Sunday, June 12, 2011

Saranac 12 Beers of Summer 2011


It's time for another sampler pack review, but that means you get SIX beer reviews in ONE episode! I wanted to review this mix pack because several of these beers are responsible for getting me into the craft beer scene. Most of them I haven't drank in a long time and several of them I've never reviewed on this show. So instead of doing six individual reviews, I thought I'd squeeze them all into one ensemble review.

Saranac Belgian White

3.7
   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (630) - Albany, USA - APR 15, 2010
I poured a 12oz bottle into a Hoegaarden glass

Appearance: Dark yellow/light orange with so much haziness that it’s opaque. Forms a small, white, soapy head which mostly dissipates and leaves no lacing.

Smell: Fairly light-smelling with hints of the usual spices. Flowers and fruits are prominent in the nose with no generic "beer smell" thankfully. Not as aromatic as an authentic witbier, though.

Taste: While not nearly as authentic and organic-tasting as its European brethren, Saranac Belgian White is a commendable American macro adaptation of the style. It does bear quite a lot of resemblance to Hoegaarden, but without the level of spiciness. This is a mostly clean, mild palate with the orangepeel and coriander showing up in the finish. The first half has a slight citrusy flavor to it but is mild, like a breakfast juice made with too much water.

There’s not much bitterness here, which is standard. Thankfully, there’s no other macro beer qualities to it, either. A little more intensity of the genuine flavors would make this a really robust brew.

Mouthfeel: Thin but not watery per se. Some zesty sensation from the spice, but not a fizzy beer.

Drinkability: An ideal beer to have on a hot summer’s day or night. The mild juicy qualities make it quite refreshing and the mild palate and thin mouthfeel make it a very smooth and easy beer to down. The 5.3% ABV and flavorful palate make this an ideal session beer.

Overall, a good standard witbier that simply follows the form instead of trying to do everything at once like some other American beers of the style.

Grade: 7/10

Saranac Hefeweizen
3.6
   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (630) - Albany, USA - APR 15, 2010
I poured a 12oz bottle into a German wheat beer glass.

Appearance: Bright orange hue, mostly cloudy body with fine carbonation noticeable. Forms a large, white, soapy head which leaves minor lacing.

Smell: Quite authentic aromas here with a banana bread and clove scent, only much milder than a German brew might be. Doesn’t smell cheap at all.

Taste: Saranac Hefeweizen is indicative of the entire Saranac lineup - Americanized versions of niche brews. With a surprisingly strong flavor of banana bread and clove, this beer definitely has a lot of authenticity to it. The only problem is these flavors are a little tame for my preference. Considering the brewery and their target audience this is understandable, but I still have to call it as a see it.

There’s a slight bitterness on the finish, but a pleasant, light aftertaste of clove and some other spices as well.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied with a soft edge despite the massive carbonation. A slight tingling sensation as it slides across the tongue (it tickles!)

Drinkability: The flavorful, but restrained palate and gentle mouthfeel make for a very smooth, easy-drinking beer. It weighs in at 5.6% ABV, but this is actually understandable as the beer definitely has real mass and isn’t some macro wheat beer knock-off made in the dark by rookies.

Overall, a good beer and a surprisingly good American hefeweizen. A great gateway beer to introduce newbies to the style.

Grade: 7/10
Saranac Kolsch

3.3
   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (630) - Albany, USA - APR 15, 2010
A beer’s taste can be subtle, but it shouldn’t be subtle to the point of non-existence. That’s the case of Saranac Kolsch, a German-style blonde ale that’s light in color and body but equally light in taste. Sure, it’s an easy beer to drink, but that’s because there’s no flavor to it – neither good nor bad.

POUR, COLOR AND AROMA

Saranac Kolsch was something of a welcome change to me since it is one of the few truly blonde beers I’ve come across in a while. Since I don’t drink mass-market brews, the beers I encounter tend to be darker and don’t take on the appearance of a liquid that can so easily be identified as beer. It actually looks a lot like apple juice in many ways in that it’s a pure golden color without much carbonation action and simply looks thicker than your average lager (even though this is an ale).

