Friday, July 24, 2015

Top 10 Best Canned Beers to Bring to Saratoga Race Course (2015 edition)

Our beloved Saratoga Race Course opens for its annual summer session today, and for the third year in a row I’m here to tell you about 10 canned beers I recommend bringing to enjoy there (they let you bring in your own beer just as long as it’s in a can – no glass containers allowed).
Unlike previous years’ lists, I decided to make the eligibility for 2015 a bit more stringent as I’m abiding by the following rules:
iPhone 2014 (810)
Saratoga: the one time and place it's acceptable to drink craft beer straight from the can with a gaudy koozie.
  • No repeat entries from previous years’ lists
  • The beer must be readily available to buy in the Capital Region (e.g. you can walk into a beverage center or supermarket and buy it right now).
  • The beer should be reasonably light (preferably no more than 5% ABV), refreshing, and tasty enough for multiple servings.
  • The beer should be reasonably priced.
  • Only one entry per brewery allowed (not counting “comparable alternatives”).
  • Only one entry per specific/niche style allowed.
  • Macros are eligible.
  • A tie is allowed if two or more beers are extremely similar in style and quality.
  • Only beers I’ve actually had qualify for the list.
  • Ciders and alcopops are not eligible (they’re not beer, after all). However, shandies and radlers are eligible (I’m making an exception this year).
NOTE: All photos were taken by me at Westmere Beverage and Oliver's Brew Crew in Albany. Prices should be more or less the same at both stores.


HONORABLE MENTIONS:
Nine Pin Cider (6.7% ABV)
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I just said cider isn’t eligible for this list, but I think it’s worth mentioning Nine Pin Cider for a few reasons. First of all, I’m no cider expert or connoisseur by any means, but I think they make the best cider I’ve ever had. Secondly, they’re a local company so I absolutely am a homer by plugging them here. Lastly, their cider is now available in slim 12oz cans (and they look great, too!). At 6.7% ABV, I wouldn’t recommend throwing back can after can, but I’m sure one serving will more than satisfy on a hot day at the track.
canned beers 025
When I’m outside in the sun and heat, the last thing I want is an insanely bitter beer and lots of hops to tear up my tongue. The only IPA I could possibly consider as an exception to this is Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin since the juiciness from the grapefruit is actually kind of refreshing for an IPA. But at 7% ABV I'd probably just have one and be content (I never understand the people that keep recommending Heady Topper - why would you want that much booze and hops outside in the sun? That's what session IPAs are for!) Also, I couldn't include it on the real list lest I violate my own "one beer per brewery" rule.

  1. Anderson Valley The Kimmie, The Yink and the Holy Gose Ale (4.2% ABV)Anderson Valley gose
Last year, Westbrook Gose was #2 on this list, but I haven’t seen many other beers of the style in cans. This is a no-frills brew with coriander and sea salt being the only flavoring additives. I don’t quite taste the fruity flavors the brewery mentions on their website, though there is an underlying and consistent lemon character here.  It’s also not quite as sour as most goses, which is fine by me.
COMPARABLE ALTERNATIVE: Sixpoint Jammer.

  1. Avery White Rascal (5.6% ABV)canned beers 007 (2)
Witbier is one of my favorite summer styles (and one of my favorite styles in general). When done right it can be amazingly delicious. When done well it’s still pretty good. Avery White Rascal falls into the latter category. A light wheaty body up front, but not especially sweet. The second half contains most of the flavor in the form of citrusy orangepeel and a light coriander spice. Not much in the way of hop flavor or bitterness. It’s a simple, repetitive palette and the taste never grows old. The mouthfeel is quite soft and smooth; you might even say creamy. It’s refreshing after every swig and leaves a clean aftertaste. I'm not sure I'd session this at 5.6%, though.
COMPARABLE ALTERNATIVE: Westbrook White Thai

