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Beer on a budget: ‘Craft lite,’ and a trip To Trader Joe’s

Bottles and cans and just clap your hands
By LOU PAPINEAU  |  February 20, 2013

Beer is often referred to as "an affordable luxury." And most of the brews that are recommended in this space don't come cheap — you get what you pay for, as the axiom goes. But sometimes you can't afford as much luxury as you'd like; you have to back away from the $10/$12/$or-more six-pack (or the becoming-more-common-every-day four-pack) and head to the beer world equivalent of the Dollar Menu. I'm talking the It's-Not-So-Bad-And-You-Know-What?-It's-Actually-Better-Than-I-Thought-It-Would-Be 12-pack samplers from purveyors of what could be called "craft lite."

Now, said brews don't measure up to the finest offerings in the better beer world (psst: you get what you pay for). But at $11 or so (with tax) for a dozen DUNDEEs and $13ish for the SARANAC variety packs, bang meets buck. And with their price point, relative quality, and mostly play-it-safe product, they're a good gateway to the craft realm (with the promise of greater delights down the road).

Matt Brewing Company of Utica, NY, is the second-oldest family-owned brewery in the US (estab. 1888; Yuengling is the oldest). In 1985 they introduced the Saranac line of craft beers, which was the sixth-largest-selling craft company in 2011. And with good reason: their fare is well-made, and you can actually taste the ingredients they list on the bottle. They offer five "core beers," and 46 wide-ranging seasonals. Their main sampler is the Adirondack Trail Mix ("The Original Craft Beer Variety Pack," they say), including an IPA, Black Forest (a Bavarian-style black beer), Pale Ale, and Lager — all solid, satisfying, and true to their styles.

Strictly speaking, Dundee isn't a "craft brewer" as defined by the Brewers Association ("annual production is 6 million barrels of beer or less and no more than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer"). They're part of North American Breweries (which was recently acquired by the Florida Ice & Farm Co [!], a Costa Rican conglom), which includes Pyramid, Magic Hat, and Genesee; Dundee Ales & Lagers was introduced in 2008, as a spinoff from J.W. Dundee's Honey Brown Original. But the price — less than $1 a bottle! — overrides the categorization. Their current variety pack includes India Pale Ale, English-Style Ale, Pale Ale, and Porter; last summer's box had Pilsner, Pale Bock Lager, and Stout. Those last two, plus the IPA and Porter, are standouts. Oh, and there's another way to tell Dundee is "craft lite" — the caps twist off. All together now: "You get what you pay for !"

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Related: Beer on a budget, Savor the flavor, Portland Student Survival Guide 2010: The List of Lists, More more >
  Topics: Liquid , Beer, Trader Joe's
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