Saturday, November 13, 2010

Saranac Bohemian Pilsener

Whenever two beer-drinkers meet, there is a social formality which has to be observed.  It's not the usual conversation about the weather, or pleasantries about their respective jobs or families.  It's something far more fundamental and intimate:

The two beer-drinkers must bond on the basis of their mutual hatred of mass-produced lagers like Budweiser and Heineken.

This activity should preferably include frequent reference to such beers as tasting like 'cardboard' or 'piss-water'.  This is always contrasted with the quality of beers such as Sam Adams, which are characterised as 'real beer' (for Brits, there is even the Campaign for Real Ale, which supports drinkers' rights and sponsors several beer festivals across the country).  If either interlocutor should express even the vaguest tendency to liking a mass-produced lager, s/he is immediately deemed an ignorant plebeian who requires education in the finer points of Real Beer Drinking.

I don't totally subscribe to this view - much as I hate mass-produced lager, I don't think that ale is the only brew worth drinking and I do occasionally enjoy a glass of straightforward, no-nonsense lager.  Sometimes that's the kind of beer that goes best with the food you're eating - if you're at a summer barbecue, for instance, there's nothing nicer than a refreshing ice-cold lager.

I recognise that in admitting that, I'm probably painting a big target on my back.  However, I do think you can have the best of both worlds: a locally-brewed beer from a small family-owned company which delivers a crisp bite to rival any of the major breweries. I think Saranac have proven this with the latest brew I've sampled, their Bohemian Pilsener.

Pilsener (also spelled Pilsner) is essentially an eastern European style of premium lager - it's been extremely influential on a lot of modern lagers and you can taste this in beers like Heineken and Stella Artois.  A good Pilsener will be stronger than Bud Light, but will taste distinctively light and wheaty, with a bright yellow/golden colour and a slightly hoppy finish.

Saranac's Pilsener makes no attempt at being a malty, hoppy ale, and I actually appreciate that - if you're going to do a Pilsener, do it right.  It pours beautifully, with a decent head, and tastes as good as, if not better than, any of your mass-produced lagers.  It has just the right golden colour (sorry, I did take photos but I've temporarily lost my camera - hopefully will have it back very soon!), and is a very easy drink.  The finish is slightly fruity, very subtle but it's there.

I liked drinking this - while it lacks the complicated, textured flavours of ale, it's a great one to drink as an alternative to Heineken or any of the other mass-produced lagers.  I thoroughly recommend it - it's a great way to introduce your friends to local beers, even if they've never touched anything other than Rolling Rock.  Plus, by drinking it you're supporting local businesses here in NY State!

I'm giving this a 3.5, because while it's an excellent example of Pilsener from right here in New York, I wouldn't imagine myself drinking this just on its own merit.  This isn't the beer's fault, I just prefer ales, which have got a more hoppy or malty body.  As an accompaniment to your food, this beer is going to be just great.

3.5 out of 5.


  1. The implicature in saying of a beer that it is "as good as, if not better than" a mass-produced lager is that it is definitely as good as, but the difference in taste (if there is one) is not strong enough to simply say that it is better than a mass-produced lager. That is, to my mind, as damning as you can possibly be about a small family owned craft brewery's offering.

  2. I understand what you're saying, and it was an odd turn of phrase to use. I did think this was a step above mass-produced lager, but to be honest I wasn't that crazy about it. If this had been comparable to a high-end European Pilsener, I would have said so - as it was, the brew was comparable to an American lager.

    Given a choice between a mass-produced lager and Saranac's Bohemian Pilsener, I'd pick the latter - but mostly because I know it to be from a local microbrewery, not because I believe it to be miles better than the former.