Boston Beer Company’s 2013 launch of Samuel Adams Rebel IPA represented more than a new beer release.
Rebel was a brand, and Sam was planting its flagpole as dedicated maker of a style of beer many brewers sell a lot of. A double IPA and a session IPA joined the Rebel line a year later, then one brewed with grapefruit juice.
But something wasn’t right, and last year, amid declining sales, founder Jim Koch made the decision to do something he’d never done before: change the formula of a flagship.
Koch credits the availability of a new experimental hop variety for the change, but Rebel is now different in another significant way. Brewers stripped caramel malt from the new formula, offering a lighter canvas off of which tropical notes of mango and papaya are supposed to pop. If you tried the old Rebel, you know that the hop character often came off as muddled, especially in older pours.
“Previously, Rebel IPA had a more balanced malt and hop character,” says Koch. “Now it has a more intense juicy, tropical, and citrus flavor supported by a leaner body and a crisp, clean finish.”
The recipe for the original Rebel called for five West Coast hops. To make the new version, Samuel Adams nano-brewery manager Megan Parisi tinkered with test batches for months, tweaking the blend to include Cascade, Simcoe, Centennial, Chinook, and Mosaic, but also experimental hop varieties called HBC 566 and HBC 682. The former, grown for the brewery on a farm in Yakima, Wash., wasn’t available when formulating the original brew.
I recently grabbed a “Pack of Rebels” 12-pack of cans, containing four variations on the beer, from a local liquor store. Rebel IPA is the new flagship, and it’s a nice beer, faintly tropical with light bitterness. On trend is Rebel Juiced IPA, which sweetens things up with mango puree and could act as an introduction to the style for the hop-averse. Rebel Grapefruit — made with the juice and peel of the fruit — is the best of the group, with a clean, classic, hops-on-steroids citrus smell. Rebel White Citra, which rounds out the pack, is forgettable.
Boston Beer didn’t make a standout IPA here, but it made several very good ones, and at $12.49 for a 12-pack, this is one of the best values on the market. Rebel’s new formula is decidedly better. The question now is, will it sell?Gary Dzen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GaryDzen