Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Hallertau Imperial Pilsner

Boston Beer Company
Boston, MA

Style: Pilsener
ABV: 8.8%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Outstanding within its style.)

Pair With:
• Bass
• Brats
• Cod
• Crab
• Lobster
• Oysters
• Salami
• Salmon
• Salsa
• Shrimp
OK, settle down out there in Beer Dorks Land. I’m sure that a number of our loyal readers are all in a tizzy that Nigel would even consider reviewing Samuel Adam’s Hallertau Imperial Pilsner. Yes, I’m fully aware that Sam Adam’s is not only based in Boston, and therefore nowhere near our focus area, it’s also one of the largest and most recognizable brewers in the country outside of the Big Three, and thus very hard to consider “craft.” Before you hit the back button in disgust, let me defend myself.

First of all, Nigel needed to make up for a really stupid statement made in a past review. Back in June, Nigel reviewed New Glarus’ Bourbon Barrel Bock, and proceeded to make the laughable claim that there was no such thing as an “imperial wheat” or “imperial pilsner.” If you haven’t noticed by now, Nigel is an idiot. Any brewer who chooses to go to the extreme can make a “double” or “imperial” of any style. All you need to do is overload on certain characteristics prominent in the original style, bump up the ABV, and, voila! You’ve got yourself an Imperial Whateveritmaybe. While the lighter styles tend to stay relatively true to form and thus not cross the imperial threshold, it most certainly can be done. Therefore, as punishment for my idiocy, I wanted to review an imperial pils.

More importantly, however, is what Sam Adam’s represents. Though they are clearly one of the most widely distributed national brewers outside of the evil B-M-C trifecta, that doesn’t mean they don’t know what they’re doing. Sam Adam’s can be seen as a boost to the craft beer industry for one simple reason: they serve as an intermediary. The high profile of this brewer leads many ignorant beer drinkers to think they’re “hip” if they drink a Sam Adam’s. This is a good thing, in my opinion. Think about it … would you rather an ignorant beer drinker switch from B-M-C swill to the perceived “cool” shit imports Stella Artois, Amstel, and Heineken or to Sam Adam’s? Would you rather they try the awful “craft-like” selections from the Big Three such as Beach Bum Blonde, Jack’s Pumpkin Spice, and Michelob Amber Bock or try a Sam Adam’s Boston Lager or Octoberfest? If they learn to like Sam Adam’s, they not only will be drinking American beer not produced by B-M-C, but also will begin to expand their palate, and thus be more likely to try other craft brews in the near future. Before you know it, we’ll have Beer Dorks-in-training on our hands.

And, though Sam Adam’s Light is clearly a pathetic attempt to capitalize financially on the shit-beer drinking masses that still account for a vast majority of beer purchases in this country and worldwide, other Sam Adam’s selections are not too bad. Boston Lager is as prevalent as Light, yet is a decent attempt at a Vienna-style Lager. While this would be nowhere near the top of my list of choices should I be in a good beer bar or retailer, it serves as a fallback brew should you be somewhere where the only other choices are from the Big Three. Sam Adam’s seasonals also tend to be respectable, particularly the Octoberfest and Winter Brew. SA’s wheat offerings, including Summer Brew, Hefeweizen, and Cherry Wheat are pretty tame, though not awful. I ask you: if Sam Adam’s was based in the Midwest, which would you prefer: Sam Adam’s, Leinenkugel’s, Goose Island (distributed by A-B, by the way), Berghoff, or Schell (for our Minnesota friends)? Nigel would place SA a firm second behind Goose.

Furthermore, despite their penchant for making the big bucks, Brewmaster Jim Koch and crew seem to have a beer IQ that would rival anyone in the craft beer industry. They may market seemingly weak, somewhat blah brews to the masses, but when they tinker with “extreme beer,” they tend to hit the jackpot. Honestly, what’s more extreme than the 25 percent ABV monster Utopias, a Sam Adam’s creation? SA created the now-retired Triple Bock, which checks in at 18 percent, and the limited-release 1999/2000 Millennium Ale, which checked in at 20 percent. SA Double Bock, a spring Dopplebock release, is quite good and quite ballsy. I could go on, but we can save further discussion on this topic for a later time. Let’s just say that Sam Adam’s does deserve some respect, despite their widespread appeal and sometimes timid selections.

As for the Imperial Pilsner, it’s a brew unlike any I’ve ever sampled. The description on the bottle claims that Koch travels to Bavaria each year to select the “finest noble Hallertau Mittelfueh hops.” While this is a obviously a well-written piece of marketing, I have no reason to believe it’s not true. We all know Nigel is a hophead extraordinaire, but it should also be noted that I much prefer American Cascade hops over European noble hops. But hey—whatever their origin, hops are pretty damn spectacular! The marketing would lead you to believe that Imperial Pilsner is loaded with hops, so I’m not sure what to expect, though I’m kind of anticipating an pale ale-like brew.

Not to be. This is like no beer I’ve ever had. Not so overloaded with hops as to remind one of an IPA, yet far too complex to remind one of a pilsner, this is quite the creation. The pour is very foamy; a thick, white foam that lingers for a good period, eventually dying down to leave a very lively trace throughout the drink. The color is also odd, considering this is supposed to be a pils. A deep apricot color and very cloudy, with some sedimentation floating about, this looks like a craft beer should. The aroma is unique, led by the grassy scent of noble hops (different from “pinier” Cascade hops). A distinctive, almost herbal aroma also tingles the nostrils; it’s hard to describe, but is quite pleasant. Finally, there is a very noticeable yeasty aroma, somewhat of a surprise to me.

The taste is solid and unique. It’s got many of the typical pilsner qualities, but is too thick and hoppy to completely remind you of a true pils. A sweet flavor actually hits the tongue before the hops do, but when they finally hit, they hit hard. Hopped up for sure, but not nearly to the extent of an American pale or an IPA. The hops are tempered by the initial sweetness, as well as a very earthy, bready flavor of yeast. It’s the last part that surprised me the most and took away—in my opinion—from an otherwise phenomenal brew. Though it says “pilsner” on the bottle, this is an 8.8 percent beast, and should be enjoyed in small doses (sip it, please). Medium bodied (much more body than a typical pils), it goes down relatively smooth and has a somewhat strong aftertaste.

If you can convince yourself that drinking a Sam Adam’s won’t cause you to lose your Beer Dorkship, give this a shot. Its proof positive that there is such a thing as an imperial pilsner, and it’s a unique beer that shouldn’t be missed. If all else fails, dump the bottle in the trash after you pour and tell your friends it’s a Bell’s.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on October 11, 2007.
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