Going on names alone, Saranac’s Single Malt Bourbon Barrel Aged Scotch Ale sounds like the kind of beer that would be a liquor lover’s dream. And while the Scotch part refers to a style of beer, rather than whiskey, don’t let that stop you if you’ve already begun humming a few bars of the George Thorogood classic, “One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer.”

Produced under the Saranac brand by Matt Brewing Co. of Utica, N.Y., the beer I’ll simply call Single Malt from here on out is part of the brewery’s High Peak Series. It was released on Aug. 1 of this year, differing from the 2014 edition of the beer in having a slightly higher ABV.

Saranac Single Malt Bourbon Barrel-Aged Scotch Ale (2015) bottle

As for how it looks and tastes, Single Malt is dark brown in color with a malty flavor profile centered around a long-lingering caramel essence. This, along with hints of vanilla combine to produce a sweet quality throughout, leaving the impression of something along the lines of caramelized vanilla re-imagined in the form of a beer.

On that note, it’s vanilla more than anything else that comes through as a result of the barrel aging process. There are faint notes of bourbon, but the presence of the liquor only provides an added bit of complexity to the beer as a whole. That factor also contributes to the conclusion that Single Malt isn’t at all boozy. In fact, there’s virtually no trace of the beer’s strength in either the taste or the aroma. Nor is there any real warmth in the finish, which sticks to being smooth and sweet with little or no bitterness to speak of.

Saranac Single Malt Bourbon Barrel-Aged Scotch Ale (2015)

Much of that speaks to Single Malt’s drinkability as well, as does the beer’s gentle carbonation, but the overall sweetness and fullness of the palate makes this beer more of a sipper for me. Call it a dessert beer if you like, for it certainly fits that classification, but I’d recommend keeping it on the cold side to prevent the sweetness from stealing the show.

Saranac Single Malt Bourbon Barrel-Aged Scotch Ale (2015)
BREWERY: Matt Brewing Co.
LOCATION: Utica, N.Y.
STYLE: Scotch Ale
ABV: 10 percent
IBU: 32
PRICE: n/a
RELEASE DATE: Aug. 1, 2015
AVAILABLE IN: 12-ounce bottles
BEERS POURED: One
Despite the name and its elevated ABV, Single Malt is fairly tame when compared to what some might see as typical of other bourbon barrel beers. Bourbon plays a part, but it's a small part at that, with vanilla taking on more of a role in terms of the barrel character. While the vanilla may seem subtle as well, it's there to enhance the caramel flavors imparted by the grain bill. Based on that, Single Malt is good when thought of strictly in terms of being a sweet Scotch ale, but its lack of a boozy quality might not satisfy those seeking a more bourbon-forward presentation.
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