comes from Utica, and most Sam Adams is from Cincinnati, but they both retain functioning plants in their namesake towns. I went to the Brooklyn Brewery one Friday afternoon in 2010, and it was a madhouse. They made me wait in line to buy tokens before I was allowed to wait in the actual beer line, so I cleverly thought, “Fuck this, I’ll get a paycheck’s worth, no way I’m waiting in the currency-exchange line again.” Which means the majority of my retirement saving are presently held in unredeemed beer tokens, because I somehow failed to predict that the brewski line would also be chaos. But I did drink a beer there. I’ve never been to the Samuel Adams brewery in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood, though I do hold a soft spot for it on account of you walk by on the way to the cat-adoption place. Yup, another TIE.
Flavor: Drunkspin rankings try not to be overly reliant on a beer’s flavor, because that seems so crass and simplistic, what with the way it deemphasizes factors like a brewery’s proximity to the cat shelter. But facts are facts, and here we are in a dead tie heading into the final category, a blind tasting.
These are very similar beers. They are both on the sweet side, with pronounced caramel malt character dominating the palate. The Brooklyn tastes clean and robust, with some bread and barley notes, whereas the Samuel Adams has a grape-y, cheap-grain touch along with hints of toffee and butterscotch. Brooklyn finishes a bit drier than expected, with traces of lemon and pine hops on the back end, while the Samuel Adams stays sweet from start to finish.
Verdict: I have a slight preference for Brooklyn Lager.
This is Drunkspin Daily, the Concourse’s adequate source for booze news, reviews, and bullshit. We’ll be highlighting a beer a day in this space; please leave suggestions below.
Image by Sam Woolley
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and some of his closest friends have met Certified Cicerones. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.