Lightweight taste test: Sam Adams comes to town with a watery challenge

NOW HERE’S a contradiction of terms: a light beer taste-test.

Light beer, of course, is anti-taste. It looks like beer, true. It smells like beer. It refreshes you. It even gets you buzzed.

But taste?

Friends, light beer was invented so girls could hold something while their boyfriends passed out at the bar. That real men now drink the stuff in mass quantities is a testament only to their pathetic willingness to swallow Madison Avenue’s bogus promise that it “tastes great.”

The absence of taste – the utter lack of anything that could be remotely defined as “flavor” – is the whole point of light beer. (And forget about the low-cal thing; the difference is marginal. See box.) Light beer is mindless. It goes down without the bitterness of hops, without the sweetness of malt.

It’s pretend beer.

Nonetheless, I got myself invited to a light beer taste-test last week, when Boston Beer rattled through town to promote its new Sam Adams Light. With founder Jim Koch on hand before a roomful of beer distributors and members of the thirsty press, glasses of brew were poured for a mano e lame-o showdown.

Koch acknowledged light beer’s rap, yet he insisted his new brew is the real thing. “It’s as revolutionary as Sam Adams Boston Lager was 15 years ago,” he said.

But what made Koch’s original lager so revolutionary wasn’t just its flavor. Even in the mid-’80s, remember, there were already dozens of other, full-bodied American craft beers on the shelves – beers that were the exact opposite of all those insipid yellow lagers industrial breweries had been cranking out. Boston Beer’s great step forward was its ability to take an all-malt brew and sell it nationwide, to chip away at the dominance of the corn- and rice-impaired beers from St. Louis.

You could say this was nothing more than a savvy businessman glomming onto a trend. But who cares? It also means you can find a decent beer at even the worst dive bar.

That gripe also ignores Boston Beer’s other exceptional labels, from its Cream Stout and Double Bock, to its envelope-pushing Triple Bock and Millennium. Koch is clearly a champion of great beer.

But he knows where the future is. Light is growing while real beer is stagnant; within a year or two, it’ll account for 50 percent of all American beer sales.

If Sam Adams Light is “revolutionary,” then, it will be because Boston Beer has found something to give the likes of Bud Light a run for its money.

So they placed five glasses in front of us, none of them labeled. One of ’em was amber; the other four had the color profile of pee, after your fourth visit to the john.

Guess which one was Sam’s.

Then we had to actually taste this stuff.

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the stuff you throw at Scott Rolen, the beers averaged under 2. I gave one – I later learned it was Amstel Light – a zero. The others (the lights from Bud, Miller and Corona) would have benefited from the intervention of French ice-skating judges.

Sam Adams Light won going away, which – given the competition – isn’t saying much.

Because if Koch wanted to prove his new light beer is really that good, he would’ve matched it up against beers that actually have some taste.

Like Samuel Adams Boston Lager.

 Beer radar

Penn State probably won’t crack the Top 20 in college football this year, but it looks like the student body is having a good time, anyway. The Princeton Review ranks PSU the No. 4 party school in America, trailing – in order – Indiana, Clemson and the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa. Meanwhile, Drexel seems to have a taste for shooters, ranking No. 3 in hard alcohol. No wonder they’re drinking hard: The West Philly’s school was voted the nation’s third-ugliest campus and second-worst dorms.

* New on area shelves: Big Daddy IPA, from San Francisco’s Speakeasy Brewing; Brasserie Fantome Automne, from Belgium; Brueghel Blonde, from Kross Brewing in Vermont.

* Scientists have proven the Beer Goggle Effect! A study at Glasgow University showed that, after drinking just two pints of beer, students’ “perceived attractiveness” of the opposite sex increased by about 25 percent. Joe Sixpack’s own research has concluded that if the opposite sex is buying, it runs about 100 percent.


Sept. 5 – Belgian beer dinner at Sly Fox Brewery & Eatery (Route 113, Phoenixville). The dinner will feature the brewpub’s new Incubus Trappist-style tripel. Starts: 6:30 p.m. Tix: $55. Info: 610-935-4540.

Sept. 7 – Kennett Square Microbrew Festival. Eat mushrooms, enjoy suds from 20 area brewers. Hours: 2-6 p.m. Tix: $20 ($25 at the door). Info: 610-444-8188.

 Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a bottle of Blue Star Great American Wheat.


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