Saturday, April 16, 2011

Matt Brewing Company Sampler Pack: Or, My Future Brewery Name Now Needs Some Revision

My Pa, on his way back from a trip to Florida, brought me back this sampler pack from something called The Matt Brewing Company in upstate (Utica) New York, which not only is among the worst brewery names I've ever seen (all their brews are called Saranac something-or-other, so why isn't the brewery called Saranac?), but also has the effect of ruining my future plans of starting a brewery named after yours truly.   After I got over my initial annoyance at the name, I have to say I instantly fell in love with the brewery's company image.  As an Ontarian who spent many a summer in cottage country, I have a soft spot for any brewery that appeals to the quiet solitude of the northern wilderness and the pleasures of a fine brew that is meant to be enjoyed on the dock.  My dad spend many hours at our family cottage sitting on the deck overlooking Georgian Bay reading a book and drinking a beer.  As a child, I wondered why on earth he would ever want to do something so boring; as an adult, there's few things in life I would rather do more.  This sampler pack of Adirondack-themed brews certainly does a marvelous job of capturing this lovely image; each beer label features a lovely painted wilderness scene that urges you to find a deck chair, sit down and enjoy the view.   As the days keep getting warmer and the promise of summer seems ever closer to reality, I can think of no better place for my mind to be - especially when I'm about to try a new beer!

The Saranac brews themselves are quite diverse, ranging from your traditional lager and now-standard American IPA to an English brown ale and German schwartzbier.  A good mix for a sampler pack, I have to say.  A quick check at the brewery website reveals that while these six are among their standard offerings, they are still but a tip of the iceberg.   The other brews in the mix - Adirondack Lager, Saranac IPA and Saranac Brown Ale - were decent brews, particularly the latter, but didn't really impress. 
Thus, rather than burden you with a huge sixpack review, I thought I'd whittle it down to the gems of the bunch, starting with their Black Forest brew!

Beer: Saranac Black Forest
Type: Schwartzbier
ABV: 5.5%

Schwartzbier ("black beer" auf Deutsch) is really more of a winter style of beer, but it can certainly be enjoyed into the spring - if one were to follow the so-called 'beer-calendar' to the letter.  Unlike the heavier bocks, doppelbocks and other black ales designed for cold-weather consumption, Schwartzbiers are noticeably lighter in body and alcohol content, making them far easier to drink in quantity, yet still have robust, malty flavors. 

Poured into a dimpled pint jug, and enjoyed on the first warm patio day of the spring!  A nice dark chestnut brew with a little ruby hints around the edges. Leaves a thin off-white head which survives as a thin ring.

The nose is quite delectable - caramel, cream, chocolate, a bit of brown bread. Sweet, but very pleasant.

A tasty brew, sweet and malty with notes of caramel and cream, but finishes with a slight grassy hop bitterness and pumpernickel character. Tastes dark enough, but is also sweet enough to work well together.  I'm quite enjoying this, actually.

Thin-bodied, reminds me in colour and texture of a bottle of rootbeer that was opened about 20 minutes ago. A bit syrupy - this was my only real complaint with the brew.

A nice brew - I was initially unimpressed with their IPA, so this was a nice pick-me-up for the second bottle of the pack.  Sweet, bready, but not oppressively so, meaning this would be a nice session brew for the evening (low ABV, good flavor).  Quite nice.  (Grade: B)

Beer: Saranac Black & Tan
Type: Black and Tan (in this case, Matt Brewing blended their stout and Adirondack lager recipe)
ABV: 5.4%

Black and Tan is a mixture of a heavy Irish stout and a pale ale, or in this case a red lager.  One of the tricks of the bartender trade is to be able to float the stout on top of the pale ale, creating two distinct layers of beer in the glass.  Guinness seems to be the standard stout used in a black and tan; not only is it the most popular Irish stout in the world, it also seems to have just the perfect density to float at the top of the glass without blending into the pale ale below.  The idea of the drink seems to be to reduce the heavy nature of the stout with a lighter brew; I was first introduced to Guinness stout when my dad made me a half and half with Bass Pale Ale.  The 'floating' effect is just for show, as well as to provide the illusion of drinking two pints at once (an illusion that can also be achieved by drinking two pints at once).  Obviously, bottled or canned "black and tans" won't have the same visual effect as the real thing, but nevertheless should display distinct characteristics of both stout and pale ale/lager. 

Saranac's version is deep chocolate in colour, but when held to the light it catches some ruby hues as well.  Thin, white head survives as a thin layer.  Some lacing.

Nose is roasted coffee, malt, cream, a bit of nut and milk chocolate.  Quite nice actually.

I think this was my favorite brew of the bunch, (although the Black Forest was certainly nice as well). The stout was of the dry Irish variety, nice and roasty, but with a soft sweetness as well. The lager character features in the mellowing finish, which also features some mild English hopped citric tang to it.  This is all overlain with a creamy, milk flavor, softening the different hues.   The beer is medium bodied, crisp, yet creamy as well.

This is certainly a flavorful brew, and good melding of two other brews in the Saranac lineup. Bottled or canned Black and Tans are a tough sell for me - the best kinds are the ones your pour yourself.  This, however, was not a bad stab at it.  However, I would have preferred to have tried their Irish Stout by itself... (Grade: B)

Beer: Saranac Pale Ale
Type: English Pale Ale
ABV: 5.5%

This brew's been available in the LCBO on occasion for the last several months, but I didn't get around to it for some reason.  No matter, here it is now!  Contrary to my expectations, this brew is an English style pale ale, rather than an American.  I suspected the difference when taking my first sips and later confirmed this by visiting the brewery website. 

Poured into a nonic. A slightly murky copper brew, the pour leaving a thick-bubbled head that seemed to survive quite well for itself. Some lacing streaks here and there.

Nose is pale malts, caramel, a bit of bread, citrus hop (cascade?), honey.

Tastes like an English pale ale - I was expecting an APA, so this was certainly a surprise. Starts with toffee, caramel, usual English suspects, then finishes with a mild citric hoppy bitterness.

Slightly creamy, drinks like a nitro-can of English ale.

Not a bad rendition of the English style. Tastes a lot like a toned town version of their IPA (or, more likely, vice versa), which is a good thing. The mild use of cascade hops actually pairs rather well with the English pale malts. Decent brew indeed. (Grade: B).

That's all for a little while from the Den!  I'm heading Down Under for a few weeks - looking forward to checking out the Australian craft brewing scene!  Expect mucho posting on Aussie beers when I return.

 See you in three weeks!

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