Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The season for new beers

OK, time to get back into blogging. Why? Maine breweries are releasing new beers, mostly seasonal, and so far, all better than their average offerings.

Take Geary's Wee Heavy, a mean beer I bought in a 4-pack. There was no abv on the packaging, but the profile on Ratebeer says it's 8% by volume. I guess they put this out a couple of years ago for their 20th anniversary and brought it back recently.

What little head appears in the drink goes away quickly. Sipping this, I was surprised at its dryness. I was expecting something like Belhaven Wee Heavy, but McEwan's is a better reference point for this. There's an alcohol burn that reminds me of Old Rasputin.

I feel like a Wee Heavy should taste sweeter and cover the alcohol a bit better. This had a hard edge I didn't expect.

Still, it starts and ends with a pleasing maltiness; the burn only happens at the middle of my tongue. And, despite its dryness, I kept going back. Every pint of this I drank was a quick one. This is not a sipper.

I'm conflicted. I'm not crazy about this as an example of a Wee Heavy, yet I'm crazy about this beer. Like McEwan's, but without the peat flavor, and with a sweetness that's more malty than syrupy. At the risk that this is a seasonal, I'm going to but another couple of 4-packs and cellar them, which means I'll put them in a box under my bed next to my Weyerbacher XIII.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


After a week of miserable sobriety, I've found a new reason to drink.

No, I haven't been dumped again. Florian's expanded their beer cooler! The most notable addition is beer from Stone Brewery out in San Diego, but there's a handful of other new names as well.

Yes, I should be concentrating on Maine Beers. Stone Coast is closing its doors, which is probably a signal the Maine craft brew market has finally reached saturation.

It's a tough loss, though. Their 420 IPA was Maine's best IPA, at least the best you could buy in bottles, and I'll miss it. But don't worry, I haven't abandoned Maine beer. I have a few bottles of Casco Bay Summer Ale, along with a bomber of Atlantic's Scottish Ale, which I'll report back about in the next few days.

Yeah, I love Maine beer, but variety is always exciting. If you live near Auburn and haven't made it to Florian's in the past few weeks, it's worth a visit.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Geary's Autumn Ale

There are a few styles of brown ale, but for me, there are two categories. Some are classic session beers, like Brooklyn Brown Ale, Pete's Wicked Ale or Newcastle. They have some malty taste, but they keep a low profile and generally a low abv, with the intention you'll drink it in long sessions, like an eight-hour social gathering. Then there are the nutty, malty sweet browns, like Samuel Smith's Nut Brown, Oak Pond's Brown, or Bar Harbor Real Ale. Geary's Autumn, which has been my favorite Geary's brew for years, is in the latter category.

I say this not only because of the round, malty flavor, but because at 5.8% abv, this is a bit strong for a long night out. Delicious beer, but it's changed a bit over the years.

Just a couple of years ago Autumn Ale had a real carbonation bite. I think the carbonation is markedly softer than it used to be.

On a different front, the label has changed. I was first drawn to this beer by its warm, watercolored label. But these days, it uses these days ridiculous 3-D lettering. Come on, guys. Why would you abandon the 2006 label? Well, even if the label has gone downhill, the lower carbonation is a smart touch.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A note on spolied beer

For the second time, I was burned after buying a bad beer. This time, it was Oak Pond's Laughing Loon Lager, a dark lager I usually enjoy. But this bottle had gone sour, and there was no warning to protect me from wasting $3.50 on an undrinkable bottle of beer.

It's absurd that all beer doesn't have an expiration date. Food does, as do drinks that spoil. But beer can be expensive and no one wants to pay big money for beer that isn't good. It doesn't help that many stores carry good beer but ignore expiration dates on the bottles.

To some brewers: I don't understand why you wouldn't include expiration dates. A spoiled bottle of your beer might be someone's first. It's stupid to risk losing that customer for life because he/she thinks you have no idea how to brew.

