Every once in a while I encounter a brew that walks a fine line between genuine craft beer and one of the more gimmicky types. I don’t believe there’s a direct correlation between a beer’s authenticity and its quality and Saranac Maple Porter is proof of that.
This is a very satisfying beer in terms of taste and drinkability even though it does appear to be a pedestrian attention-grabber. I’m not ashamed by how much I like it, although I’m sure beer snobs will tell me why I should be.
APPEARANCE AND AROMA
Saranac Maple Porter pours to a dark mahogany/ruby red color bordering on opaque black. It forms a thick, white, frothy head which lasts throughout the lifespan of the drink and leaves some lacing on the glass.
The aroma is very strong and inviting as soon as the bottle is opened. A rich maple syrup-like sweetness combined with a dark chocolate bitterness battle for position in my nose (and I have to admit it’s hard to choose between them).
Beer aficionados tend to enjoy chocolate stouts because of their ability to balance rich sweetness with roasty malts and hop bitterness. Saranac Maple Porter is able to perform this impressive balancing act just as well as some of the big-name chocolate brews (i.e. Rogue Chocolate Stout, Young’s Double Chocolate Stout). The difference here is the reliance on caramel malts and maple syrup flavoring (although chocolate is also a component).
Up front this beer has a rich sweetness akin to your breakfast maple syrup, along with some toasted caramel and chocolate malts to make the palate truly robust rather than just a gimmicky sweetness. On the back end is a slight bitterness reminiscent of a British brown ale (which isn’t surprising considering its use of Fuggles and East Kent Golding hops). It finishes with a surprisingly strong flavor of bitter dark chocolate which lingers for quite a while.
The only caveat to this beer is, as the bottle indicates, it’s not made with real maple syrup, but rather “natural flavors” and there does seem have an artificial sweetener flavor. Additionally, I can’t help but feel this brew is milder than it could be in order to make it more drinker-friendly. Still, the palate is surprisingly complex and the flavors genuinely satisfy from start to finish.
One of the things I honestly dislike about tasty beers is sometimes they’re so enjoyable it’s difficult to drink them slowly. Saranac Maple Porter is not only tasty but extremely smooth which makes it difficult to NOT slug it down. This could also be due to the fact the beer is noticeably lighter in body than it could (and should) be. It’s thin in the mouth and the finish seems the slightest bit watery. At 5.3% ABV this is a medium brew in terms of potency. It doesn’t fill you up, which is fine, but sometimes you want more density in a dessert beer.
While not perfect, Saranac Maple Porter is one of the best beers available on the mainstream market (supermarkets, gas stations, etc.). As of this writing it’s only available in the “12 Beers of Winter” mix pack ($15 - $18), which is something of a shame since it would probably sell extremely well in a standalone six-pack. Considering its ingredients and target audience, it begs the question, “Is it really craft beer?” My answer is, “Does it really matter when it’s this good?”