  1. Stiegl Radler (4% ABV)
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Normally, I wouldn't include a radler or a shandy on this list, but Stiegl Radler is by far the best of those styles I've ever had. It's essentially like drinking alcoholic grapefruit soda. In fact, it would be easy to fool someone and tell them this isn’t even alcoholic at all. Certainly there’s no malt or hop presence that I can find. That’s okay, because this is delicious and refreshing and doesn’t carry the douchiness of an alcopop. The mouthfeel is light and crisp and the beer is refreshing every time it crosses the tongue. It leaves a clean aftertaste. I could easily throw back several of these, especially at that price!
  1. Two Roads No Limits Hefeweizen (5% ABV)iphone 305
Much like witbier, I’m baffled that more breweries don’t offer hefeweizens in cans. Truth be told, when I first tried this beer last year I wasn’t too crazy about it. However, I had the opportunity to visit the brewery this Spring and sample their entire lineup and came to appreciate just how good Two Roads’ beers really are. Here, you get the classic hefeweizen taste complete with banana bread aroma and flavor, though this also has a surprising amount of lemon character to it. The mouthfeel is calm and soft, though there’s noticeable carbonation vibration as it rolls across the tongue. I appreciate that it comes in 16oz cans as I could see this being refreshing straight from the container and it's nice to get a full pint for a change.
NOTE 1: The link above is to my original review which I will re-write sometime soon.
NOTE 2: Nearly all of Two Roads brews are available in both bottles and cans, but not all of their canned beers are available in this market. I also thoroughly enjoyed their Ol’ Factory Pils and Lil’ Heaven Session IPA – but you may not be able to find them in the Capital Region so I didn’t include them on this list.
  1. Upstate Brewing X.P.A. (4.6% ABV)iphone 304
This isn't quite a Session IPA, nor is it a standard American Pale Ale, but rather a pale ale where the hops are used more for flavor and aroma than bitterness. Up front there’s a light fruity flavor – apricot and peach especially. Through the middle I get a mild grassy/herbal character, which is a nice transition from beginning to end. It has a perfectly medium body with a fine amount of carbonation. Refreshing while in the mouth and goes down smooth. I’d think this would be a versatile brew: great for tailgating, sessioning, or pairing with traditional American food. Those tired of the Session IPA trend would do well to give this one a try.
  1. Firestone Walker Pivo Pils (5.3% ABV)iphone 303
I drank a lot of pilsners trying to find one to make this list. Most were okay, but none really dazzled me the way this one did. The malt character is classic with a combination of wheat and graham crackers with the Noble hops imparting a strong spicy sensation on the finish. Refreshing while in the mouth, it does leave a bit of a spicy/starchy aftertaste, though it fades rather quickly and is tolerable anyway. Perhaps a bit “big” at 5.3% ABV since that’s a bit too heavy to be considered a session beer by most drinkers. Still, no one is going to have a problem throwing back a few of these.
COMPARABLE ALTERNATIVES: Two Roads Ol’ Factory Pils; Cambridge Remain in Light; Snake River Monarch Pilsner; Konig Pilsener.
  1. Westbrook One Claw (5.5% ABV)Westbrook
Westbrook is fairly new to this area, and everything they've sold has been excellent. "One Claw" is probably my favorite standard American Pale Ale - and that's really saying something. From beginning to end there’s a strong hop flavor; a combination of herbal/earthy notes followed by a tropical fruit juice/citrusy flavor. There’s a spicy bitterness throughout this palette, balanced out well by the use of rye in the malt foundation. Light on the sweetness, but there are faint notes of lemon. I like how the hops re-emerge at the end and create for additional juicy flavor. This is a pale ale I could drink often without becoming bored. It's also nice to see a pale ale that's actually weighted like a pale ale at only 5.5% ABV. Between the flavor and the relatively light body, it's quite tempting to binge on this!
  1. Stillwater Yacht (4.2% ABV)canned beers 026
Light-bodied pale lagers don’t tend to have much flavor, but the taste of this palette jumps out at me immediately. A delicious combination of citrus fruit and peel with a touch of grassy notes in the background. A slight spicy sensation comes through the middle, but still light enough so as not to upstage or distract from the base brew. At only 4.2% ABV, Stillwater Yacht has the same amount of alcohol as all the BMC “lite” brews, yet it has so much more body, character, and actual enjoyability. Refreshing on every swig with a fairly clean aftertaste. This is one of the few session beers that could truly complement a savory meal.
  1. Newburgh Cream Ale (4.2% ABV)Newburgh Cream Ale (2)
Cream ale is a really underappreciated style. Probably because most breweries opt to make a lager-tasting beer as a cream ale. But when you find one that’s really refined, like Newburgh Cream Ale, it’s a special treat. There’s a lot of traditional pale malt flavor plus specialty malt sweetness. Notes of butterscotch and caramel as well as the authentic cereal graininess. Lemony is the most dominate characteristic – not quite citrusy, more of lemonpeel or zest. Maybe even a hint of witbier-like coriander or other spice. And yet, this beer has that “je sais se quois” cream ale distinction. It finishes clean and is refreshing across the tongue. And at only 4.2% ABV it’s got a surprising amount of taste for such a light brew.
  1. Ballast Point Even Keel (3.8% ABV)Ballast Point Even Keel 002
I never get tired of trying a new “Session IPA,” because every brewery takes such a different approach to the style. It’s amazing how many different flavor profiles are capable of being brewed and how some are so vastly superior to others. I think this may be one of the best of this latest trend in brewing innovation because of its delectable taste, complex palette, and easy drinkability.
Hops obviously are at the forefront with a citrusy flavor to start out. It’s slightly dry and spicy (think lemon or orange peel instead of the fruits themselves). Through the middle it becomes a little earthy and herbal – very much in the European pilsner tradition. The malt base is, not surprisingly, light; however it is genuine with an amber/Vienna influence. A slight hop bite as it goes down, but it keeps perfectly with the rest of the body.
At only 3.8% ABV, Ballast Point Even Keel is indeed a light beer, though it still has genuine body to it. The mouthfeel is consistently crisp and well-carbonated, though I’d be lying if I said it didn’t seem a little watery at times. Nevertheless, it is extremely quaffable and refreshing while in the mouth. The hops linger momentarily, but fade eventually. That it comes in cans is the cherry on top since this is exactly what you want in a portable beer.
COMPARABLE ALTERNATIVES: Two Roads Lil’ Heaven Session IPA; Bronx Session IPA; Oskar Blues Pinner Throwback IPA.

So that’s my 2015 list. I still stand by most of my recommendations from 2013 and 2014, though (there are some I regret, in retrospect). If you’re wondering why Beer X didn’t appear on this list maybe it made it in years prior. In fact, I’ll just list all those beers here:

Anderson Valley Summer Solstice
Bitburger Premium Pils
Blanche de Bruxelles
Brooklyn Summer Ale
Bronx Pale Ale
Butternuts Heinnieweisse
Caldera Pale Ale
Evil Twin Bikini Beer
Founders All Day IPA
Genesee Bock
Harpoon UFO White
Magic Hat #9
Narragansett Summer Ale
Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Sierra Nevada Summerfest Lager
Sixpoint Apollo
Sixpoint The Crisp
Sixpoint Rad
Stillwater Classique
Tecate
Trader Joe’s Name Tag Lager
Upstate Brewing Common Sense
Westbrook Gose
Yuengling
Yuengling Light

ICYMI:
Top 10 best canned beers to bring to Saratoga Race Course (2014 edition)
Top 10 best canned beers to bring to Saratoga Race Course (2013 edition)