Saturday Brew Review: Mighty Oak Ale

There is no greater trial of will than that of the reigning champion. Sure, on the one hand champions are bathed in the adulation of admirers, those lesser-thans who need this hero to represent them in all the ways they can’t represent themselves. On the other hand, great kings also inspire the dissident hordes who want nothing more than to see the crown filched from head, smelted down, and forged into shackles.

When you’re on top, some people love you. But others want to watch you fail. And as such, you have to constantly watch the throne.

The trick is to appreciate accolades and deflect aspersions with grace. Nobody likes a paper-champion like Stallone in Rocky III, becoming complacent and refusing to face real challenges. Equally reprehensible are the Hollywood Hogan types, spitting in the face of friends and family in an attempt to secure even more power for themselves. The truest heroes continue upon the same path that took `em to the top of the mountain, avoiding detractors and sycophants along the way.

This is exactly what Jim Koch, founder of Sam Adams, addressed in his post entitled The Paradox of Popularity. In the post, Koch fires back against those members of the beer community that believe Sam Adams is becoming too big for its britches, sacrificing quality in favor of market share. Koch acknowledges the invectives being slung at his company, but maintains that beverage quality has been, and always will be, the driving force behind Sam Adams.

An excerpt:

I remember, and survived, the years when craft beer was this odd little corner of the beer cooler visited only by homebrewers and crazy beer geeks that everyone else ignored.   That might sound cool and romantic.   Actually, it sucked.   It was hard to stay in business and many of the early craft brewers didn’t make it.   I think it’s great that craft beer has entered the beer drinker mainstream.   Craft beer has become popular today because craft brewers are making great beer.   I don’t know of any craft brewer who succeeded by selling out and making crappy beer.   I can think of some who failed by neglecting to make great beer.   Can I offer you a Pig Pounder?   Or a Brewski?

So has Sam Adams hopped out of the craft-brew pond and into the macrobrew sea? Or could it be that the critics distaste is rooted in the fact that Sam Adams is now the shark in the guppy tank? In either case, it seems as though the brewery is still doing its best to redefine its limitations by way of creating more and more products.

Today, I’m palavering with King Adams. I’m going to look the Bostonian royal in the eyes and see for myself what he’s made of. And I’m going to do it by sipping on Mighty Oak Ale.

Receiving the honor of being the Sam Adams 2011 Beer Lover’s Choice but only available in the Brewmaster’s Choice Variety 12-Packs, Mighty Oak Ale is a brew as praised as it is elusive. To me, there’s something exciting about drinking a beer that isn’t found in every bar or restaurant (especially is said beverage has some good word of mouth about it). But to see what I was getting myself into, I made sure to check a description at the brewery website:

The inspiration for this beer came from years of aging our more extreme beers in oak barrels, including Utopias and our Barrel Room Collection.  If we could brew an enjoyable, higher alcohol beer in oak, why couldn’t we brew an everyday version of an oak beer?  The challenge was to find the best balance of oak, malt, and hops in a beer with an ABV lower than 6.0%.  Too much hoppiness would fight with the oak flavor while too much maltiness would hide the defining oak character.  Our brewers went through many trials of the beer before brewing the perfect balance of ingredients.  The result is Samuel Adams Mighty Oak Ale, selected winner of our 2011 Beer Lover’s Choice ® by over 20,000 beer enthusiasts across the country.

Sounds good – time to drink!

Mighty Oak Ale poured into my glass as a deep, but translucent, shade of amber. There was a pinch of snow-white head at the top of the ale, but it dissipated without much ado. To my eye, the ale looked to be a bit thin, but this could be because I used an over-sized glass. Or maybe not, who knows?

Odor-wise, this potable was sweet and therapeutic. There were some serious hints of vanilla and a bit of woodiness wafting into my brain, reminding me of the overpriced candles I’ve strewn across my apartment. Yeah, Tyler Durden would hate me. Anyways, there was also a prevailing breadiness, making for a well-balanced bouquet.

Mighty Oak Ale should be proud of the way it tastes. Upon the first sip, all that palate detected were the standard notes of amber ale. However, I then began to perceive vanillas and nuts and tinges of bitter. All I kept thinking while I drank was, “This is certainly a brew, but it’s a FORTIFIED brew!” As is often the case with my thoughts, I’m not really sure what that meant but I made sure to jot it down. Combining theses flavors with a fairly light body, this makes for an approachable ale for drinkers seasoned or otherwise.

The Sam Adams is at a crossroads, far too big for the microbrews and too small to compete with the macrobrew juggernauts. As such, the brewery is sure to get grief no matter what it does. Dudes who only drink Budweiser are going to want nothing to do with the likes of Mighty Oak Ale, and beer-enthusiasts may claim that it’s a feeble attempt at making an oak-aged ale. I’ll admit, it isn’t the best oak-aged brew I’ve ever had, but that doesn’t mean tastes like Wookie-piss.

Mighty Oak Ale is another testament to the fact that Sam Adams is still crafting great beer (or at least making an honest attempt). If you come across this beer, give it a few sips!