I’ve always considered myself a fan of the Saranac line of beers, although I catch a lot of flack for it within the craft beer geek community. Sure, I’ll admit most of their brews are indeed “supermarket beers,” but that doesn’t necessarily make them bad. I think when other beer geeks think of Saranac they would think of a beer like Winter Lager. This is an overtly pedestrian beer, which is evident from its smooth drinkability and fairly direct palate. It’s not a bad beer by any means, but it’s not nearly as fanciful as the description would indicate.
APPEARANCE AND AROMA
The body here is very reminiscent of an Oktoberfest with a dark amber/brownish color with a clear complexion. It forms a surprisingly large, off-white rocky head which is slow to dissipate and, surprisingly enough, leaves some lacing on the glass. The aroma is quite sweet with hints of caramel and a touch of spice. There is a slight graininess to the nose as well, but mostly it’s unremarkable.
I’m not sure what the average drinker (craft, macro or otherwise) thinks of when they hear the term “winter beer,” but the first thing that comes to my mind is a spicy, peppery, warming palate. If a beer is going to put the put itself forward as a winter beer, especially as blunt as “Winter Lager” then it’s reasonable to have an expectation along these lines.
Saranac Winter Lager does play by these rules, but isn’t a strict adherence to them. There is a slight bit of cinnamon or ginger to be tasted here, in addition to a maltiness to create for a slightly sweet palate. It’s mild, to be sure, but the character is noticeable. There’s even a touch of hop crispness on the finish with a faint bitter aftertaste.
The problem is, despite all this apparent complexity, this beer is pretty direct. The palate doesn’t change as it warms, although it doesn’t worsen either.
The good thing about Saranac Winter Lager is that it’s a surprisingly refreshing brew. In fact, I think that’s the intention. The brewer’s website recommends pairing it with spicy food such as chili, and I could certainly agree with that. It’s thirst-quenching because it’s so mild and has a watery, soft mouthfeel. What’s surprising is the fact this is such a potent brew at 5.9% ABV. It doesn’t feel that heavy in the mouth, nor on the system.
I really wanted to like Saranac Winter Lager more than I did, but it’s impossible to coax flavors out of a beer that aren’t there. Its drinkability is impressive, but the palate is not. Still, considering this beer’s target audience it’s a worthy conclusion to the Saranac “12 Beers of Winter” variety pack ($12 - $20). I just wouldn’t make it one of my first choices right out of the box.