Friday, April 13, 2012

Samuel Adams Thirteenth Hour Review

Thirteenth Hour -- part of the Barrel Room
I can't think of a better brew to review on Friday the 13th than Samuel Adams Thirteenth Hour--the fourth addition to the acclaimed Barrel Room Collection series of beer by the Boston Beer Company...unless, of course, you're triskaidekaphobic!  I've been holding onto this massive beer for awhile now, trying to figure out the best time to enjoy it.  Since the name refers to the Witching Hour--a time of supernatural activity usually said to be between midnight and three am--and Friday the 13th is a day of superstition and the occult, it's only fitting that this magical review will explore the bewitching flavors and intoxicating assortment of ingredients that went into this unique and memorable beer.

It might be a bit difficult to read but the back of the bottle explains that the name also refers to the number of ingredients that were used to make this beer.  Though all thirteen are not enumerated, there is some insight given to what flavors the drinker can expect.  Roasted chocolate and coffee--elements common to stouts and some porters--are touted as being integral to the flavor profile.  These combine with some traditional Belgian-style ale characteristics that include spice notes as well as dark fruit nuances that weave their way through both the aroma and the taste.  Not noted on the bottle is the inclusion of "KMF" or "Kosmic Mother Funk"--a proprietary ale that is aged in oak casks and then blended into the Barrel Room Collection beers; this single factoid actually explains a lot about the beer and helped me to understand why I enjoyed some of these special brews more than others.

To be fair, the KMF is referenced on a small booklet that comes attached to the bottle (pictured at right).  The problem is that it is not mentioned on the bottle, which is what most people would look at first (or at all) when they are reading the description of the beer.  This, for me, is a problem because the flavors described on the bottle are misleading as a result of the KMF omission.  Based upon the bottle's information, one would expect a dark, rich, chocolate and coffee-laden ale with smooth oaky and vanilla notes that feature the quintessential Belgian spice profile in the aftertaste.  The KMF, however, completely alters this as a result of its inclusion in the blend.

The first thing that I noticed when I poured the beer was how rich and decadent it appeared.  A light mocha head frothed up nicely and served as a wonderful counterpoint to the deep, dark beer that sat in my Sam Adams tulip glass.  This, combined with the information on the bottle, led me to expect a particular set of scents emanating from the glass.  The aroma, much to my surprise, was almost Brett-like (referring to the Brettanomyces strain of yeast) and reminded me more of a gueuze than a stout.  To be honest, the last thing I was expecting was a lambic-ness to this beer but it actually intrigued me rather than turned me off.  Once I got past the initial shock of the bouquet, other aromas started to filter through: peppery, dark fruits and the wonderful scent of an excellent dark Belgian ale.

The first sip really blew me away as there was a ton going on; it was obvious that this was a remarkably complex beer.  During that first taste, I noticed the slightly sour notes brought on by the KMF immediately but before I could decide whether or not I liked them, they were gone, replaced by a capricious blend of other flavor sensations.  I took another and found less of the sourness and more of the rich, dark fruits like plums, dates, and cherries fighting their way through to the front of my mouth while the aftertaste brought with it the sweet vanilla and oak undertones that I had been expecting.  I swirled the beer around my mouth for the third sip and found that there was something undeniably sweet that I couldn't put my finger on.  Later, when I read the booklet (pictured previously above), I realized that it was rum.  That sip (and a few thereafter) actually reminded me of Innis & Gunn's phenomenal Rum Cask Aged scottish ale.

By the time I finished my glass, I was left quite satisfied and wholly perplexed.  I detected so many different flavors and aromas, many of which made me think of other excellent beers that I had had before.  In a way, it was almost as if Thirteenth Hour had revealed itself to be a witch's cauldron--one that had a panoply of flavors thrown together, leaving me spellbound and wanting more.  Much like a witch's ability to transform her shape, so too does the Thirteenth Hour from one sip to the next--each one bringing new elements out as others fade away.

The average score on Beer Advocate for the beer at the time of this review was an 84, which converts to a letter grade of B.  I gave it a grade of A- because I felt like its complexity coupled with the wonderful beer memories it evoked warranted a higher score.  It is listed as a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, which means that it is rubbing elbows with the likes of Chimay Blue, Trois Pistoles, and two of the Deliriums--tremendous company to be keeping.  In my opinion, it deserves a place near the top of the style with the aforementioned brews not because it necessarily adheres to the style but because it bucks the trend and stands out as something completely different.  I can certainly see the similarities between this beer and the others (particularly the Chimay Blue) but the fact that there are so many other things going on really places it into a category unto itself.

If you can find this beer, buy it--it is awesome!  I recommend it highly.


--Beer Whisperer Matt