This beer pours smoothly from the bottle and forms a decent-sized head which lingers for quite a while and leaves a lot of lacing on the glass. Usually, these are good indications of a crafty, tasty brew. The same can’t be said for its scent, though, which is very generic. There’s not evidence of hops, malts, fruits or spices in the nose. It’s just plain old “beer smell.”

TASTE

Have you ever drunk a beer and its taste didn’t hit you right away? With Saranac Kolsch I was in a constant state of suspense waiting for the taste to kick in. Since it’s such a light-bodied and easy-to-drink brew I thought maybe the taste would be found in the aftertaste, but it never arrived.

Put simply, this beer is virtually tasteless. It’s basically just beer-flavored beer, only a bit drier and with the most faint traces of sweetness, like an extremely watered-down Hefeweizen.

BODY

As unimpressed as I was with the taste, I have to admit Saranac Kolsch is at least easy to drink. It reminds me of Bud or Coors Light, but a bit heavier in body. I’m surprised a European-style brew could be so direct.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Considering the ethnic-sounding name, I was expecting a lot more out of Saranac Kolsch. That it’s not much better than your typical American “lite” brewski is quite disappointing. At least it will appeal to lightweights who can say they drank a craft beer that wasn’t too strong for them. Then again, it’s not strong enough for me, either.

Grade: 5/10

Saranac Pale Pale Ale

3.8
   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (630) - Albany, USA - APR 15, 2010
Certain styles of beers can be off-putting to the average Joe and Jane Six Pack because they’re simply too intense to enjoy casually. Saranac has addressed this mentality with one of their newest summer beers: the Pale Pale Ale. That’s no misnomer, as this is indeed a pale ale at the core, but minus the intense flavor, mouthfeel and body of a standard American beer of the style.

POUR, COLOR AND AROMA

This beer pours very smoothly as it flows out of the bottle like water. It can form a giant or small head depending on the pour method. The head is white, fizzy/foamy and although it dissolves rather quickly it leaves quite a lot of lacing on the glass. The body is an medium shade of amber, crystal clear with only a minimum amount of carbonation noticeable. The aroma is typical of a pale ale with a strong floral scent of hops, but is otherwise dry.

TASTE

I didn’t know what to expect out of Saranac Pale Pale Ale, since I’m such a fan of regular pale ales (and especially IPAs), what would an even paler version taste like? Well, the answer lies in the question – this is basically a lighter version of an American-style pale ale.

Hops and floral notes are immediately noticeable upon the taste, but their intensity is at a much lower volume here. The beer has a mild, grassy hop taste with just the slightest bit of citrus in the finish. But unlike others of the style, this brew is much more sweet than it is tart and also has a bit of a dry, toasty malt flavor to give it true balance.

FINISH

Although this beer does indeed have a significant hop character, it doesn’t have quite as strong of a bite as others of the style. Its mouthfeel is very gentle and non-threatening and finishes extremely smooth. In fact, it’s very easy to imagine drinking this beer by the bottle rather than in sips and gulps. And while the taste finishes a bit dry, there is no lingering aftertaste.

BODY

At only 4.7% ABV, Saranac Pale Pale Ale is a beer without much density or girth. It would compliment light food extremely well and won’t overwhelm the drinker unless drank in large quantities.

FINAL THOUGHTS


I’m not usually a fan of summer beers because they tend not to have any real character to them, but Saranac Pale Pale Ale is an exception I can not only live with, but would encourage. It’s tasty, smooth and light and is genuinely refreshing. Other connoisseurs might label it gimmicky, but I consider it a solid performer.

Grade: 7/10

Saranac Summer Ale

3.7
   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (630) - Albany, USA - APR 15, 2010
It seems like every beer I’ve tried with the name “summer ale” is surprisingly boring. When consumers think of a summer beer they want something flavorful, smooth and light-bodied, yet most summer-themed beers only meet one or two of these requirements.

