Sam Adams “The Vixen”: Trying Too Hard or Nailing It? (with Video)


It looks like Sam Adams is trying to rekindle the romance with hardcore craft beer geeks with the release of their small batch series of beers.  Glancing at the labels, you wouldn’t guess that these are Sam Adams products, and I think that’s the whole point.

When we discussed our “no-go” breweries here yesterday, a bunch of folks had Sam Adams on their list, saying that they are too big and too boring to be worth picking up.  It seems pretty clear that these limited-release beers and their funky labels are an attempt to change that.  Each beer is made with interesting ingredients and are certainly not something you’d find next to the Coors Light.

I decided to go with “The Vixen,” a chocolate chili bock because it seemed like the weirdest beer of the bunch, plus I’ve been in the mood for a Great Divide Chocolate Yeti, which also contains a bit of a chili kick on the finish.

Can the Vixen stand up to a Yeti?  Did Sam Adams reach too far trying to appeal to the cool kids?

Well, yes and no, mostly.  First, the Vixen is no Yeti, but that’s by design.  The mouthfeel is much lighter on the Vixen, which isn’t something I prefer in a dark beer, even one that’s clearly labeled as a bock.  Getting past that, you have a beer that treats you to a lovely nose, a gush of chocolate, a hint of wood and dates, and a slight tickle of pepper on the back end. Again, these flavors aren’t as intense as you’ll get with something like a Yeti (which is a stout after all) but they work together with the mouthfeel to produce a very balanced and flavorful craft beer.

That’s right, I said craft beer – The Vixen certainly qualifies.   This is a well-made brew that draws expertly within the lines (A Sam Adams trait) and delivers a true craft beer drinking experience. The only thing that fell a bit short was the lacing, which was the right color, but a tad foamy and short-lived.   Still, if this beer didn’t say “Sam Adams” on the neck label, you’d think it was something brewed in Colorado or Vermont.

A very special guest made his way into the video...

Where you’ll know it’s a Sam Adams beer is at the cash register.  A 22 ounce bomber set me back $5.49, making this beer a tremendous value.  Based on packaging, recipe concept and taste, most craft beer fans would happily pay $7.99 for one of these puppies, making this beer a screaming deal.

The other place you’ll know it’s a Sam Adams beer is in your head, which might spoil everything.  After all, for most of us taste is an emotional thing, colored by mood and circumstance, and sampling ANY beer with skepticism clouding you palate will affect how it tastes.  But if you can suspend your biases and taste The Vixen without prejudice, I think you’ll be very pleased at what Jim Koch and the gang have cooked up here.




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Categories: Beer, review


Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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25 Comments on “Sam Adams “The Vixen”: Trying Too Hard or Nailing It? (with Video)”

  1. November 18, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    Chocolate… chili… bock?

    I didn’t even know about this small batch release, but at least a few of them sound very intriguing to me (including the chocolate chili bock). Looks like I’ll be hitting up my better beer outlets to see if they’re available.

    • November 18, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

      Next up for me is that blonde barleywine oak barrel thing. I have no idea what to expect, which makes it awesome.

      • November 18, 2011 at 12:29 pm #

        That one looks the most interesting to me. I’ll see if I can grab one this afternoon.

        • November 18, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

          It was a tossup for me, but I figured there was a better chance for the chili bock to be awful, so I went with that one. You know, taking one for the team here…

  2. Brendan
    November 18, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    I’d love to see Boston Beer Company get back to being a craft beer. Right now, the beer is so widely distributed and accepted that it doesn’t feel crafty anymore.

    • November 18, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

      This did. My wife tasted it blind and was mildly surprised that it was from Sam Adams.

    • November 18, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

      There’s some truth to that, but we need it as well. I wouldn’t describe Sam Adams as ‘bad’ in any way for sure, and it’s wide distribution helps it get into some places that might only have otherwise had Bud/Coors.

  3. November 18, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

    I wonder if Alan Newman’s influence is being felt already, probably not, but it’s a thought.

    Being the hophead that I am, I’ll definitely look for the Red and Double IPAs, even though Sam’s is on my no-go list.

