Samuel Adams Boston Lager “Remastered” ReviewDrink Reviews craft beer
Well, it was a seemingly arduous journey, but the product is finally on beer shelves: Boston Lager has been “remastered” some three years or so after Boston Beer Co. first started making noise about updating the company’s flagship beer. Surely the pandemic ended up contributing some means of delay to the whole process, but it was still an extremely long development period, though one that is understandable given the mythic stature of Boston Lager. A totem of the American craft beer industry since it was first introduced in 1984, and four-time winner of the “Best Beer in America” at the Great American Beer Festival in those early years, Boston Lager and the entire Samuel Adams brand were responsible for truly countless numbers of American trying better beer for the first time. For this alone, the entire industry will always have a debt to founder Jim Koch, and his family beer recipe.
And that, naturally, is why you don’t take changing this kind of recipe lightly. Although, to listen to Boston Beer Co.’s description, they really haven’t altered the “recipe,” as most consumers would think of it. It sounds as if the malt and hop bill are still the same as ever, meaning this is quite a different evolution for the brand than New Belgium’s recent demolition of Fat Tire Amber Ale. That beer was transformed entirely from a quasi-American amber ale into a lighter, more hop-forward golden ale without many characteristics in common, but Boston Lager “Remastered” is a considerably more subtle tweaking.
So what has actually changed? Well, like New Belgium, Boston Beer Co. is chasing buzzwords like “smoother” and especially “brighter,” and it sounds like they saw a lower pH as the way to get there. Therefore, they say that “the brewing process has been updated to incorporate a traditional German practice of biological acidification, which results in a brighter, more approachable beer.” The label pretty much hints at none of this, saying only that it’s “been made easier drinking.”
When the company says this, they’re probably talking about the use of acidulated malt to bring down the overall pH of the beer, making it a bit more acidic. Note, however, that it’s not like they’re now trying to make a Berliner weisse or gose-style beer–nor is the “Remastered” Boston Lager meant to read to the consumer as actively acidic, sour or tart. I suspect the changes are mostly meant to be beyond the active notice of the average consumer–the beer won’t read as “tart,” but the subtly lower pH will bring out different flavors/consumer impressions in the existing recipe. Or at least, that would be my educated guess.
So with that said, let’s go ahead and taste the thing, to see how it compares to the original Samuel Adams Boston Lager.
On the nose, Boston Lager Remastered registers as lightly herbal and moderately hop forward, with hints of citrus, and mild, toasty, bready malt. There’s a dim suggestion of malt sweetness, and a decent balance between impressions driven by malt and (presumably) noble hops. It doesn’t strike me as dramatically different from the OG Boston Lager, aside from not seeming quite as sweet.
On the palate, the difference between Boston Lager Remastered and the original comes into sharper focus. Here, the malt does feel like it’s become more noticeably muted compared with the previous version, with mild toastiness, faint caramel and a little sweetness, but that flavor fades fairly quickly–perhaps their idea of greater drinkability, allowing you to go back for that next sip more quickly. The hops, meanwhile, have moved more into the foreground, with impressions that are a bit herbal and somewhat spicy–the signature mild spice of Tettnang hops is now easier to find. There’s a little bit of lemon peel, perhaps made more prominent by a lower pH, leading into a slightly mineral or flinty hop bitterness. It is accurate to call it easy drinking–arguably, it’s a bit on the plain side, but many craft beer geeks would have said that about the original version as well. Like the original, I’d still happily drink it in an airport lounge when faced with an uninspired list of options.
At the end of the day, it genuinely is a far more subtle evolution than something like the redesign of Fat Tire–Samuel Adams pretty much spent three years tweaking Boston Lager to reduce its malt sweetness and body a touch, while bringing the hops more to the forefront. Naturally, this will surely enrage a large percentage of the beer’s remaining core demographic … but that demographic has been steadily shrinking for a decade, so you can’t really blame them for trying to do something to fix it.
None of this changes the reality that “the flavor of Boston Lager” ultimately is just one small component in the overall suite of problems faced by the Samuel Adams brand. Compared to the existential crisis of the bottom falling out on enthusiasm for the craft beer world itself, and the perception among beer geeks of Boston Beer Co. as a lumbering old dinosaur much more interested in making hard seltzer, cider and alcoholic tea than beer, even a “brighter and smoother” flagship beer is unlikely to move the needle in any notable way. Rather, this feels more like a change to be noted for posterity, just in case a day ever comes when there is no more Samuel Adams Boston Lager. That’s an article I hope to never write, but who knows what the future will hold, even for iconic brands. A year or two ago, I would have doubted that New Belgium would completely revamp Fat Tire. We’re in uncharted waters for the creaky and ossifying craft beer industry, and no amount of “Remastering” is likely to set it right without a broader shift and a new wave of consumer interest.
Brewery: Boston Beer Co.
City: Boston, MA
Style: Amber lager
Availability: 12 oz bottles and cans
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.