4AROMA 8/10 APPEARANCE 4/5 TASTE 8/10 PALATE 4/5 OVERALL 16/20
As much as I love drinking a beer that completely knocks my socks off, another moment I enjoy almost as much is when I try a beer I know (or at least theorize) can be enjoyed by beer drinkers of all experience levels. Old Saratoga Lager by the Mendocino Brewing Company is a great example of that. It’s essentially a cross between the Vienna-style lager (think Samuel Adams Boston Lager) and Marzen-style lager (think an authentic German Oktoberfest bier). But what’s really impressive is that considering this description it’s actually not an intense beer by any means, nor is it an acquired taste. This is a great example of a "gateway" beer.
APPEARANCE AND AROMA
I poured a 12oz bottle into a pint glass. The beer poured to a very dark, but mostly clear, copper/orange color. It was only slightly hazy, although no sediment was apparent. It formed a perfectly-proportioned, thick, foamy, eggshell-colored head. I was genuinely surprised and impressed by how much lacing was left on the glass and by the fact the head never completely dissipated.
The aroma was fairly strong with a bready, malty sweetness. Caramel and toffee notes were also apparent in the nose, but not nearly as strong as an authentic German Oktoberfest. In fact, the maltiness was so strong it was reminiscent of a doppelbock, but without the alcoholic intensity.
Beer geeks tend to hold lagers to a higher standard since beers of the category tend to be less flavorful than ales. So when a lager is as good as Olde Saratoga Lager it’s not only impressive, but doubly impressive considering how impressive it is (trust me, that makes sense if you think about it).
Up front this beer delivers with a lot of flavor: it’s rich, malty and fairly sweet. Caramel and toffee flavors are evident in the palate but they are not boisterous or sugary. The malts impart a mildly sweet, but notably bready taste, and the beer finishes with a mild bitterness. It’s the type of flavor I’d expect out of a bock or maybe even a doppelbock, but without the dry component. In fact, it’s actually quite refreshing - which accentuates the tastiness even more.
Lagers tend to be very effervescent beers and as such, can be a bit of a challenge to drink since the fizziness can dance on the tongue. Olde Saratoga Lager is one of the smoothest lagers I’ve ever drank. The mouthfeel is heavier than I expected, but the viscosity of the liquid, combined with the rich flavor, make it a pleasure to drink. This is why I think it’s a very drinker-friendly beer since you get genuine, satisfying taste but without the weight or the intensity of a niche-style brew.
I wasn’t able to get confirmation on the potency, but one web site estimates the ABV at 6% which I would say seems just a bit high. I’d probably peg it a little lower since this brew seems to be only slightly more dense than your average macro lager. It doesn’t weigh you down and the drinkability makes it an ideal beer to drink with a meal or work as a session beer (I killed a six-pack of this with my dad while watching the Super Bowl and neither of us felt drunk or bloated by the end of the game).
I wish the macro lager industry would take a clue from Olde Saratoga Lager and realize that you can make a decent lager that’s both tasty and drinkable without making a fuss about it. I believe its distribution is limited to New York and some of the New England states, but I’m not sure. At only $8.99 for a six-pack it’s also an economically sound purchase.