I was intrigued when I heard that the Boston Beer Company, maker of the Sam Adams line of beers, is collaborating with one of the world's oldest breweries. Their goal: to create a brand new beer style, bounded by the strictures of the Reinheitsgebot.
The Reinheitsgebot is a German beer-purity law dating to the 1500s, and stipulates that beer can be brewed with only four ingredients: water, malt, hops and yeast. Now, 500 some years of brewing later, it's pretty much accepted that the limitations of beer brewed within its strictures has been reached. That's what makes Sam Adams's claim so audacious, and so exciting.
Infinium comes in at around 10 percent abv, so it's pretty strong. It's also bottle-conditioned, meaning that additional yeast is added to the brew when it is bottled, and additional fermentation occurs in the bottle. This contributes both flavor and carbonation, lending the beer additional character, and a champagne-like bubbliness.
When poured, Infinium is pale golden, with lots of tiny bubbles and a generous, finely textured head. The aromas seem to be forcibly propelled from the glass by all that carbonation, and arrive full of fruit and spice. Pears, over-ripe bananas, cloves, and just a hint of Dubble Bubble are the predominant notes, but a wide range of other fruit and spice elements flit through, as well.
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This is a very interesting beer, texturally. The sip itself is light and crisp, but then it has a mouth-filling creaminess that extends to the finish. It starts very much like champagne, in that regard, but definitely finishes like a beer.
The flavor profile follows a similar track. It is very much like the aroma, full of fruit and spice, with an added note of citrus. That citrus hit isn't quite like lemon or orange, but more like the kind of rind-y, peppery citrus you get from grains of paradise, which I know Sam Adams uses in some of their other beers. I'm not saying they cheated the Reinheitsgebot, I'm just saying the flavor's in there.
As the texture changes through a sip, so does the flavor. It starts out light and crisp, with a dry character that somehow implies sweetness, playing out very much like a Trappist-style Belgian ale. In the middle is a round, mouth-filling maltiness, and the finish is all palate-cleansing hops, though not overly bitter. It's definitely a beer that wants you to think about it while you're drinking it, and it's hard not to. It's a bit of a shape-shifter.
So, did Sam Adams hit its mark? I'm not sure. Infinium tastes both new and familiar. I've never had a beer exactly like this, but I've had a lot that have certain individual elements in common with it. What I do know is that this is an intriguing, thoroughly enjoyable beer, and could easily stand in for a bottle of champagne for your holiday celebration or New Year's toast. I also think that, as with most audacious claims, it's best to take this one with a grain of salt. Excepting, of course, that the Reinheitsgebot won't allow for it.