It’s near impossible to enter any bar or brewery these days and not have an IPA staring you in the face. As the flagship style of our country’s craft beer culture, heaping praise on hop-forward beers makes Cascade, Centennial, and Citra as American as red, white, and blue.
Oddly enough, our most patriotic brewery has not always been a fan.
It wasn’t that long ago – just 2013 – when Jim Koch, the CEO of Boston Beer and man behind the Samuel Adams line of beers, swore off the “hop bombs” that have become ubiquitous in recent years. There were too many, they didn’t offer anything new and people would tire of them, he told Boston.com.
“Are they new or interesting?” he asked. “Not really. I mean they’re good, but there’s nothing I’m going to learn from tasting that. There’s not a huge set of skills to make an 80-IBU beer.”
There’s not a huge set of skills to make an 80-IBU beer.”
Surely there are plenty of brewers who would beg to differ, both then and now, pointing out that, at the very least, tracking the International Bitterness Units of an IPA isn’t a way to gauge quality.
And, to be fair, it was just one year later, in 2014, that Koch would shepherd Sam Adams into American IPA territory with the release of Rebel IPA, the biggest craft beer debut in the industry’s history, raking in more than $35 million in tracked grocery and convenience stores and more.
In 2015, Sam Adams’ Rebel Rider (session IPA) and Rebel Rouser (double IPA) were both top-five new releases. The IPA line expanded with Rebel Cascade, focusing on flavor derived from its namesake hop, and Rebel Raw, which Koch likened to The Alchemist’s Heady Topper, one of the most famous hop bombs there is.
For as much attention that Sam Adams started paying to IPA, its leader still seemed reluctant, as highlighted by an interview with Koch for Boston Magazine: “When Koch talks about IPAs, including his own Rebel and the new Rebel Rouser, his energy level visibly flags. For a man possessed of such demonstrable passion for beer, it’s telling that he appears to view these beers as necessary evils. They are, in essence, a Hail Mary attempt to bounce back into the craft scene, where drinkers’ interest in his flagship Boston Lager is waning.”
In the years since, Sam Adams has pushed on, creating new additions to the “Rebel Family” of IPAs as sales for the company have slowed. Even the brewery’s hoppy patriarch, Rebel IPA, became so outdated in just two years the company recently reformulated the recipe after sales dropped 23% in 2016.
And here we are, with the sixth Rebel brand looking to breathe new life into its familial lineup. The latest creation is Rebel Juiced IPA, a fruited beer made with mango juice. It's a drink focused on taking your taste buds to the tropics not some bitter walk down memory lane of IPAs made long ago that wanted to make you squinch with hop intensity. One hopes Jim Koch approves.
Calling an IPA “juicy” is a near-requirement with today’s new releases.”
Calling an IPA “juicy” is a near-requirement with today’s new releases, and by putting “juiced” on the label, Sam Adams follows through. A golden, crystal clear pour contrasts a current trend of hazy India pale ales and you can’t miss the mango in this beer’s aroma or taste.
The beer’s inspiration is clear on the nose, but in a traditional Sam Adams way: it’s pleasant and not overpowering, but most important, easily distinguishable for all. For a brewery that sends its beers into supermarkets all over the country, it’s a trait that should be welcomed by the vast majority of beer drinkers who aren’t deep in the weeds of geekdom.
If you let it warm enough, the beer’s aroma begins a dance between mango juice and its Zeus, Mosaic and Mandarina hops, a pairing meant to let you go back and forth in your mind where one starts and the other begins. The taste is sweet in a way that made me think of penny candy pulled from bulk bins. Each sip offered unmistakable mango flavor, but a strong hop presence never makes you think you’re drinking anything other than a beer. It’s not dessert, but could be paired with one.
This is the kind of beer you want to start drinking in March’s welcoming days of spring, but could easily be a go-to throughout the sun drenched days of summer.
There’s a fine line that Sam Adams has to straddle with any of its beers. Brewers can play in the industry’s latest trends, but because of the brewery’s sheer size and distribution footprint, most beers must now provide something approachable to Average Joe and Jane Drinker while offering just enough curiosity to intense beer lovers who likely moved on from Sam Adams long ago.
Drinking Rebel Juiced IPA reminds me that there’s plenty of middle ground between the two and if we’re willing to give the Old Guard another chance, there are still some pleasant tricks up its sleeve.
Even with an IPA.