To those who haven't tried Oak Pond, they're delicious beers, big on malty taste. You can tell the brewer loves Munich malts and adds them recklessly. Find some on tap or fresh. But if you see Storyteller Bock at a certain Auburn establishment, keep in mind that it's last year's winter seasonal brew.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Nice article about Maine Beer

George Smith at the Morning Sentinel in Waterville had a pretty good writeup about Maine beers. Apparently his son has a beer blog and introduced his father to good beer.

My only criticism of the story is his criticism of Dieu du Ciel's Peche Mortel, their amazing imperial stout. My girlfriend and I had never heard of it until we wandered into their Brewpub in Montreal in March of this year. We got to talking with a fellow American beer tourist, and he bought us a round of the Peche Mortel so we could try it. Even after sampling 5 other brewpubs that night, we could tell this was something special. I didn't take down any notes, but there are coffee flavors and, damn. I do remember it was great.

Anyway, it's always nice to see Maine beer getting attention. He has some interesting info about brewing during prohibition. I'm going to find out where he got the info and see if there's more.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

New! Bar Harbor Pale Ale

I just realized the bottle of Bar Harbor Acadia Pale Ale I bought today cost me $4.89. It's on the high side for a bomber, but I'd have gladly paid twice that to try a new beer from Bar Harbor Brewing. There it is, posing with a bunch of my college textbooks.

No surprises here, just a solid pale. Note from the photo that this is a bomber, actually brewed by Bar Harbor, as opposed to the 12 oz. bottles. I don't have anything against the little Geary's bottles, except that the stuff brewed in Bar Harbor is made in small batches and bottle conditioned, and I think it makes a difference. As a homebrewer, I love seeing the layer of yeast at the bottom of the bottle.

And oh, those hops. I'm not experienced enough with hops to guess what variety, but it's pleasantly bitter in an herbal, citrus way. This is definitely a pale in the British sense, not the American. It's vaguely cloudy, probably because of the live yeast, and the malt character is pretty light. If it wasn't suicidal, I could drink 40 of these in a night. I'm kind of sad the one I'm drinking is down to the bottom already.

I've heard Bar Harbor Brewing is under new ownership, but can't find any info on this. Anyone know anything, or have links?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Belfast Bay McGovern's Oatmeal Stout

Finally rating the Belfast Bay Oatmeal Stout I bought last week. I've been drinking it a bottle at a time for the past week, considering the taste. Oatmeal Stout is generally a smooth, heavy stout with all the chocolate and roasted malt flavors you'd expect from a good stout, but this beer is a little different.

The hop character is out in the open, which surprised me a little considering the style. Still, the bitterness, provided by Fuggle hops, I think, competes with formidable malt character underneath. There's a smooth roastedness, and the sweet taste of crystal malt is present. The beer is well-carbonated, which contributes to the hop taste coming out. After the bubbles on my tongue washed away, the hop bitterness got me a second time. Impressive.

I'm not totally crazy about the bitterness of this stout, but you can't argue that it isn't full-flavored. I've bought this before, and I'm sure I'll try it again. It's definitely one of Maine's best stouts. The dark roasting, combined with the bitterness, gives it a black coffee smell. Head is the color of root beer fizz, but it stays around for a few minutes. It's a nice beer overall.

Speaking of Maine's best stouts, by the way, Bar Harbor Brewery, brewers Cadillac Mountain Stout, just released a pale ale. I've got a bottle in my fridge, and when I get out of work tonight I'll try it and share the results.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Hop harvest

My hops were finally ready to pick Sunday. I was afraid the days of rain we've had would ruin them, but no such thing. When we finally had a dry day, my hops were fine, and just ready for harvesting.

I shot this same branch in an earlier post. You can see how much the cones have grown in a week.

I picked more than 5 oz. of Sterling hops, and about 3 oz. of Cascade. Here's the Sterling. Btw, I didn't do anything to enhance the colors. Hops are really this beautiful.

I added my Cascade hops fresh into a pale ale I was brewing. I'd already added bittering hops (Super styrians) – you can tell by the hop gunk on the spoon and the sides of the brewpot. The fresh hops are just for aroma.