Saranac Summer Ale is mostly an obligatory inclusion to the Saranac “Beers of Summer” mix pack. Sure, it compliments the theme of the sampler, but it’s nothing to write home about.

POUR, COLOR AND AROMA

I knew this beer wasn’t going to knock my socks off just by the way it poured. It forms a miniscule head which quickly evaporates and leaves no lacing whatsoever. There’s also extremely little carbonation action happening. The beer is light copper in color so it could easily be mistaken for a tepid glass of apple juice.

The scent is virtually non-existent. There is a trace of citrus aroma which is certainly better than the run-of-the-mill beer smell. However, half of our sense of taste stems from our sense of smell. If I can’t smell the beer, then it’s unlikely the taste is going to impress me.

TASTE AND FINISH

The good thing about bland beers is that they’re definitely drinkable. Saranac Summer Ale is pretty average in taste, but at least it doesn’t taste bad at all. You could easily go through quite a few bottles of this brew on the basis of the fact it’s bland and smooth.

To the discerning palate traces of citrus are evident, but they are not very flavorful as is the case with Saranac’s Belgian White and Hefeweizen beers. I’m surprised the brewery would skimp on taste with the summer ale, but be so generous with the beers with the niche-sounding names.

At least Saranac Summer Ale drinks very smoothly. As I mentioned, this beer is tepid with almost no carbonation so its finish is clean.

BODY

Beers medium in body are difficult to criticize. A beer with strong taste should be at least medium in body, but one with a weaker flavor should be lighter. So take your pick: is Saranac Summer Ale a good beer because it’s easy to drink and less filling, or is it bad because it’s weak in flavor and not especially satisfying?

FINAL THOUGHTS

This is one of those beers that connoisseurs will find uneventful while the average Joe Six Pack might think of it as a nice change of pace. Truly, this is a beer whose quality is in the eye of its beholder.

Grade: 5/10

Saranac IPA

3.5
   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 13/20
Chad9976 (630) - Albany, USA - APR 15, 2010
I admit I’m pretty new to this beer-reviewing game, but one thing I do know is that I love India Pale Ale. Recently, I tried an IPA that was absolutely delicious and smooth and today I’ll be reviewing a beer that’s almost equally as good. That beer would be Saranac India Pale Ale. Being an appreciator of craft beers and especially of IPAs I can honestly say I really like this brew. It is extremely tasty and smooth, but I can’t help but think something’s missing.

POUR, COLOR AND AROMA

Saranac IPA pours perfectly with absolutely no air gulps straight from the bottle. Its color is a clear shade of lcopper and forms a nice size head. The head does linger throughout the drink and leaves a lot of lacing on the glass which I always find impressive.

The aroma, upon close inspection, is a distinct hop and floral scent, but not quite as strong as most IPAs.

TASTE

For a beer, Saranac IPA is well above other brews in the taste department. It’s very hoppy and has a well-balanced tart and bitter flavor. The only bummer is the flavor is not quite as potent as I was hoping for. It’s as if they followed the same recipe for other IPAs and added a tad too much water.

FINISH

At least the brew is silky smooth and finishes clean. It does have something of a tingle on your palate if you let it linger, but this is by no means a detriment. I wouldn’t consider this a flat beer.

BODY

It’s not surprising that an IPA would be a bit heavier in body than your typical ale because it’s made with extra hops. Saranac India Pale Ale is somewhere in the middle of medium and full-bodied beers at 5.8%. It’s certainly not a lightweight, quick-chugging beer, but it’s also far from being quickly filling. It’s a good beer to accompany a meal, or to drink on its own.

FINAL THOUGHTS

That a mid-level brewery from upstate New York could make an India Pale Ale this good is nothing short of amazing. As an inclusion to the Saranac “Adirondack Trail Mix” it’s a wise choice and the first beer in the case you’ll want to try. And who wouldn’t want to drink a tasty beer that’s also smooth?

Grade: 6/10