One of 2011's best beer geek treats was Samuel Adams' Latitude 48 Deconstructed box, which offered five IPAs highlighting the hops that are used in the variety pack's namesake beer and provided a savory contrast-and-compare lesson on the qualities of the distinct flavor buds. This year's edition is the more mundane but still rewarding IPA Hop-ology 12-pack.
Three beers bowed last year in the Limited Release series (in bombers):
• THIRD VOYAGE (8% ABV): A robust double IPA made with hops from England, New Zealand, and the Pacific Northwest.
• DARK DEPTHS (7.6%): They call it a Baltic IPA, with an infusion of hops adding a new twist to the Baltic porter style.
• TASMAN RED (6.75%): Tasmanian hops make their presence forcefully known in this complex creation. An agreeable amber ale.
Two entries are from the Brewmaster's Collection:
• LATITUDE 48 (6%): This IPA spawned the single-hop bottles in the Deconstructed box (Hallertau Mittelfrueh, East Kent Goldings, Ahtanum, Simcoe, and Zeus). The number refers to the 48th latitude line, a fruitful band for hop cultivation.
• WHITEWATER IPA (5.8%): A witbier (Belgian-style white ale) made with hops and apricots. Put this one aside for company.
And one beer makes its debut in this box: GRUMPY MONK (5.7%): It's an admirable take (with a great label) on a Belgian IPA, with the melange of clove and fruity notes balanced with the floral hops.
Hop-ology is a solid cross-section of the ever-expanding IPA style, a tasty group of hybrids that are worth exploring.
Another limited release from Sam Adams is the LONGSHOT six-pack, featuring the winners of the annual American Homebrew Contest. I enjoyed all three: A Dark Night in Munich (5.9%), a malty Dunkel; Derf's Secret Alt (9.3%), like Long Trail's Double Bag on steroids); and Five Crown Imperial Stout (8.9%), a delicious multi-layered delight).
KEEP IT FRESH
A few weeks ago in the "Building the Best Beer Store" column (4.6.12), the lone negative item was about the evils of old beer. Many brewers still don't provide a clue to the beer's freshness (no excuses to not do so — none). For those who do provide info, it's often nearly impossible to decipher what the code means: Is it a packaging date? A best-by date? Where is it (on the bottom of the bottle/can? on the cases? stamped on the neck?). FRESH BEER ONLY! has all the answers. The site provides a thorough alphabetical list of decoding tips, so you can divine a (usually useless) batch number from a bottling or pull date. Some examples: Narragansett uses a Julian date, with eight numbers on the bottom of its cans; the first set of four is the born-on info — 0702 means it was bottled on the 70th day (070) of 2012. Not very straightforward, but crackable. Ballast Point uses a baffling best-before date: BE293/03302 means Big Eye (which you already know from the label of the great IPA) batch 293, best before March 30, 2012. Aha! The recommended shelf life is six months, but there's no numerical data to hint at that fact. (My favorite entry is for Dragonmead: "Uses a batch code but the brewer won't say what it means." Now that's customer service!) So: hit sites.google.com/site/freshbeeronly, jump through the brewers' convoluted hoops, and never get stuck with skunked beer again.