And there it goes. I've never had fresh hop beer, so I'm really looking forward to this.

As for the Sterling hops, they went into my new food dehydrator so I could ready them for later use. They'll be going into the Oktoberfest I brew later this month.

Here are the Sterling hops in a one-ounce, vacuum-sealed bag. I froze them for later. Once the hops were dried, they only weighed two ounces, so I have one more bag frozen with this one.

As for my fresh-hop pale, I tossed in Safale-04 Ale Yeast, and when I woke up for work 6 hours later, it was already happily bubbling away. That should have been a hint.

When I got home, the airlock was filled with green bubbles, and it was starting to bubble through the holes in the cover. As I was getting some sanitary solution together, I heard a hiss. It was spraying straight up against the ceiling of my closet, and onto my clothes, too.

I'm not sure why it overflowed. I had a gallon of empty space in my carboy, and it wasn't a high-gravity beer. But I do have a lot of beers that start fermenting vigorously, then die off almost completely after a few days. I'm not sure why.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Respect for Old Thumper

If you didn't know, Old Thumper has been brewed in England at the Ringwood Brewery since 1979. Shipyard's brewmaster Alan Pugsley trained under Ringwood's brewmaster, Peter Austin, years ago. When Pugsley joined Shipyard as brewmaster and co-owner he got permission to brew Ringwood's most famous beer in America. Austin even sent him his own Ringwood yeast so the beer would be identical.

When you hear about Ringwood yeast in Maine, it's usually in the context of “I'm getting tired of Shipyard using that same Ringwood strain in everything.” I think a big reason for that is that Shipyard doesn't make bold beers. They're mild enough to let the Ringwood taste come through. And why not? It's the one thing they have that no other American brewery can replicate. If I had a proprietary hop or yeast, I'd use it in everything I made, too.

I didn't know the story with Shipyard's Old Thumper until about a month ago when I was visiting my girlfriend in Ft. Lauderdale. I found a great bar called Original Fat Cats, with a great bartender who knew beer. I don't think I got his name.

They had Shipyard Export and Old Thumper and a couple of Sea Dog brews, but Old Thumper was on cask. It was already my favorite Shipyard brew, but I couldn't put my finger on why. As I was drinking it, the bartender told me the story about Alan Pugsley, and I gained a new appreciation for the beer. I'm drinking the last in a six-pack I bought last week right now.

It's on the strong side at 5.8%. Not strong for an American craft beer, but strong for England, where the government taxes high-alcohol drinks more. There's an apple taste, then a faint leathery taste, and on top of that is something like buttermilk. These tastes are present in all Shipyard's brews, but it's more apparent in Old Thumper, especially on cask.

The thing with Shipyard is, enjoying the Ringwood yeast is a prerequisite to enjoying the beer. I love it, others don't. But understanding the yeast is the key to enjoying their beer. Their beer isn't loaded with Munich or Crystal malts or specially-bred, high-alpha hops like most of the best American craft brews. But it has some subtle charms that eventually grow on you.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Part two of my Oak Hill Beverage tasting is Atlantic's Special Old Bitter, or S.O.B. Their take on the Extra Special Bitter has a reasonable 5.5% abv, which is about average for this brewery. I'm surprised I'd never tried this before. I'm a big fan of Atlantic's Bar Harbor Real Ale and Coal Porter. The blueberry is pretty good, too, but I've never had the courage to try the Island Ginger.

Anyway, I was pleased with this. Head was thin, but had a nice hoppy aroma. Not bright and floral, but bitter. Crisp on the tongue, with moderate bitterness like an ESB calls for. A hint of pale malt under all that hop, but the hops really dominate here. Their Web site says they use Northdown hops for bittering. I'm not familiar with that variety, but it kind of reminds me of the Amarillo I've used in my last two beers.

This beer is nice and light bodied, and I've long felt bitters had just the right amount of hop character. I'll get around to reviewing Andrew's English Pale Ale soon. Might be my favorite summer beer.

