Saranac India Pale Ale

Review Date 12/29/2004   By John Staradumsky

As a beer enthusiast, I've come across plenty of great brews in my day. Over years of tasting, I have come to look at beers and judge them from two different angles: by style, and by a hedonistic approach. There's more than one way to pop a cap, if you will, and any informed beer drinker needs to keep this in mind when evaluating a brew.

The first thing that always pops into my mind is style. If I am drinking an India Pale Ale, the beer should obviously be hoppy, have some malt body, and perhaps a slightly higher than normal alcohol content. For whatever style a beer purports to be, there are criteria it should satisfy to uphold that claim. The drinker will have expectations set by the style classification on the label.

Most of the time, brewers do a pretty good job of fitting the peg to the hole. Sometimes though, they don't. What then? Is the beer automatically bad? Of course not. That's where Hedonism comes in. Do I like this beer? If I do, that counts for a lot. The classic case of this for me was a beer I enjoyed over a decade ago called Kessler Oktoberfest.

By the name, one would expect a malty, toasty-nutty, fairly clean lager with balancing hops in the finish. Instead, I got an ale with lots of body and buttery diacetyl character. This was no O-Fest, but it was one of the most remarkable beers I have ever tasted. Liquid buttered lobster tail I described it as at the time.

Saranac's IPA falls into the latter category of appreciation for me. When I first reviewed it in 2000 I wrote the following:

Instinctively upon popping the cap off the bottle of this brew I put my nose to the mouth of the bottle and got a concentrated whiff of hops. That was the most hops I'd get from this beer. Light orange in color, it formed a good head and had a light Cascade nose. There's a firm underlying malt backbone to this beer which slowly gives way to a peppery hop finish along with some Cascadey spiciness.

A bit of grassy bitterness lingers on the tongue as well. Not as much hoppiness as one would expect from the style, however.I really enjoy this beer as a hoppy American pale ale but don't consider it an IPA. It's a delicious brew in it's own right all the same. Available in winter in Saranac's 12 beer sampler.

At the time, I thought the beer more of a pale ale than an IPA. Today, four years later, I'm giving Saranac IPA another chance. When I pour, I still get lots of Cascade hop character in the nose. Saranac claims to use "generous amounts" of them for this brew.

A prodigious creamy head forms on the pour of my light orange colored brew. There's lots of Brussels lace following the beer down the glass, too. Upon sipping, I find the beer a bit thinner than I'd like for the style. But the hops! Oh the hops! Sure, this isn't the hoppiest brew you'll ever drink, but there are plenty here.

Indeed, there's lots more hop character than I recall the beer having in the past. Perfumey Cascade aroma and grassy herbal notes permeate Saranac IPA. In the finish, there's a powerful lingering bitterness.

I like this beer a lot better than I have in the past. Previously, I gave it three stars. I'm changing that to four. Add some more malt and this really might be something. Oh well. Maybe next year.

And remember, try a new beer today, and drink outside the box.

*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.