Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sample Error

As you may have noticed, we here at the SFA are pretty big fans of beer. Oh sure, we'll swig some wine on Wednesdays and punish the gin and tonics at a wedding (open bar of course), but when it comes right down to it we can't get enough of the sweet brown nectar -- even after a long weekend of fraternizing.

Because we love the beer, and we love variety, we like to try various types of beers. Many breweries try to make this easy on us by offering "sampler packs" which contain multiple types of beer in one box. Sometimes these are awesome, but more than not they miss the mark a little.  Here are the best and worst we've come across here in the St. Louis Market.

Best Sampler: Schlafly

I actually buy this particular twelve pack all of the time because it does give me a little flavor of everything, and I happen to like all three beers they pack in here. It brings the Pale Ale (a reliable beer that can go with anything), the Dry-hopped APA (for when you're feeling hoppy) and a fantastic Kolsch (this is a great barbecue beer and WAY better than their Summer Lager which I don't care for). Not only do I like the beer in here, I also believe strongly that 3 is the perfect number of beers to put into a sampler so you have the option to spread the 4-of-one-kind over a couple of meals or opt to sit down and have several in a row.

Schlafly also gets bonus points for swapping out their Hefeweizen (which was trendy but never really tickled my... fancy?) for the APA (which I adore). They get even more bonus points for having a very responsive social media team: I sent a friend to the Bottleworks for lunch and right after he checked in on Yelp, someone working there said "hey, thanks for checking in."

Runner Up (in a good way): Great Divide

This is a pricier sampler than I usually pick up, but I had tried something of theirs before and was impressed. I think this sampler -- containing four of their year-round brews -- was the first one my wife could split evenly: she liked 2 and I liked 2. None of them are on our favorites board, but our tastes are so different we usually don't even like the same breweries. Having someone in our house enjoy every beer out of a sample box is a pretty big win for our house.

Our common ground? Coors Light of all things.

Worst 12 Pack: Boulevard

The Boulevard 12-pack contains 6 different beers. That's just too damned many in my book. Very few craft brewers can put together one sampler with 6 competently and not-completely-out-there beers. Boulevard is not one of those few. Their Pale Ale is fantastic, and their Unfiltered Wheat is the only wheat beer I actually enjoy.  From those two, his sampler goes downhill quickly.  The Lunar Ale stands out as being particularly awful, but rest assured that one dud is not what sinks this offering.

Runner-Up (not in a good way): Samuel Adams

I hate to pick on Sammy because they've obviously put in a lot of work to make sure all of these beers are available in grocery stores all the way out in my suburbs. However, their sampler pack suffers, much like Boulevard, from having too much of a good thing by offering 6 different beers in one 12 pack. The Boston Lager and Sam Adams Light are safe picks, but everything after that is sort of a crap shoot. This is, in fairness, a sampler in the truest sense in that they seem to rotate through the remaining flavors pretty frequently, but generally speaking, I don't like many of them. If you are really into noticing the coriander in a given beer, this might be for you. I'm just personally not there yet.


Sampler packs are a great way to minimize risk when exploring new breweries: why risk it all on 6 bottles on one beer when you can have 12 beers that give several flavors. When picking out a sampler pack, I recommend going with one that has no more than four different brews in it (three is probably better), and I'd hold out until they go on sale.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="450" caption="I'd rather be fearless than beerless."][/caption]


  1. I subscribed to a Beer of the Month club - and there are many fails. However, each month there is a shipment of 4 different brews, 3 bottles each. So it is a nice surprise. But the mulberry-flavored beers (and other fancy-schmancy flavors) are just so wrong.
    I will try taking your approach now - less risk, less $$.

  2. I don't mind a fail every once in a while, but I need a 65% + success rate.Thanks for the comment, Sue. I think we should line up a sampling event in Vegas next month.