Tag Archives: Guest Review

Saranac White IPA

A guest review from Max – plus a new “Limited Release” tag and category!

Matt Brewing Co.
Utica, NY
Saranac White IPA

There seem to be so many IPAs at one’s finger tips today that one might
think the beer industry has come to target only hop heads. This isn’t a bad
thing, mind you, but it is rare to find a really good hoppy IPA that tastes
different from, well, a really good hoppy IPA. Batter up, Saranac White
IPA. What drew me to this beer was essentially the fusion of two of my
faves: a citra hops IPA and a Belgian-style white. The results had the
potential to delight, but you never know with seasonals, because if they
bomb they are only around for a few months.

The pour unleashes a powerful head similar to that of a Boddingtons, the cascading abruptly ceases (note the glass here) and you are left with a beautiful orange-ocher haze. Don’t try and stare down this lady, she, like most women are tough to see through and patience will serve you best as you make your way through the aroma which, like most analysis of this beer, is refined citrus. The most prevalent smell is grapefruit, then grass.

The mouthfeel takes you on a wild ride starting with a blast of citrus, however the infusion of 2 Row, Wheat, and Oat malts, tone down the hop as the backside of the taste releases an array of spicy vanilla and coriander (Saranac also uses 2 Row malt in it’s Vanilla Stout).

There is a wonderful duality between these different styles, they harmonize
when they need to and clash at just the right moments. This is certainly
one of the most refreshing IPAs I’ve ever tried and I would be very happy to
see a re-release in time for grilling season. While hardly a session beer at
6%, I drank three in 20 minutes after the Giants won the NFC championship
with no problem!


Fire Island Lighthouse Ale

Fire Island Beer Company Ocean Beach, NY Lighthouse Ale The first dual review: A New York brew as rated by Max, and then me. Chalk up my unremarkable photo to the unremarkable Lighthouse Ale. Out of the bottle, the writing is on the wall early for this ale as a warm reddish hue gives way to a thin, lacy head that looks like a damaged doily.

Lighthouse Ale

The mouthfeel is like an eager puppy, leaping into your arms only to pass out with exhaustion minutes later. The initial taste is a dense, rich caramel with orange and clementine accents, but what is so amazing about this ale is how quickly any real taste evaporates in a second flat. The finish is non-existent for an ale and it gives off almost has a soapy whisper as it goes down. What is tragic about Lighthouse is that it is a local brew which I hate to pan, but also that, with a little more care put into finishing, it already has the density and color to be a nice session beer at 5%.  Alas, it doesn’t, and in fairness, I got this brew as my four-year-old son told my wife to buy it at the supermarket because it has a (rein) deer on it, and he loves Rudolph.

My turn.

A quarter-inch, orange-tinted head expires rapidly, deflating to a nothing more than a matrix of exploding carbonation. That carbonation is lively and visible through a slightly gauzy, but transparent copper and maple syrup brew.

The nose gives off mostly malt – graham cracker, some sweet cinnamon-and-sugar, and the slightest hint of toast with orange marmalade. The mouthfeel is quite good – a creaminess melds surprisingly smoothly with all that frenetic effervescence.

The creamy body makes feints at a similarly milky taste, but splits in two. Initially, some sweet malt pops it’s head out, intimating at French bread crust, but breaking away just as messily. The other flavor is a bit of stone fruit, but there is no richness that one might expect from such ale tones.

The finish has a hint of hops with a bit of mint and lemon, but is actually pleasantly smooth. However, that smoothness would be more impressive if the beer offered more to the palate from the start.

Harpoon IPA

Harpoon Brewery
Boston, MA/Windsor, VT

It all started on a snowy Boston night in 1995, a friend and I walked back to my college house from the liquor store; in my arms, a case of Lionshead (at $9.19 out the door, the steal of my college days) in his, a six-pack of Harpoon IPA, also about $9.19. Add a label with flowers on it, and I figured I had him dead to rights.  I asked him what the deal was with his girly flower beer. He didn’t say anything, he simply handed me a bottle. That night I became a hop head.

There are so many IPAs now it is hard to keep your head around them all, many are good, however few really stand out. Sierra Nevada set the gold standard of the great American IPA and gets the majority of the praise, but Harpoon offers us another main stream delight, that is in the same league as our good friends in Chico.

Of the many great things about Harpoon, the color is the first noticeable attribute; deeply copper in hue, its frothy head sits atop like a thick cumulus cloud.
The aroma, as the label suggests, is quite floral, almost like an English garden with many varieties in it.

