Some in the craft beer community have already seen this news in brief when it came and went back in 2020, but it’s new to us, and potentially widespread in its impact: Boston Beer Co. has been tinkering with the recipe for Samuel Adams Boston Lager. That alone will always be major beer news, given that Boston Lager is one of the most iconic brands in the history of the industry. It’s news in the same way that it would be news if Sierra Nevada said it was revamping Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
In Boston Beer Co.’s (BBC) case, they’re referring to the new version of Boston Lager as “Remastered,” and hedging their bets in terms of how they choose to describe the new version, stressing both that the recipe is “the same” and “improved” at the same time. This is to be expected when you’re dealing with a storied recipe like Boston Lager, which played such an integral role in the American craft beer boom since its introduction in 1984. After all, the biggest potential pitfall of such a move is risking the perception that reliable Boston Lager drinkers will think that the beer has changed for the worse.
And ultimately, that’s the crux of what makes this such a difficult proposition for a company like BBC. Overall, the company has transitioned in recent years away from even being primarily a “beer company” as the name would imply, as production of Angry Orchard hard cider, Twisted Tea, and Truly hard seltzer has long since eclipsed beer production, making BBC a producer of “malternative beverages” first and foremost. This presents BBC with an obvious mandate to bring its beer portfolio back to its former glory by helping tired brands such as Boston Lager, but it’s very hard to update an old brand like that in order to seek new customers without alienating the ones you still have. It’s a classic catch-22.
As for how the “Remastered” Boston Lager actually differs, the company describes it as using “the original 1984 recipe,” but with an “evolved” brewing process that has “improved sessionability.” As they put it: “While Boston Beer has never renovated Boston Lager to this degree, the lager has constantly evolved as they work relentlessly in pursuit of better beer. Boston Beer has optimized their brewing process, worked with farmers to refine their hops and even revamped their glassware. Now, through a German Reinheitsgebot technique called Biological Acidification, Boston Beer has reduced steps within the filtration process and the resulting Boston Lager is brighter and easier drinking.”
Boston Beer Co. says these processes lend the beer “a more refreshing, cleaner aftertaste than the original recipe,” and that focus groups noted “a noticeable difference in the new formula, calling out the aroma, a round malt impression and a soft mouthfeel that leads to a fast finish with no lingering bitterness or astringency.” The “remastered” Boston Lager is currently being tested in New York markets, and online tasters seem to suggest it comes off as a bit less sweet, and more hop forward.
If you’re a longtime Boston Lager drinker reading this, and are afraid of changes to a beloved recipe that has previously been dependable, our reply would be that you can probably relax. The truth of the beer industry is that recipes in general change far more often than consumers realize, not necessarily in an effort to change or contemporize beer brands, but to keep those brands tasting the same in an industry where malt or hops can taste substantially different from growing season to growing season. We would suspect that whatever changes are made to Boston Lager will be subtle, rather than dramatic.
In the meantime, if you’re in New York and looking to try the new version of Boston Lager, it’s unclear whether the packaging prominently displays the word “Remastered” anywhere, but it may be visible on the bottle neck, as in this image. We’ll be keeping an eye out for when this version potentially goes national in the future.