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Friday, July 8, 2011

Saranac Vs. Great Lakes

This Month:

-Props to the Mom and Pops (as well as a few big chains) who defy the big boys!
-I love summer - but summer beers not so much.
-A Battle Royale between two of our favorite breweries
Sherman on the Mount

Little Guys with Big Beers

In recent years, we've had the opportunity to travel a bit, and one of the annoyances is trying to locate someplace that sells good beer. Often one of my first forays upon arrival is to the nearest grocery store to stock up. Invariably the nearest store turns out to be some big name outfit with an enormous beer section - filled pretty much with variations on the same beer. It's the "same beer, different label" conundrum. At first glance it looks like there is a huge selection, but upon closer inspection, 90% or so turn out to be of the Lite or Lighter variety (or lite with lime!) Usually you can find Sam Adams (Lager - not Ale) and lately Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has been showing up with increased frequency. Both of these are good beers to be sure, but half the fun of being a "beer snob" is finding regional craft beers to try. Beers that don't have a national presence. If you happen to be in a city with a Wegmens, you're in luck. Otherwise you hope to stumble upon one of those "Mom and Pop" stores which cater to the craft beer market. In the Central New York area there are some notable places:

-C's Farm Market in Oswego {Rated "A-" by Beer Advocate} - Tucked just off Route 104 as it bends to head toward Rochester. A fantastic selection of beers from all over. The owners are both knowledgeable and helpful. Not an easy place to find, but worth the trouble.
-Brilbeck's Corner Market in Syracuse on the corner of Avery and Ulster (620 Ulster Street).{Rated B+ by Beer Advocate} - A tiny store crammed with good beer.

-Byrne Dairy (Formerly Galeville)  {Galeville was rated B+ by Beer Advocate. No rating for Byrne}- Old Liverpool Road in Syracuse. Galeville Grocery was legendary among  Central New York area craft beer aficionados, boasting an outstanding array of beers. Unfortunately it recently closed. However Byrne Dairy took it over and has promised to continue to provide a wide selection of craft beers. While not exactly your typical "Mom and Pop" store, Byrne Dairy stores have always had that vibe nonetheless. Byrne already had established itself in nearby Pulaski as the place to go for craft beer, and a Byrne spokesman has stated that they would be increasing their craft beer selections at other locations as well.
-Beers of the World {Rated "A" by Beer Advocate}- (two in Rochester, one in Batavia). Perhaps the Mecca of craft beer in all of Central New York. It's the size of a supermarket - but it's all beer (and home brew supplies). 

A peak inside "Beers of the World"

Know of any good craft beer retailers in your area? Post them here under "comments" or email us at We'll update with each new post.

Hops Take a Holiday

I am a big fan of warm weather. I live in Central New York where summer makes a brief appearance once a year. A cameo, if you will, like a big star showing up briefly as himself in a small independent film. It is ephemeral and fleeting and for me all too brief. Besides the brevity, however, my only real complaint about summer is that every brewery insists on making their "Summer Ale" as a light, fruity concoction. The thing is, if I feel like something light and fruity I'll get a lemonade or a Seven-Up or something. As my friend from the Old Harbor Brewery in Puerto Rico said, "My palate works in hot or cold weather." Anyway, with apologies to the Gershwins I present my brief "Lament to Summer Ales." (Sung to the tune of "Summertime" - duh!)

Summertime - and the beers ain't so hoppy,
Lime and lemon are the flavors du jour;
Give me a beer - not some faux soda poppy;
I want hops, and some malt, yeah, whenever I pour.

And Now For the Main Event...

After a few months of away from head to head competition, we thought it time to get back to our roots, slap on our beer goggles, and return to the thing that makes us a little different from other beer blogs: namely pitting brewery against brewery. We thought that this month we'd look for two Northeastern breweries, pick a selection of styles which both produce and do a blind taste test. The two breweries we left up to Ron, who hosted this month's meeting. He picked two of our favorites: Saranac and Great Lakes. After looking at the available brews from each, Ron decided on the following styles: Lager, Pale Ale, IPA and Imperial IPA.

The rating sheets used for the tastings divided the experience into Preparation (Color and Head), Anticipation (Aroma and Mouthfeel), and Satisfaction (Taste and Aftertaste). Then, influenced by the recent Triple Crown of horse racing, the taster was asked to determine if the winner won by: 1.A photo finish  2. A nose 3. Half a length 4. A full length or 5. It was never really a horse race. This was followed by the all important comment section.

The Lagers

Dortmunder Gold

Adirondack Lager

Color: Both beers were described as amber to light amber in color with Dortmunder a bit lighter and a little cloudy. 
Head: The heads on each were as expected - described variously as good, nice, with some references to lacing.
Aroma: Essentially the same for both beers. Described as "lager-like," next to nil, and slight malt. They are, after all, lagers.
Mouth feel: Also very similar with comments ranging from "Wet, insignificant, medium, light, carbonated."
Taste and Aftertaste: Here is where the rubber meets the road (or the hooves meet the track, I suppose.) The two finished in a virtual tie as the winner was given a "half length" on average. However choice B fared a bit better overall with comments such as: "more bitter, a little drier finish, better finish, slightly bitter aftertaste; had a bit more bite; more hops presence; nice session beer."
Choice "A" comments were: "reminds me of a Canadian beer; would make a good session beer; thought it was quite tasty for a lager;."

The winner in the lager category by a score of 4-2 was choice B - Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold.

The Pale Ales

Saranac Pale Ale
Great Lakes Burning
River Pale Ale

Color - Both medium amber.

