Sunday, August 17, 2008

Head to Head: Saranac IPA vs. Dundee IPA

Today we are pitting against one another two of Upstate New York's premier mid-sized breweries' hoppier offerings in a new feature we like to call "Head to Head." I tried to think of a catchier name but let's face it, when your research involves drinking it sometimes takes you out of the zone.

The breweries discussed today are both going through a rebirth of sorts. Saranac (aka F.X. Matt) weathered a major fire in late May of this year. Luckily, the fire, while harmful, was not enough to keep Saranac from brewing for more than about a month.

Dundee Beer, on the other hand, while not having to endure any kind of blaze, has been going through a transformation of its own, dropping the "JW" from it's moniker and coming up with a whole new design and identity for its flagship brand. Dundee appears ready to be taking its rightful place among the major regional breweries, not only by making a concerted marketing effort built on beer tradition, but also by improving the quality of the beer itself (which you will read about in an upcoming post). The brewery is looking to shed its image of being the brewer of Genny and a couple of marginal microbrews. And the way it's been flying off the shelves in the Syracuse area, it appears that the eye-catching new designs are working.

Today we decide to compare the IPAs of these two proud, venerable breweries, and see which one can reign supreme as Upstate New York Mid-size I-90 Brewery Champ. Let us begin...

  • The Look:

    Both beers have an almost identical golden color, though Dundee's is slightly darker. Saranac is more clear and see-through, while Dundee has a bit more haze on the glass. The head retention goes to Dundee by far, in that its head sits proudly atop the liquid, while Saranac's head is minimal and fades quickly. The Saranac looks more watery, and while they both sweat on the outside of the glass, Dundee just looks a bit thicker, like an ale. Both leave a decent Brussels lace on the glass, but again Dundee is thicker and more pronounced.

    Advantage: Dundee.

  • The Aroma:

    Saranac's IPA has a fine pine-hop aroma, with some citrusy notes of lemon and lime. It's a more flowery and sweet-smelling hop. The hop on the Dundee side is also a woody smell, but the aroma comes through less, ironically because of the thick head that is blocking many of the scents from coming through. The malts are what makes these ales smell markedly different: the Saranac has pale, crystal malts bursting through, while the Dundee is more roasted. The Saranac is just more aromatic.

    Advantage: Saranac.

  • The Flavor:

    Here is where the rubber meets the road, as they say. Both of these IPAs have very nice flavors, but they are decidedly different. The Saranac IPA has a woody, pine hop flavor, which is mild but does well with the sharp crystal malt flavor. There are sweet fruity and flowery hop flavors emerging. The malts in the Saranac are more "spiky" and sharp, giving the impression of a heavily-hopped pale ale rather than an IPA.

    The Dundee on the other hand, is more bold. It has a deeper "ale" flavor, with the malts deeper and more roasted than the sharp crystal malts in the Saranac. There are mild caramel and butterscotch notes coming through, giving off a more complex flavor than the Saranac. The malts are what separates these two beers.

    Advantage: Slight edge to Dundee.

  • The Feel:

    The Saranac is more "spiky" and fizzy; it's got a sharper feel with more bubbly carbonation felt on the tongue. (Ironic because the Dundee looked much more carbonated in appearance.) The feel of the Dundee is thicker, more like a pub ale. It's more creamy and buttery than the Saranac. This one is based on personal preference I suppose, but to me...

    Advantage: Dundee.

  • The Verdict:

    Both of these beers are very worthy, mild IPAs. The Saranac is really a pale ale that has been hopped a little extra. The Dundee is a milky, buttery ale with more balance and more pronounced malt flavors, which in turn make the hops shine through just a bit more. While both of these are worthy selections, I would have to declare...


So in a nail-biter, High Falls just barely edges out the descendents of F.X. Matt on this one. To be sure, both are very solid middle-of-the-road IPAs, so please don't use this as a reason not to buy the Saranac IPA. In fact, if you get the chance, pick up a twelve-pack of each and help support both the local economy and the craft-brewing industry. The more you buy, the more they'll make


The Foaming Head said...

I was just upstate and had a chance to try the new Dundee line. I think that High Falls is making the right move in improving the quality of the beer, and the re-branding itself cannot hurt. I have not had these beers head-to-head but if my memory serves me correctly I thought the Saranac IPA was a bit better.

Bill said...

A year ago I would have agreed with you, as I wasn't a huge fan of the Dundee IPA. But it does seem that they've somehow upgraded their formula or changed some things about the beer. They all seem to have more malty aspects to them. Whether this is true, I'm not sure, but it tastes that way.

Bojangles said...

I'm still sitting here waiting for the damned snazzy new Dundee labels to hit the Albany area...

CorrND said...

The new bottles made their way out to Indy a little over a month ago, though some of the old

American Wheat Beer

are still working through the shelves (whatever an American Hefeweizen is). I picked up the craft pack a couple weeks back and enjoyed the Porter and IPA most. Agreed, the IPA seems slightly reformulated, though I noticed a little more kick of hops than more malt. Anyway, tasty for the price.

Didn't care for the others quite as much, but still drinkable. I actually managed to put back the Honey Brown. Last time I tried it, it took 2 or 3 sips and dumped it.