Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Saranac Lake Effect Lager + Saranac India Copper Ale + Saranc Bohemian Pilsener

3 beer reviews in 1 episode! Although technically these are all re-reviews. Saranac re-named and re-packaged two of their beers for this year's "12 Beers of Winter" mix pack. I decided to give them a quick review just for the sake of continuity or posterity or whatever. The Lake Effect Lager is last year's "Winter Lager". The India Copper Ale is the "India Brown Ale" which I reviewed in the early days of Chad'z Beer Reviews two years ago. The Bohemian Pilsener is still the same beer, though. I decided to give it a quick re-review just to see how I would react to it with two more years of experience under my belt since I didn't like this at all when I originally tried it back when I was a total rookie beer critic.

B / 3.65  rDev +0.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

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 Lake Effect 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.


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, then it’s reasonable to have an expectation along these lines.

Lake Effect 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 Lake Effect 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 Lake Effect 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 ($15 - $20). I just wouldn’t make it one of my first choices right out of the box.

Grade: 7/10

B+ / 4  rDev +11.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

India Pale Ales and Brown Ales are probably my two favorite types of beers, but what happens when you make a hybrid of the two styles? Apparently you get Saranac India Copper Ale – a beer with the strong, hoppy, bitter quality of an IPA with the smoothness of a brown ale.


This beer forms a beautiful dark red, slightly copper-colored, crystal-clear body with very little carbonation present. It has a small, white, fizzy head which dissolves quickly, but never completely and leaves constant lacing on the glass – something I’ve never seen before.

The aroma is similar to an IPA with a distinct hop signature, but without the citrusy notes present. Some malty scents are noticeable, but only faintly so. Otherwise the beer’s smell is subdued.


There’s just nothing quite like the experience of drinking a beer and having the flavor give your palate a punch. Saranac India Copper Ale does that with its strong hop character which makes for quite a bitter taste, not unlike an IPA. The difference here is there isn’t much, if any, citrus qualities to the taste.

The beer has only the slightest roasted taste, but not nearly as strong as a typical brown ale. Basically, it’s an Extra Special Bitter but without the dryness. The overall flavor is strong, hoppy and bitter and just the slightest bit dry, but it all adds up to a very enjoyable taste.


Strongly-hopped beers like this have a reputation for being difficult to drink, yet Saranac ICA is quite smooth. Although it’s very similar in taste to an IPA or an ESB, it finishes as smooth as a brown ale so lightweights have to reason to complain abut the finish.


More hops usually equals more alcohol and Saranac ICA is no exception. At 6% ABV it’s pretty potent for a medium-market beer, even if it is of a niche style. I didn’t find the beer to be too overwhelming but I could definitely tell it was potent before I looked it up.

The body is somewhere between heavy and medium. You won’t be able to just breeze through two of these back-to-back as if it were nothing. But because the taste is so good, this is a beer you’ll want to savor anyway.


If I read the label on the bottle right, it seems that Saranac intended for this beer to be an IPA/brown ale hybrid. I would have preferred a darker, roastier flavor, but because it follows the style of an IPA so well, it’s still a good beer worthy of recommendation.

Grade: 8/10

C- / 2.68  rDev -29.5%
look: 3 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

There's this notion that dark beers and niche-style beers are "acquired tastes," meaning that very few people actually enjoy them. I would say this is a completely flawed, illogical rationalization and might almost argue that the opposite is true: that mainstream-style mass-market lagers and pilseners are acquired tastes. Case in point: Saranac's Bohemian Pilsener.

How exactly this beer is "Bohemian" I could not tell you. And how exactly this otherwise generic beer is any kind of craft product I also could not say. What I do know is I like good beers, but this is not one of them.


Bohemian Pilsener poured extremely smooth likely due to its thin body, and produced a thick layer of bright white, fizzy head which evaporated quickly and left no lacing on the glass. The body is bright gold and crystal clear with plenty of carbonation evident. The aroma is about as standard as a beer can smell: grainy, with no distinct ingredients detectable.


This beer just fits the classic pilsener description: it taste is mostly grainy and bland but with an over crisp palate. It doesn't taste bad, per se, but it definitely is not enjoyable to drink. It's essentially a "lite" beer with a little more character.


At least Bohemian Pilsener is easy to drink, although I think that's the purpose of beers of this style. Being flavorless is fine if your intention is to accompany the beer with lots of food (or continued servings on the way to inebriation). I've had other pilseners that were very difficult to drink, but this one is surprisingly smooth.


Considering the composition, taste and finish would it come as a shock to you to know this beer is extremely light-bodied? Saranac describes the beer as being medium-bodied, but it's about a light as a beer can come without actually attaching to suffix "lite" as a marketing ploy. At only 4.8% ABV you'll be able to drink this beer in succession (all two of them in the "12 Beers of Winter" mix pack), without feeling overwhelmed or filled up in the least.


In my experience, every beer that has the basic physical characteristics of Bohemian Pilsener has essentially the same bland taste. I was really hoping the Brewmasters at Saranac would be able to come up with a new take on this ancient style as they did with the India Brown Ale and Season's Best, but alas, this was not the case.

Grade: 7/10

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