"Beer in Colorado" is dedicated to that divine elixir born of the marriage of water, malt, hops, and yeast as interpreted
by those living in Colorado. Follow the author as he visits every brewery in the state, creates experimental homebrews,
attends beer festivals, tries interesting beers from around the world, and spreads the good word of beer. Prost!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Super Bowl of Beer: Sam Adams vs. Saranac

Some people judge a city based on its politicians.  Some, on its citizens.  Some people say a city is great because of its natural beauty and others say it’s about the architecture.  Perhaps a metropolis is worthwhile if it has a thriving arts scene.  Maybe we’re attracted to it because of its rich history.  More often than not, though, we base a city’s greatness on how well their professional sports teams play.  That’s not the most accurate way to identify quality urban sites (six Super Bowl wins does not make Pittsburgh any less of a cesspool) but it’s the way most Americans do it nonetheless.

Why not try a different method?  Why not base a city’s greatness on the quality of its beer culture?  In anticipation of the impending Super Bowl, I have pitted Boston and New York beers against each other in a blind, head-to-head competition to see which team—Patriots or Giants—represents the better beer city.  For the Patriots, I chose the obvious: a Sam Adams variety pack.  A more difficult choice was deciding which brewery would represent the Giants.  The Brooklyn Brewery would have been a good contender but, as you can ascertain from the title of this blog, I live in Colorado and Brooklyn beer isn’t so easy to come by.  That is why I ultimately settled on Saranac—it isn’t from New York City but it is, at least, within the state and it is readily available in Denver.

I matched the beers from each brewery by style as closely as possible and had Nicole pour the competing beers in identical glasses without my observing.  This is how the game played out:

Sam Adams Alpine Spring vs. Saranac Bohemian Pilsener
Beer one is a clear, pale yellow color and has a sweet candy-like aroma: apple-y and lemony with floral hops.  It possesses a small amount of bitter flavor that quickly subsides.    It tastes sweet, malty, fruity, and cider-like.  Beer two is orange/yellow with a bit of haze.  It also has a candy-like aroma but leaning more towards oranges rather than lemons.  The floral hop nose is more apparent and the flavor is yeasty, bready, dry, and similar to that of an unsalted pretzel. 

I liked beer two best, Nicole liked them both but with the addendum that beer one would be best for summertime drinking and that beer two is an “anytime beer” so it wasn’t exactly a run-away.  The way I see it, one team scored a touchdown, the other a field goal.  The score thus far: Sam Adams: 7, Saranac: 3. 

Sam Adams Mighty Oak Ale vs. Saranac Vanilla Stout
This is an “apples and oranges” match-up—two barely similar beers—but both bottles tout a vanilla flavor thus they were matched together.  Beer one is a clear, copper color—like rust.  The aroma is apple-y with a touch of vanilla and wood in the flavor.  Beer two is pitch-black with scarcely any highlights.  The nose is like raisins, chocolate, and vanilla mixed together and the flavor is vanilla, caramel, and a more pronounced bitterness. 

Nicole and I agreed that beer two was the superior beer.  Sam Adams: 7, Saranac 10.

Sam Adams Boston Lager vs. Saranac Lake Effect Lager
This was a challenge I thought would be much closer but it turned out the beers were as disparate as the previous competition.  Beer one is clear, burnt amber red with an eggshell head.  The aroma is malty, roasted, and toffee-esque.  The taste is bready, malty, low on hops, and akin to a Scottish ale, molasses, or a gingerbread cookie.  Beer two is a clear orange/yellow and smells like an orange popsicle.  It is sweet, flowery, and yeasty on the tongue with a dry mouthfeel. 

Nicole and I split our choices; she liked beer one (Saranac) and I liked Beer two (Sam Adams).  Both teams went three and out.  Sam Adams: 7, Saranac 10.

