I talk to a lot of beer geeks these days, which isn't as bad as it sounds. But, brothers and sisters, it's still not always good. A lot of these conversations quickly devolve into pissing contests over who has spent more time waiting in brewery parking lots in Vermont or who's got a bigger stash of obscure Belgian sours hiding in his neckbeard. And then, since I'm not really qualified to comment on either matter, being a beardless maplephobe, I bring the whole thing crashing down by asking what everyone thinks about Samuel Adams Boston Lager, at which point we bicker about whether it is over- or underrated, as there exists no known soul who finds it to be properly esteemed.
I lean toward "underrated," for whatever that's worth (it's worthless), because I think it's a really good beer that gets paradoxically overlooked because of its ubiquity: It gets taken for granted by casual beer-drinkers, while failing to excite the trophy-hunting bucket-lust of the more competitive ones. And, to be fair to the less agenda-driven dissenters, 30-year-old Vienna lager recipes aren't everyone's cup of brew these days.
But the Boston Beer Company (the brewery's official corporate name, as the pedants like to remind us, because how can a beer review be credible if it doesn't read like an S.E.C. filing?) makes more than just the flagship Boston Lager. Lots more. In fact, according to this ad, Sam Adams brews more than 60 different beers throughout the course of a given year.
This strikes me as preposterous. I understand that you can't stay pat, particularly in a marketplace that has grown exponentially more competitive since you started out, but no brewery is able to produce five dozen different worthwhile beers a year. Once you start pumping them out that fast, you inevitably suffer from Cheesecake Factory Syndrome: It's impossible to do that many things well.
Sierra Nevada is basically the West Coast equivalent of Sam Adams: Although they brew in different styles and adjacent different oceans, they're both enormously influential in building and sustaining the current craft-beer boom. And it seems that Sierra Nevada is starting to emulate the "throw 1,000 beers at the wall and see what sticks" approach, too. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is still one of the finest widely available beers in America, but the company has been getting much more aggressive with new releases, among them Flipside Red IPA.
Flipside is being positioned as a micro-seasonal suitable for the flash of time when late summer fades into early fall. So in essence, Sierra Nevada now produces a September beer. That seems a bit forced, as does the "red IPA" angle, but I don't mind the marketing if the juice is the truth.
Flipside pours a deep copper with a substantial off-white head, and at first sniff, it reminds me of a sweeter, maltier Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, with notes of chocolate and dried orange along with earthy red-ale smells that don't excite me but do evoke early fall; this may be a gimmick, but it's a thoughtful one.
The malt (toast and caramel) is far more prominent than the hops, which suggest a dirty dankness rather than the juicy hop burst of a true IPA—there's the barest hint of the promised "tropical fruit." The finish is long, dry, and mostly plain, with just a touch of pine resin. Flipside doesn't really earn the IPA label—it's just a slightly over-hopped red ale—but the seasonal angle works, and on the whole I consider this to be a perfectly drinkable beer in a needlessly cobbled-together style.
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Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain. Image by Jim Cooke.
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