The Great American Beer Festival kicked off early for passengers on JetBlue flight 97 last Thursday thanks to Sam Adams. Dubbed Flytoberfest, the New York to Denver flight was a treat for Sam fans en route to GABF, who got to enjoy what might be the first-ever beer tasting at 30,000 feet.
Boston Beer Company co-founder and chairman Jim Koch led passengers on a guided tasting of three of Sam’s signature brews, including a sneak preview of its new Sam ’76 lager and the much sought-after Utopias. The typically jovial Koch was in his element as he held court at the front of the plane and geeked on beer in front of a captive audience that had no trouble matching his enthusiasm.
First up was Octoberfest, the obligatory seasonal on which Sam consistently delivers. There is no shortage of Octoberfests out there, but Sam’s deeply malty version is warm and smooth with sweet notes of caramel that never disappoints.
Next, was Sam ’76. The lager, which debuted at this year’s GABF, is the result of Sam’s commitment to experimentation. Reportedly the final result of more than 60 iterations and 12 different hop variety combinations, Sam ’76 blends both lager and ale yeast strains to create a slightly fruity hybrid that Koch characterized as highly “crushable.”
He’s not wrong. The citrus aroma is a bright prelude to the crisp, refreshing, and flavorful brew that follows. At 4.7% ABV and 12 IBUs, it is indeed crushable. Hop varieties Cascade, Citra, Mosaic, Simcoe, and Galaxy work together to provide a juiciness that stops pleasantly short of bitter. Sam ’76 is slated for nationwide release in early 2018.
The final pour was a big one. Utopias is Sam’s limited-released bottle that drinks more like a port than a traditional beer. Batches are aged up to 22 years in barrels where flavors like oak, honey, fig, and chocolate add unique depth and character to each batch. The 2015 blend was aged in single-use Buffalo Trace bourbon casks, as well as Madeira, Carcavelos, Cognac, and Armagnac barrels.
In addition to the beer tasting, each passenger received a gift bag which included a commemorative Flytoberfest alpine hat, Sam Adams bottle opener, and a copy of Koch’s book, Quench Your Own Thirst: Business Lessons Learned Over a Beer Or Two. Two lucky passengers also received bottles of Utopias to take home — a special treat considering bottles of the limited-edition beer can run up to nearly $900 on eBay.
As the flight progressed, the Sam crew kept the beer flowing while Koch chatted up passengers, signed autographs, and posed for selfies. It all made for a festive entrée to GABF, and gave Sam fans something to brag about all weekend as they waited online with fellow festivalgoers.
Jim Sabataso is a writer, journalist, and bar director for The Palms Restaurant Group in Rutland, VT. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.