Spring beers have been on store shelves since January. That seasonal disconnect between what’s outside your window and what’s in your glass is an annual cause of consternation among consumers, who write in regularly to let me know they’re missing their stouts and winter warmers.
“The timing for brewing our seasonal beers isn’t as simple as matching dates to a calendar,” says Boston Beer founder Jim Koch. “Even in January, people are looking forward to warmer spring days.”
Supply and demand is also an issue, Koch and other brewers say. There’s an urgency to remove Harpoon Winter Warmer and its festive-themed bottle from shelves earlier, says Harpoon co-founder Rich Doyle. Summer seasonals are usually a brewery’s best seller, and given the popularity and the length of that selling season, spring beers need to be squeezed in somewhere.
I’ve dabbled in a few spring beers to this point without writing about them, but with the arrival of the vernal equinox this week, it’s finally time to transition the column to lighter offerings. Below are the results of a side-by-side tasting of spring brews from Harpoon, Sam Adams, and Long Trail.
Long Trail Ramble: Long Trail’s spring offering is a Kolsch-style beer, native to Cologne, Germany, with “hints of lemon and pepper.” It pours transparent like a light beer. The aroma is grassy, grainy.
I get tons of lemon with this beer but not very much pepper. The mouthfeel is paper thin, causing a double take at the 5.5 percent ABV. This is a very refreshing beer, one that goes down way too easily on its own but might not be hefty enough to pair with food.
Samuel Adams Cold Snap: If you have eyeballs, you’ve undoubtedly seen this one around. The beer was a hit in our weekly 99 Bottles chat (Wednesdays, 8 p.m.) a couple weeks back.
Cold Snap is a witbier with 10 spices, including orange peel, plum, and coriander, added. As Koch says, “It’s almost like a sobriety test to try and remember all of them.”
The brew pours much darker in color than the first, with an orange hue. I get lemon and some spice in the nose.
The taste here is classic Sam Adams — easy drinking, smooth, bits of pepper and lemon blending down to a mild aftertaste. This one has more bulk than the first but still won’t weigh you down. As is often the case with Sam’s seasonals I wish the finish were more crisp. The beer weighs in at 5.3 percent alcohol with just 10 IBUs (international bitterness units).
Harpoon The Long Thaw: Harpoon’s new spring seasonal is its very popular 100 Barrel Series White IPA renamed. The Long Thaw replaces Celtic Red, Harpoon’s spring seasonal for the last 14 years. You can still find Celtic Red at a few restaurants and bars.
The Long Thaw’s appearance is somewhere between the first two, cloudy but yellow. I take one whiff and the aroma screams, “There’s hops in here!” Pleasant citrus wafts up from my glass. The beer tastes like a session IPA, with light spice and a crisp finish. This is my favorite of the bunch due in part to balance and in part to my love of hops. At 6.2 percent alcohol and 45 IBUs, however, it’s not too strong.
One of my favorite beer festivals, the New England Real Ale Exibition, or NERAX, will take place March 26 to 29 at The Aeronaut Brewing Co. (14 Tyler St., Somerville). Firkins of cask ales from the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States will be available. These beers are gently carbonated and quite delicious. You can get info on tickets and more at nerax.org.
We’re getting more interactive at 99 Bottles. Each week, with your help, I’ll sample a new brew. If you’d like to participate in the tasting, pick up that week’s beer, log into Twitter, and tag your tweets with #99Bottles. You can follow the progress of the tasting and see what others and myself are saying at: www.boston.com/lifestyle/food/blogs/99bottles. This week’s brew, conveniently enough, is Harpoon’s The Long Thaw. The tasting will start at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 26. Cheers.
globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GaryDzen