    • November 18, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

      I think their plan is working – they’ve gone from “no-go” to “why-not”!

  4. November 18, 2011 at 12:51 pm #

    I’ll agree. I thought the Vixen was a solid beer. No Yeti to be sure. Certainly no Stone Chipotle Smoked Porter. But if you’re looking for a darker, malty, chocolaty beer. This is definitely one. And I guess that’s the only small issue I have with it. I was hoping it might be a touch different. I wanted to be surprised a little. Instead I just seemed to be wishing for more with this beer. A little more peppery heat, a little more silky mouthfeel perhaps. Solid, certainly. Within the lines, yes. But I wanted outside the lines. Even if it’s just a little scribble.

    • November 18, 2011 at 1:10 pm #

      I say it’s a baby step in the right direction. If these do well, I imagine weirder stuff may follow. Plus, as gateway beers, these are a pretty easy way in for six-packers to experience more flavor and complexity without being too challenged.

      • November 18, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

        Again, totally agree. The Vixen was completely approachable, flavorful and easy to drink. I’ve only had this one. The Red is available here. Haven’t seen the other two. The blond looks very intriguing. If the others are as flavorful and approachable as the Vixen, they’ve got a fabulously good gateway lineup!

  5. November 18, 2011 at 1:13 pm #

    My saturday beer trip always involves a beer tasting. The tasting two weeks ago was run by a rep from Sam Adams. They brought all four of the above beers and the Weeheavy as well. I did enjoy these new takes, and I definitely did get the feel that they were trying to get back to their roots. The Vixen was not my favorite though. I actually bought The Tasman Red. I’ll have it up for review sometime in the next two weeks. However, I’m glad that they decided to do something like this. I thought they were all descent. I also like the Griffin’s bow

    • November 18, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

      I picked the Vixen just because I saw the greatest chance for them getting it wrong. It was the weirdest beer IMO, and therefore the one that involved the most risk. After tasting it, I’m now interested in checking out the rest, and at $5 a pop, there’s no reason not to.

  6. johnking82
    November 18, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    Haven’t had it yet but picked up an ABITA 25th Anniversary Vanilla Doubledog bomber for $4 yesterday…not too shabby.

    I didn’t listen to a word you said in the video, I just stared at DonnyBear.

    • November 18, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

      I was thinking about letting him do the review…

      • johnking82
        November 18, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

        Just like Don’s post, it’s just full of fluff.

  7. Mark S.
    November 18, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

    Thanks for the review. I picked up this one and the Red IPA, and am looking forward to them. I passed on the super-hoppy IPA and the barleywine mashup (too much going on there!) until the hivemind can render a verdict.

    • November 18, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

      I think I’ll pick up the other three and give them all a shot. I really like the idea of these beers, but the whole Sam Adams thing makes me resist a bit…

      • Mark S.
        November 21, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

        Had this over the weekend. Holy smokes was it good! Thanks for bumping it to the top of the list – I’ll be picking up some more for this weekend!

        • November 21, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

          Cool. I can’t wait to try the others in the series as well…

  8. jake_boston
    November 18, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    Glad I didn’t steer you wrong with The Vixen! Had no idea of the price point, $5 is fantastic. I’ve had my wife keep from buying bombers lately because the prices are just too high around here, but I can’t pass ’em up for 5 bucks.

    • November 18, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

      Yeah, a good value for sure. All craft beer is as far as what you get for the price, but this stuff is a tasty bargain.

  9. Wayne
    November 18, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    Well they may have missed the boat with their advertising. I’ll bet if DFH were producing this it’d be called Aztec something or other as Aztec royalty used to drink their chocolate with chilis added.

    Nevertheless, Sam Adams has always produced good solid beers, they just weren’t exciting enough for most of us beer geeks. But their brew staff has plenty of smarts so it doesn’t surprise me that their small batch beers would be good.

  10. November 20, 2011 at 11:25 pm #

    Nice review Jim. I like that Sam Adams has been stepping it up over the past couple years. I ignored them for the longest time, but they’ve won me back. While I don’t like everything they make, I respect the effort. As has been said many times before, they appear to be having fun. What’s not to love about that?

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