For the last several years, the India Pale Ale has been the bellwether of the American craft brewing movement, the rallying cry around which the entire industry has essentially been built. An evolution from the American Pale Ale style, the IPA represented the very first step into “extreme brewing” for many American brewers.
That “extreme” nature of the style is exactly why you’ve probably never associated the venerable Samuel Adams brand with IPAs, or indeed hoppy beer in general. Boston Beer Company, despite its important role in American craft brewing history, has never brewed an American-style IPA available year round, something that has often been remarked upon by brewers and beer geeks alike. As the old joke goes, “They say Jim Koch hates American hops.” And judging by the noble hops so often portrayed in Samuel Adams ad copy over the years, this could very well be accurate.
Still, even companies that resist trends for decades must eventually evolve to suit the changing tastes of consumers. Boston Beer Company has finally decided that the time has come to add a year-round American IPA to its portfolio, introducing the new Samuel Adams Rebel IPA nationwide this January. Like so many other offerings bearing the Samuel Adams name, it proves to be dependable, inoffensive and somewhat less than spectacular.
The beer does have the aroma of an American IPA. It presents florally, with notes of orange, lemon and pine. The blend of five hop varieties gives the nose a pleasant complexity.
A swig of the beer reveals a lighter, sessionable IPA. The body is light, carbonation is high and bitterness is restrained. At only 45 IBUs, it’s not a beer that is trying to challenge your taste buds with a big charge of bitterness. Rather, it has the mouthfeel and flavor profile of a brawny pale ale.
One area that Rebel does shine (albeit unexpectedly) is in its malt flavors, which combine a Saltine cracker-like crispness and grain flavor with a touch of honey sweetness. Darker sugar sweetness is almost entirely absent, and what fruity flavors there are come from the mix of citric, piney and floral hops. None of these flavors are particularly strong or pronounced besides the malt, which is quite nice. In this respect, it tastes a bit like a well-made American red ale that is on the lighter side of the color spectrum.
This is pleasant beer that certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel, which was no doubt the safe approach Boston Beer Company was going for. It’s the kind of brew you would happily drink from a cooler at a barbecue all night, but then wouldn’t be able to describe to someone who asked the next day. It doesn’t disappoint, has no off flavors, and yet doesn’t make a strong impression.
Unfortunately, in a beer style like IPA, that’s not quite good enough. At $8.99 per six pack, there’s a dozen other beers in the same price range I’d probably pick up before another pack of Rebel IPA. It’s a quaffable product, but in the world of IPA’s there are some high standards to live up to. For those looking for a less intimidating session IPA, though, it might be right up your alley.
Brewery: Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams)
City: Boston, MA
Style: American IPA
Availability: New, year-round