Sam Adams Black Lager vs. Sam Adams Chocolate Bock vs. Saranac Chocolate Lager
Whoa, whoa, whoa!  Sam Adams is putting in two players for this round?  That’s not fair!  Then again, history has shown that the Patriots can cheat and pretty much get away with it so why shouldn’t the beer representing them do the same?  Beer one is a clear, oaky brown—like iced tea.  A dark chocolate/brownie with an almost peppery smell permeates the nose while oak, plum, raisin, and the burn of alcohol round out the flavor.  Beer two is a deep, deep red with a lighter chocolate aroma intermingled with wood and a little vanilla scent.  It tastes a little chocolate-y, a little woody, and a little skunky.  Beer three is an even deeper shade of red than beer two with a slight chocolate aroma accompanied by a sweet essence.  The chocolate flavor is much more pronounced than it is in the nose—it’s like drinking alcoholic chocolate milk. 

From best to worst, Nicole liked beer two (Sam Adams Black Lager), beer one (Saranac), and beer three (Sam Adams Chocolate Bock).  I, on the other hand, ranked it as such: beer three, beer one, and beer two.  All three beers scored the same which means that, even though it was outmatched, Saranac held off Sam Adams.  No score. Sam Adams: 7, Saranac 10.

Sam Adams Whitewater IPA vs. Saranac India Style Copper Ale
This, too, was a match-up that I thought would be more neck-and-neck.  It turns out an IPA and an India style copper ale are quite different.  Beer one smells lemony and lightly hopped.  It tastes like coriander and the hop profile is more akin to an English IPA than an American IPA.  Beer two smells malty and molasses-y.  The malts are so much that they essentially counteract any hop bite thus making this beer taste like a Scottish ale.  The mouthfeel is thick and velvety. 

Nicole and I split out choices again.  She went for beer two (Saranac) and I went for beer one (Sam Adams).  Again, it’s a wash.  Sam Adams: 7, Saranac 10.

Sam Adams Irish Red vs. Saranac Big Moose Ale
The final round.  I really didn’t know what type of beer Big Moose was but every other beer had already found a competitor so I put it against Irish Red.  Beer one is a clear reddish orange akin to a sunset.  It smells of floral hops and sugar while the taste is bitter like that of an orange peel.  Beer two is a clear mahogany with scents and flavors that remind the drinker of plums or grapes.  It’s also quite dry. 

It came down to this round to determine the winner.  Nicole and I both agreed; beer two was better.  Final score: Sam Adams: 14, Saranac 10.

Yes, New England has won the Super Bowl of beers but, if you must know the truth, I had a hard time getting through this challenge; Sam Adams and Saranac make some pretty terrible beers.  Sure, Boston edged out New York but it’s like Kim Kardashian outsmarting a goat.  I mean, yeah, you won, Kim, but it’s a freaking goat.  And it was a close game. 

Through this competition I learned one invaluable truth—cities with great football teams have an inverse proportion of great beer.  If great beer equaled a great NFL team then the Broncos or the Seahawks or the Chargers would be in the Super Bowl every year.  And, if the same is true for basketball, the Trail Blazers would be in the finals all the time.  So, no, Denver, Tebow didn’t answer your prayers but I hope you can still enjoy the game sipping on a fine-crafted Colorado-made beer because—and I hope you don’t take it for granted—it’s some of the best beer you can get.  I know--I’ve had what the other 49 have been making. 




  1. And don't forget Portland! I beer equaled great football teams, than... oh yeah, never mind. We truly are blessed in Colorado with great beer.

    My buddy from Rochester loves his craft beer, but goes nuts whenever he sees "Genny Light" and buys it for old times sake. LOL Heck.. he even downed some at the Great American Beer fest last year.

    Superb write up. Will definitely be looking for Saranac next time I'm perusing the beer coolers.

  2. Oh, I could never forget Portland when I'm talking about craft beer. Much respect to that city--that's why I gave them the Trail Blazer shout-out.

    Prost, Darrin! Drink well.

  3. WOW! This is really an amazing and attractive post about beer. I appreciate your posted wonderful photos. Thanks for sharing such an interesting post.