The “mouthfeel” as my eloquent brother calls it, is full and easily the most perfectly hoppy grog ever. Even with its huge hop-a-long, there is a wonderful caramel overtone that keeps everything in check, balancing all the fruit, flower and almond flavors like a symphony. The finish is mega-smooth but with equal hop strength throughout. Too many IPAs try to dazzle either right at tongue impact or conversely in the throat. Harpoon IPA offers so many different flavors simultaneously but keeps it even throughout.

It’s been a long time since college, it’s been about five minutes since my last Harpoon.

Lagunitas IPA

Lagunitas Brewing Co.
Petaluma, CA

Another fine guest review courtesy of Max, IPA-lover but skeptical hophead.

Back from a couple of weeks of high island living and busy days ahead I thought I’d go back to what I am good at (drinking IPAs) and give yet another guest review.

The first impressions of Petulama, CA, Lagunitas IPA is that of another in a plethora of trendy-named West Coast pale ales – underwhelming and over hyped!
But alas, after the weakish head, the tart citrus aroma and a color that is ho-hum at best, Lagunitas gets down to what the Sierra Nevadas and Harpoon IPAs of the world are all about: a magnificently well-balanced and constantly improving-as-you-drink-it personality.  Lagunitas is the real deal, its shortcomings out of the bottle are blown away by the explosion of orange, lime, and even mocha flavor that dart up and down each pull.

Lagunitas IPA is easily a top tier example of the style, it is unpretentious yet uncompromising. Its simplicity is solely in its appearance. After that, watch out!

Ommegang Abbey Ale

Brewery Ommegang
Cooperstown, NY
Abbey Ale

Courtesy of Max:

With the air not as humid and two weeks of vodka and rum drinking ahead of me, I  picked up a four-pack of Ommegang Abbey Ale.

This Belgian-style Dubbel boasts – “A rich, fruity, and aromatic, Burgundian brew.”
However, before we dream of sandaled monks crafting their Trappist ales in secrecy, be aware that the fine people of Ommegang are from our great state of New York and are another reason to go to Cooperstown, home to the great Hall.

Abbey ale maintains a rich amber color with a full micro-bubble head that leaves the glass clean upon drinking. The aroma is that of most Belgian-style ales, full of orange peel and coriander.  At first taste, Abbey falls into that Chimay and Duvel level – distinctly European with a refined and polished finish.  The great surprise about Abbey is that its chocolate flavor is accompanied by what I can only say is a refreshingly young feeling.  The great Trappist beers of the world are up there with the best, but they are huge brews and they taste very serious.  These beers are like Bordeaux and Cabs of red wine.  Ommegang is a lovely rich tasty ale but it feels young, sprite, and new, much like America.  Batter up!

Sierra Nevada Torpedo

When I was about 16 or 17, I was over at my big brother Max’s apartment, drinking a few beers. I went to get two more for us when he said “check the drawer”. Instead of having produce in the produce drawer, Max had two brown bottles with green labels and caps. “What’s this?”, I asked. “This,” he said, “is Sierra. I keep it in the drawer so my roommates won’t find it.” We cracked them open, I took a sip, and my mind was blown. Face melted. It was like hearing Hendrix for the first time, or reading Nabokov – you couldn’t believe that someone could make such a thing. This wasn’t beer; at least, it wasn’t the same crap I’d been drinking out of pounders and 40s through my youth. This was quality. This had flavor, and depth, and personality. This was beer.

So, it is apt, then, that our first guest review comes not only from one of my two favorite brothers, but that it is also a review of one of Chico’s finest.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Chico, CA
Torpedo IPA

It is hard to review this beer without mentioning several times that this is a hopped-up, 7.5% version of what is one of the greatest IPAs on the planet.

At first glance the pour is solid and straightforward for an IPA, but a birdseye view shows that the head is lacy and uneven.

Damn! The Torpedo.

The aroma is, as expected, full and inclusive of citrus and honey tones.

SIDE NOTE and PREAMBLE : the regular SN IPA has always been a relatively hoppy IPA but always good as a session beer and, if stranded on a deserted island with one beer to drink until rescue, would be my number 1: tasty, full-flavored and can be consumed in reasonably large quantities without serious repercussions. So with that being said….Torpedo.

Torpedo is a lovely large IPA that at first taste almost fools you by disguising its big hop taste with strong hints of grapefruit and key lime. However, while those flavors persist they become the finish to what is a bold experiment that is an ode to hopheads (me). Most high ABV IPAs fall victim to being too huge in taste – they become mealy and medicinal, but Torpedo knows just when to stop. The taste has all the attributes of the regular IPA, but with the added fruit and caramel to make it a truly nice starter for the evening. Despite its subtleties, this is by no means a session beer. Torpedo is a great effort from a master brewer, it pushes the envelope by adding fruity tones which makes a this beer perfect for dare I say the summer.