In craft beer culture there is this inherent idea that mass produced equals bad and I mostly agree with that -- I too would much rather give my money to a local brewery and support my local economy any and every time I have the choice, and small/hand-crafted usually tastes better anyway. The cult of fervent local allegiance would be nepotism if the products weren’t so damned good, but Michigan beers have earned their staunch support.
Buuuuuuut sometimes a non-local craft brewery makes something really, really interesting (like Great Lakes Brewing Co., or Dogfish Head) and even though I want to always give my money to Michigan breweries sometimes I want to mix it up a bit and try something from a different state, or different country. And for the most part, craft beer enthusiasts are on board with that. Sometimes they get snippy ("You know, Michigan makes some good XYZ-styles too") but let he who has never drank something from Sierra Nevada or Rogue cast the first stone.
And so it was I found myself at Merchant's Fine Wine the other day and saw a brand-new release from Samuel Adams -- the Stony Brook Red, part of their Barrel Room Collection. I love sour beers all of the time but right now happen to be on a particularly big sour kick, so the part of me that wants to try every single sour beer in the world for the sake of research was excited to try something new ... plus there's that whole "a sour beer from Sam Adams" curiosity. The part of me that hates everything winced -- Sam Adams? Really? Is this supposed to be their version of Anheuser-Busch's "Small Batch Series"?
My friend and Certified Cicerone Annette May pointed the Stony Brook Red out to me and said she was excited to try it, having tasted a sample of it a few years ago when they were still developing it. I made the "Who farted?" face and she said, "What? They make good beers!" And I, ever humbled in her presence because she knows about 1,000x more than I, shook off my shame at being an ignorant anti-corporate-for-the-sake-of-being-anti-corporate-for-the-sake-of-being-on-one-side-of-the-extreme extremist, bought a bottle.
And you know what? It doesn't suck.
The Barrel Room Collection is something that has been in development for several years. They've taken the time to test the products and until last month the Collection was only available in select markets; in July it was released nationwide with all four Barrel Collection offerings: New World, Thirteenth House, Stony Brook Red and American Kriek (incidentally, the American Kriek is made with Michigan Balaton cherries).
A few days later another beer industry friend posted this on the Facebook:
Me: Can I help you find anything?
Customer: Just looking for some new hoppy beers to try.
Me: [Point at Sierra Nevada]
Customer: No, I won't drink anything from Sierra Nevada
Customer: I don't drink beer from large breweries (lumping them in with BMC [Bud/Miller/Coors])
Me: Sierra Nevada isn't even half the size of Samuel Adams, and Sam Adams isn't even a 20% as large as the major breweries.
If they make good beer, what is the difference, c'mon people!!
Given that I hate everything, I also hate any kind of extremist position on anything, and the idea that any and all major breweries are unequivocally BAD (evil!) is pretty damn extreme. Besides, it wouldn't be a big leap to say that pretty much anything made on the other side of an ocean that finds its way into the Michigan market (yes Sam Adams is made in Boston; see my analogy through to the end please) is mass-produced by a major (read: corporate) brewery. I mean, craft enthusiasts still seem to be down for some Modelo and Asahi (because they're, you know, foreign) and those are among the biggest breweries in the world.
Let's also not forget that any brewery has the potential to cross that threshold from "small" to "large" if they have the capacity to brew enough and have a popular product that sells. Anheuser-Busch may still be #1 in sales volume, but our very own Bell's Brewery isn't far behind holding down the #13 spot (by comparison, Sam Adams -- as Boston Beer Co. -- is #5). Probably this has a lot to do with Broberon, but I think we can all agree Bell's makes some killer beers too.
So anyway I had the Stony Brook Red (a take on the Belgian sour Flanders red style), it didn't suck, I'd like to try the American Kriek and you should check them out if you have the chance.