Beer Profiles: Saranac Irish Stout and Terrapin Hop Karma Brown IPA

Profiled by Ken Carman

Why would I profile these two different styles from two different brewers together? Because I think they suffer from a similar problem.

I was in a new Irish pub here in Nashville a few days ago called McNamara’s and had a tap Guinness. The difference between that pour and the Saranac was obvious. And my wife and I just polished off the last Guinness Extra from a six in our fridge. The Saranac suffered, not only from the tap nature of the first; which would be an unfair comparison, but from a certain astringent bite that even the Extra didn’t have when compared with the Saranac. That bite, I am convinced, has something to do with darker malts: perhaps Black Patent, or over-use of roasted barley. One of the mistakes made by brewers when doing a Stout is exactly that: using very dark malts or too much roasted barley to drive the taste and texture behind Stout. More isn’t always better.

By the way: I love Black Patent. I have used it for many years. But one learns to back off when the burnt taste overwhelms all else. I assume too much roasted barley could do the same, though I have less experience using it. And either too much roasted barley, or too much Special Roast… not the same since the second, I believe, goes through the malting process… can become problematic.

Anyone who has read my various musings regarding Matt Brewing, out of Utica, NY, and their Saranac product, knows that, generally, I like their product and certainly have a lot of respect for the brewer. Unlike Yuengling, who markets as a craft brewer yet brews few styles, Matt has well over 40 styles from my observation: just looking at the Saranac shelf, and specialty beers that push the style envelope a bit more called the High Peak Series.

Please note: the Stout is excellent when combined in their Black and Tan.

Another brewer: smaller by far yet even more eager to push the stylistic envelope is Terrapin, out of Athens, Georgia. I have loved their various exotics for years and loathed the fact the one year I stayed near Athens I visited all the brewers in Athens but one. Yup, you already know who: Terrapin. I had already had enough and figured I’d go back some day, not knowing just how good they were at the time.

But Hop Karma suffers from the same problem, brew-wise.

It’s a bit more promising aroma-wise: not unexpected for an exotic Brown. Nice Cascade-like nose with a sense of brown and caramel malt in the background. The Saranac had just a slight sense of darker malts and a bit of that soured beer sense one gets when quaffing da Guinness. But, again, that slight astringent dark malt sense spoiled yet another other-wise good beer. In many ways it’s worse for the Terrapin only because the aroma was so promising. In fact everything in both brews: head, obsidian Stout to ruby highlight Brown, was promising. I expected the brown to be more complex, if for no other reason the promising… off style… name. And it was, until first sip.

It could be that the malt in both was over sparged, the water too hot in the sparges, the boils too long… but these are talented brewers. I suspect they simply used too much of the darker malts hoping the quaffer would appreciate more. But taste trumps all.

Word to the wise: when stepping into classic territory where even craft beer lovers still respect the classic of the style: Guinness, despite that brewer being the A/B (Bud) of the Stout biz, it’s probably best to do more side by side comparisons. If your product suffers in comparison the you know you have to back off of something. My guess? Darker malts: specifically; most likely, Black Patent. Or maybe too much roasted barley?

And if you’re combining styles with a rather floral, promising, name like Hop Karma Brown IPA, make sure the taste delivers what you promise and not malt driven astringency. Or too much astringency, period.