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.