Beer: Sam Adams Infinium
Brewery: Boston Brewing Co.
Style: Biere de Champagne
ABV: 10.3 percent
Boston Brewing Co. comes under a lot of fire from the beer community. It's to be expected as the largest craft brewery providing for a fickle community of geeks -- people will get upset and write you off for becoming too "mainstream" or selling out. The makers of Sam Adams are lambasted for many a move, and the criticism is usually undeserved.
Any scorn brought about by Sam Adams Infinium, however, is completely warranted.
We flash back to 2010, when, after much buildup, Infinium was first released. Sam Adams touted it as a "groundbreaking brew," created in collaboration with the world's oldest brewery (Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan, founded in 1040). Infinium was to be a completely new beer style created using only the four ingredients allowed by the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot: water, malt, hops an yeast. Working together, Sam Adams and Weihenstephaner beer-makers designed a process of reintroducing the mash process into the brew kettle and the fermenter that's so unused they actually applied for a patent. The brew was then then bottle-conditioned with a traditional Belgian yeast and fermented using champagne methods to add complexity, clarity and carbonation.
Their mission to create an entirely new style of beer succeeded -- sort of. Infinium can most accurately be called a Biere de Champagne, a style that -- while somewhat new in beer history -- was by no means invented by Sam Adams. Several examples exist, the most well-known being Brouwerij Bosteels Deus, which has been brewed since 2003.
Newish though it may have been, Infinium was not at all well-received. Most drinkers scorned the brew's off-putting flavor and hefty price tag ($20). Bad reviews abounded, and the beer continues to carry about a C average on most beer rating sites. Nevertheless, the brewers chose to re-release the beer for 2012, and here I am, $20 poorer, to see if they've managed to fix what was seemingly so very wrong the first time around.
Sam Adams loves to calls Infinium a champagne-style beer, so keep it iced at the recommended serving temperature of 40-42 degrees and pour it into a champagne flute. You'll get a glass full of hazy ochre liquid capped with three fingers of thick, sudsy off-white foam. Infinium is at least champagne-like in carbonation -- trails of bubbles rise from the depths to fuel the long-lasting head. 4.5
In the nose, tangy apricot mingles with spice and citrusy German hops, as it should -- Infinium was brewed with Spalt Spalter, Tettnang Tettnanger and Hersbrucker hops, then dry-hopped with Hallertau Mittlefruh. Touches of biscuits, burnt sugar and a subtle musty character round out the aroma. 3.5
The nose was decent enough, but the flavor is what we in the business call an anticlimax. Noticeable at first blush are the spicy Noble hops, providing bitterness and a subtle citrus character. Fruity wheat and apricot are next, making the front of the flavor decidedly sweet. New tastes emerge at the swallow: light biscuits, caramel, green apple. The high- champagne-like carbonation massaging the tongue is nice, as are the dry finish and near-total concealment of the 10-percent alcohol content. But it's all a bit too delicate for my palate. As someone who's done a lot of research (read: drinking) for this job, I was excited to try something completely unique. Instead, Infinium tastes more like a mediocre Belgian pale ale or biere de garde.
Infinium looks great on paper. The pedigree of its creators is without question, and the amount of PR behind it would suggest something special. But I'm turned off by several things: first the fancypants bottle design, which, along with Boston Beer Co.'s insistence on how champagny the beer is, seems more like a marketing ploy to ensure beer lovers thirsting for a champagne alternative on New Year's Eve grab one of these. Second, the $20 price tag, which is too much for a beer with this little flavor any way you look at it.
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Infinium is innovation at the expense of beer drinkers. It's as if two world-class brewers made a beer for themselves, and left all of us out of the equation.
Food pairing suggestions:
Instead of popping this guy on New Year's Eve, save it for the next morning and pair with some orange juice. The unique flavors will work well in a mimosa, and the prodigious ABV will work well to take the edge off your 2012 hangover.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer.