It’s hard to know exactly what to expect from a Samuel Adams special release. The Boston Beer Company rightfully earned its place as one of craft brewing’s pioneers in the 1980s, but in recent years the company has for the most part spent its resources in consolidating a nationwide empire. Boston Lager remains as dependable as ever, beloved as one of a select handful of quality beers one can find at practically any gas station or corner dive bar (along with Sierra Nevada and New Belgium). But when the company reaches for a higher rung of the beer geek market, that’s when things tend to get confusing.
Even as the company stretches against the boundaries of what can still be considered “craft beer” by the Brewer’s Association, they again turn toward innovation on a more limited scale. First there was the “Imperial Series,” with beers that ranged from doppelbock and imperial pilsner to imperial stout and imperial witbier. Then came an expansion of the limited release series into smaller batches, with beers such as Tasman Red IPA, Third Voyage Double IPA and Grumpy Monk Belgian IPA. Finally and most recently, BBC got into the barrel-aging game with their “Barrel Room Collection.” Who knew they even had a “barrel room”?
Thirteenth Hour Stout is one of those barrel room experiments, a “Belgian-style stout” packaged in a unique 750 ml bottle shaped almost like a bowling pin. It’s telling that the company would design a whole new bottle for this series, as they are looking for any way to differentiate their offering from any other barrel-aged craft brew on the shelves. In terms of innovation, Sam Adams is typically late to the party, and thus they find other ways to stand out—in this case via packaging. It makes one ponder how far their marketing actually is from the likes of Miller, which continues to crank out new bottle shapes in a desperate effort to stave off the sales collapse of Miller Lite.
Thirteenth Hour is a very fruit-forward beer on the nose. Rather than roast, it shows an interesting blend of dark fruits, from raspberry to black cherry and currants. There is a moderate whiff of sourness and slight Belgian funk character, making the beer smell overall like a fruity Belgian or American sour. It’s not unlike something you might smell from Russian River’s line of beers, and that’s certainly not a bad thing.
In terms of taste, the fruity flavors are again in the forefront. Dark, dried fruit is the name of the game, with raisins, prune and black cherry flavors. Typical stout character doesn’t really show up at all, with none of the chocolate or coffee characteristics I was expecting. Instead the roast is very light, and the fruit blends well with a mild sourness, light Belgian spiciness and eventual light oak flavors on the back end. What it really tastes like is a thinner quadrupel or Belgian strong dark ale, not the “Belgian-style stout with notes of spice, coffee, chocolate and oak” that the bottle lists.
As it warms, the beer continues to open up with an array of pleasant fruit flavors. This is a genuinely tasty effort, if slightly misleading in its ad copy. It is curiously thin of body, which, coupled with an amazingly well-hidden 9% ABV, makes it dangerously drinkable. It may not be particularly “stout-like,” and it may not have the backbone and richness of the best quads or Belgian dark strong ales, but The Thirteenth Hour is an enjoyable experience judged solely on its own merits.
Brewery: Boston Beer Co. (Sam Adams)
Style: Belgian-style stout