Although if this one came in six packs, it might manage to steal that crown.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Brown Hound

Unfortunately, the first local beer I tried for this blog was a bad experience.

I went to Oak Hill Beverage in Scarborough for the first time because I was downstate to get some brewing supplies. Turns out I could have saved a stop because they have a good selection of brew stuff there. Picked up two tasty-looking 22oz. beers because they were Maine beers I hadn't run into before.

After bottling some funky old Schwarzbier I made weeks ago and don't have much hope for, I cracked open the Brown Hound. Not really brown- more like a cloudy red. Thin head. Tart, surprisingly floral smell. I took a sip and-

-what the hell?

This beer is sour. Like a Warhead or one of those candies I had when I was a kid. I'd chalk it up to age, maybe, but it doesn't taste skunky. Just thin and sour. A disappointment because I love a good brown ale. I kept sipping searching for some sign of caramel malt, but I kept coming up short.

I don't know if I got a bad batch (possible) or maybe someone at the brewery accidentally put a really intense lambic in the bottle by mistake (unlikely). I'll search for this on tap to hopefully get a better idea about it.

Anyway, I sipped away at this for about an hour. The beer didn't improve as it got older. Finally, I threw in the towel, dumped the rest out, and poured myself an Old Thumper. Mmm. Apples. Almost buttery. I'll write more about Old Thumper later.

This was a bad first experience with Brown Hound as well as with Oak Hill Beverage. I noticed they had some expired beer in there. Their Wolaver's, which I've been meaning to try, was dated November 07. And the Sierra Nevada Harvest, which originally prompted my visit as I'll be making a fresh hop ale in the next week, was from SN's 2007 batch.

Still, they had the best selection I've yet seen in Maine, especially with 22oz. bottles. I grabbed a Young's Oatmeal Stout -- I'd only had their Double Chocolate Stout -- which was heaven in a bottle, but I won't review it here because the plan is to stick to Maine beers.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Hops are almost ready

Here's one of my Sterling hop plants. I ordered some Nugget, Cascase and Sterling, two rhizomes each, from Northern Brewer and started them in pots after a few days in the fridge.

They all grew in the pots, but one of the Nugget vines didn't survive transplant into the ground. The other hasn't grown well. The leaves are yellowing and it hasn't produced any flowers or cones. Maybe it'll do better next year.

There are a couple of things I did wrong. One was not to prune enough. When my job at the newspaper went full time, it coincided with my getting a ton of hours at Staples and I hardly saw my vines for weeks. The other mistake was not properly supporting them. I started with a tomato trellis for each type. After a week and a half, the Sterling vines had outgrown its trellis. So I found a long piece of edgework that was eventually supposed to go in my house somewhere. I pushed about a foot of it into the ground and wrapped the vine around it. The vine climbed up that, too, and hung off, and grew back down the vine, then up itself and just got more and more tangled. That diagonal stick you see above is the original piece of wood, weighed down by the weight of the vine and the cones. The green post beside it is a metal vine trellis I picked up at Lowe's. I really underestimated how fast hop vines grow. I'll still get a good yield this year, but next year I'll be better prepared.

Here we go.

I've been wanting to do this for months, and now it's finally started. I get to write the kind of beer blog I like to read, and exercise my atrophied writing muscles while I'm at it. My name is Tony. I'm 25 and I live in Auburn. I've only been into craft beer for a few years, but for 1 1/2 of those I've been home brewing. I have sterling, cascade and nugget hops growing in my backyard. I don't drink much Belgian beer, except for special occasions with my girlfriend, Pattie, where we drink it like wine.

The craft of brewing excites me, and I've made some stuff I'm pretty proud of. I'll be writing about my own beer, but mostly I'll be writing about Maine breweries. I've had some great experiences with Maine beers, like going to the Sheepscot Valley brewery in Whitefield, and I hope this blog encourages me to seek out more beer adventures in the future.