Head - Both with solid off-white head with plenty of lacing.

Aroma - Saranac described variously as hoppy, flowery, very little, and fine. Burning River - hoppy, flowery, slight and a shade better. Saranac uses Cascade Hops as part of the hops mix in all four of the styles we tested, accounting for the flowery aroma and the citrus taste described in the stronger beers. 

Mouthfeel - Both beers were smooth and full. One taster described the Saranac as having a "hoppy residual" while Burning River was "clean and crisp."

Taste and Aftertaste - Both scored very well in this category. Both were described as very balanced, full flavored and quite nice. 
Specific comments - Saranac: "Classic American Pale Ale - nice bitter finish with a solid malt backbone; good pale ale, good beer; both are good session/boat beers; love the citrusy flavors."
                                Great Lakes: "A stronger hops presence - good bitter finish;"
This was a true horse race, with Great Lakes Burning River nosing out Saranac right at the end due to a stronger hops presence. Both were very comparable, though.

The IPA's

Great Lakes
Commodore Perry IPA
Saranac IPA

The bigger beers were up next. Although in truth Saranac's IPA, weighing in at only 5.8% ABV is relatively a light weight in the world of IPA's. It gives up close to two percent (1.7%) to Commodore Perry, making the Great Lakes IPA nearly a third more potent. (As a side bar, I have found that Saranac IPA is a terrific beer if you want the full hoppy flavor of an IPA with alcohol level of a lager. I was pleased to find that our local Eddie's Big M here in Mexico started carrying it as their beer section leaves much to be desired. I hope they continue to.)
Color: Similar for both - described variously as wheat or light amber. 

Head: Both full, off white with nice lacing.

Aroma: Both were described as citrusy or grapefruit like or hoppy.

Mouthfeel: Described as full and hoppy. Great Lakes was described as "great" by one and "slightly over carbonated" by another, as well as "warming." 

Taste and Aftertaste: As one might suspect from this bunch, the comments were all positive for both beers. Hard to find fault with either.
     Saranac: "Very hoppy; interesting spiciness; really grows on me; workmanlike; good hop/malt balance."
              Aftertaste: "lingering; grows on you; neutral; more malty but still nicely hopped." 
     Commodore Perry: "Malty; heavenly; nice and hoppy (I could drink this!); slap-you-side-the-head hops then a nice dry bitter finish."
              Aftertaste: "hoppy citrus with slight malt; sweet; lingering' insignificant' warm, bitter grapefruit taste."

One comment summed this one up: "Real tough call for me - I liked them both." In the end a winner had to be declared. After all, this is not Tee Ball. Once again Great Lakes took it 5 to 1. But 4 out of 6 called it a photo finish or by a nose.

Imperial IPA's
Great Lakes
Lake Erie Monster
Saranac Imperial IPA

Now for the beasts! Neither of these are session beers, that's for sure. But both are full bodied, full flavored, complex beers that should be approached more as fine wines than as knock-back-a-few lawnmower beers (that'll be next month). They need to be sipped and savored, their complexities appreciated across the entire palate. 
Saranac IPA is part of their High Peak series (a rather limited series with just the IPA and their Imperial Stout: they are looking to expand the line- I'm pulling a Porter). It is brewed with 10 malts and 10 hops. It weighs in at an impressive 85 IBU's and and ABV of 8.5%.
Great Lakes Lake Erie Monster is a seasonal beer for Great Lakes Brewery out of Cleveland. With an IBU of 80, it's a hefty 9.1% ABV.

Color - GL was a wheat to light amber while Saranac was a tad darker.

Head - Both had good, full, off-white heads with moderate lacing. 

Aroma - Both of these beers were the most aromatic of the bunch. Citrus with rich earthy yeasty notes. Some noted a spiciness. 

Mouthfeel - Both were full, rich and warming.

Taste and Aftertaste - 
     Saranac: "Great; big taste - more balanced - stronger; nice, bitter; not quite as hoppy - smoother; fantastic (I could drink this!!)."
           Aftertaste - "Lingering pleasant bitterness; malty."
I can't mow after a couple of these!
     Lake Erie Monster: "Fabulous; that's what I'm talkin' 'bout; Warm grapefruit hop up front; hoppy - strong alcohol presence; whew! I could drink this!"
          Aftertaste - "Pine, citrus-y."

Some general comments were: ""I can't mow my lawn after a couple of these!; (The Saranac) is better balanced; two terrific beers!; Strong, full-flavored - (the Saranac) is a bit more complete, so it gets my nod, but both are very good." 

The winner of the feature race was Saranac Imperial IPA by a 4-2 margin. All votes were within the half length margin. In fact four of the six votes were a photo finish or by-a-nose.

Shout Outs

Had another excellent Grindstone Brewery Ale - the Grindstone Summer Ale. It does not fit in with the typical summer brews I mentioned earlier. Much hoppier and with a much stronger malt backbone than most. A nice clean finish.

Also took a trip up to Sackett's Harbor Brewing, a small brewpub which only bottles a couple of it's beer, which is unfortunate. On tap was a terrific array of beers: a stout, a porter, a bitter, a pilsner, a wheat. I bought a growler of Malicious Intent Double IPA. Brought it back and shared it at the meeting. It's a great beer. Everyone loved it and lamented the fact that 
it was only available there. Definitely worth the trip up there.

Coming up next month: Apropos to the season: Lawn Mower Beers!

I'll leave you with this. Just for kicks. Has nothing to do with beer I just believe that Looney Tunes and beer may be the two greatest gifts to mankind and I found this little gem, apparently never intended for the general public.

The BOTB Guys


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