20 January 2011

Bears in Sunglasses are the new Goats in Hats

I'm well overdue giving some of the Saranac beers a spin. These are produced by the venerable upstate New York brewery FX Matt and have been available in Ireland's decent off licences, and a few bars, since last year.

Where does one start when trying a new range of beers? Why, with the juggling bear wearing mirror shades, of course. I'm a sucker for accessorised wildlife on beer labels, as I've mentioned before. The beer is called Pomegranate Wheat -- a straightforward fruit-infused wheat beer with just an unusual choice of fruit. I had great hopes that the pomegranate would allow it to transcend the general crapness with which American wheat beer is cursed, but no. If anything the thin, vaguely dry, insipid wheat ale has swallowed up all the exciting and exotic pomegranate flavours and just left something that tastes like a bargain-basement cordial. There's a ghost of a fruit juice flavour, and it may even be recognisable as pomegranate without the drinker being told in advance, but mostly it's watery blandness and an off-putting tang from the yeast sediment. I guess this is what tempts breweries into using non-fermentable flavour syrups after fermentation, not that I recommend doing that.

Onwards, then, to the IPA. Can't go wrong with a US IPA, right? That's what I thought, right up until the first splash of beer hit the glass. No aroma. Hello? Hops? Anybody there?

The base beer is perfect for a flavour-packed IPA: 5.8% ABV, almost syrupy-thick with lots of sweet toffee flavour. Pack that with citric American hops and you've got a flagship beer on your hands. But there's none of that here. A hint of Cascade comes through in the flavour, sitting uncomfortably on a malt base that's much too big for it, but of aroma: nothing.

So jarring is the omission that I'm convinced I have a dud. No sane brewer would send out a beer like this. There were still three months to go before the expiry date on the bottle but I reckon they should look at making it much shorter, impractical as that may be for something that has to cross the Atlantic. If you live closer to Utica than I do, then don't let my review put you off Saranac IPA. I'd put money on it being lovely when closer to the source and fresh.

Two beers that could be an awful lot better, though I think one of them is through no fault of the brewer. And the other, well: bears in shades don't need excuses.

14 comments:

  1. I was also a bit disappointed with the Saranacs I've tried, although it sounds like I got more hops in the IPA than you did. I found them a bit thin and detergenty.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ugh, hate that. There was nothing off about mine, it was just... blank.

    ReplyDelete
  3. ciaran7612:43 pm

    Havent tried the IPA but did try the Saranac Imperial IPA which was really good imo.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks Ciaran. I'll give that a go if I see it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I know what you mean about US wheat beers. If I must confess it was the first style of US craft beer I could actually handle (I was young & so was my palate!). Of course it had a big slice of lemon on it too, which is how it's often served-- sometimes with orange, even. I haven't hand one of those insipid US wheat beers in a while. I wonder if I would find some nostalgia in it or just hate it?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Not a fan of American Wheat Ale as a style, though it has its uses - it was through a AWA that I discovered why American hops could be thought of as "catty". An unpleasant discovery for sure.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Not a Saranac fan but I have only had the same two you have. My opinion was the same.

    ReplyDelete
  8. All the Saranac beers I've tried have been solid but unexciting, which isn't the worst crime in the beer world.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Those Saranac beers are very hit or miss. The Black Forest and Imperial IPA were memorable, but otherwise nothing stands out. Saranac is a value brand, with 12 packs priced at around 30% less than the average craft beer.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Anonymous8:56 pm

    Every quarter Saranac release a twelve-pack of six different beers. This winter they released a tasty Bohemian pilsner, an amber bock(6%), three ales (one being partially rye and another an India Copper Ale which was a tasty beer with a stupid name), a vanilla flavoured stout which wasn't as bad as you would think.

    There standards pale ale, amber lager and Black Forest lager are very pleasant and reasonably priced in New Jersey. If these three get to Irelan, grab them.

    Brian Callaghan

    ReplyDelete
  11. I think their Imperial stout was a cracker, and probably the best of the bunch

    ReplyDelete
  12. IPA with no hops? No thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  13. KeeganAles12:09 pm

    "the venerable FX Matt"? Maybe for size, distribution, variety... just not so much for the beer.
    Saranac is $12.99 a *12*-pack (compared to a 6-pack of most craft at $9.99 and upwards) in supermarkets and gas stations in NY. They make about 50 varieties (without exaggeration), and most are forgettable - truly jack of all trades, master of none. Good gateway brand, but not taken seriously by most craft drinkers in the US.
    As others have said, Black Forest is the pick of the litter. I've heard decent things about the Imperial series, and I happen to like the Rye IPA - but exactly because it's thin + mild compared to other rye beers.
    Generally a label to skip, and poor value at Dublin prices.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I meant it more in the third sense given here.

    ReplyDelete