Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A brewery for every 42,000

So Maine has a brewery for every 42,000 people, according to the Brewers Association. That's awesome as a consumer, maybe not so great if you're a craft brewery, after you figure out how many of those 42,000 actually drink craft beer. It helps that most of our breweries are good enough to keep people coming back, and that my fiance and I are drinking our share of Maine-brewed beer.

The report also states that Shipyard is the 26th largest brewery in America, and the 16th largest craft brewery. I'd quote the AP brief on it, but the AP would sue me for that, even though it's just a summary of a press release, so read it here if you don't want to bother wading through the info in the Brewers Association pdfs. Also, Magic Hat is the 10th largest craft brewer, and Vermont has the highest number of breweries per capita.

Atlantic Brewing buys Bar Harbor brewing

Good news, I think. A year ago, Bar Harbor brewing was bought by an out-of-state firm, which is about when they started selling Geary's-brewed six packs. And the six packs were almost as good as the bombers. But Atlantic Brewing just announced they bought up their Bar Harbor competitor. It's such a weird thing to have mergers and buyouts in the tiny Maine brewing community. For years, according to the MaineBiz book of lists, Bar Harbor Brewing was only putting out 300 barrels a year. Not surprising since it was a cellar operation for so long.

I suppose it's good in that Bar Harbor beer will have access to Atlantic's distribution chain. I've seen their ales as far south as New Jersey, and meanwhile Cadillac Mt. Stout is hard to find outside of Maine, where it's treasured as one of the best on the world.

I hope all this works out. At the very least, arguably Maine's best brewery is back in Maine hands.

WABI: Brewing uo business in Bar Harbor
Beer Scribe Andy Crouch's take on the buyout.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Blueberry Imperial Stout

I'm sipping my new stout, which turned out pretty good. I was inspired to make this one down in Florida by Mack in Black, brewed in Fort Lauderdale by Holy Mackerel brewing. It was an imperial stout with a hint of pomegranate juice. You can't even taste the pomegranate when cold, but the fruit comes out as it warms up.

So for mine, I set out to brew it at about 8.5% abv. Unfortunately, the yeast died before long. It was a strong enough strain- I think the cold temperature in my house (around 50 at the time) killed it off too fast. So I added some champagne yeast, and got a bit more bubbling out of it. According to my final gravity reading, it should be about 7% abv, which means I left quite a bit of sugar unfermented.

I added some of that fake blueberry extract for flavoring beer, but not a lot. Half the recommended amount for the batch size, because I didn't want it to be overpowering.

I just opened my first bottle tonight. First impression is that I need to let it carbonate a bit more, although I did get a 1/2" head out of it. Pitch black with a tan head. A little bit of roastiness and blueberry in the nose.

The taste is roastiness first, followed, mixed with a sour blueberry flavor and a bit more hop bitterness than I'd expected.

The main thing I'll change next time I try this is to tone down the hops. I'd also like to use real blueberries in the brew. If that comes out better, I'd try a 3rd batch with a Belgian yeast, which is what Mack in Black uses.

Still, this isn't a bad start. The blueberry is as subtle as I was aiming for, although going down there's a bit of sourness/bitterness that I wasn't looking for. I don't want to give up on this beer, though.

Here's a link to my recipe. I'd love any feedback, suggestions, etc.

Friday, January 16, 2009

5 1/2 month anniversary!

I realized today I've had this blog for 5 1/2 months. I'm happy to report that through Twitter, placement on the beer sub-Reddit, and a lot of posting, I have two regular readers: my girlfriend, Pattie, and my friend Mary. I guess it doesn't matter since this was meant to be a personal document as I explore my state's craft brew scene, but I think in the near future I'll work to get my numbers a little higher. 5, maybe.

I've got a lot planned this year, especially in terms of home brewing. I plan to move to smaller batches, probably 3 gallons, so I can make stronger beers and be more experimental. I want to start all-grain batches, and I plan to move my hop garden this spring to a huge trellis attacked to the back deck so my plants can grow higher- at least 10 feet up.

And there's plenty in my own state I haven't done. Never been to 3Tides or Ebenezer's. Never toured Atlantic or Bar Harbor breweries, even though they're two of my favorites. Never been to a beer festival. Lots of ground to cover in 2009.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Gritty's 21 IPA

I've been drinking this stuff for a month now without writing about it because I just can't take the time. Who wants to slow a great drinking experience by taking notes? Plenty of people, I suppose.

This is definitely an English-style IPA, with toffee/caramel flavors competing with the piney/grapefruit taste of the hops. It's a balanced, complex IPA, and my favorite Gritty's offering to date. A hell of a way to celebrate their 21st anniversary.

I didn't like Gritty's when I first got into craft beer. My palate immediately picked up on the toffee flavors that seems to be prominent in all their brews, and that's all I'd taste until the bitter finish. Besides my immature palate, I think a big problem was that I was buying the beer close to its expiration date up in Old Town, and that's no way to enjoy beer, especially beer in a screw-top bottle.

Drinking at the pub in Auburn definitely changed my opinion, and Gritty's has become a sort of comfort food to me. As soon as I taste a Best Bitter or a Pub Style, I feel relaxed. I'm sure I've has more meals at Gritty's than any other restaurant, never mind any other brewpub.

I do have one qualm with the 21 IPA, though: I'm already done my 4-pack. This should come in 6-packs, or 8-packs, or 12-packs. It's not fair to just leave me hanging like this.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sea Dog brewpub in Bangor

For the past few months, the Sea Dog in Bangor brewing again. Good news for me, since I'm in Bangor often to see Pattie.

One qualm with the article:

'For people, it’s just the novelty of the thing,' said Sea Dog general manager Larry Killam.

I think there's more to it than that. When you brew on premises, you can brew what you need as you need it. I hope that's what they'll be doing. Fresh beer is almost always better, of course, especially with Shipyard stuff. Last week I got my hands on some Gritty's IPA set to expire way off in September, and it's as fresh-tasting as anything you'd get on tap at the brewpubs. I can't say that about any Gritty's bottles I've bought before.

I recommend the Sea Dog. Great pub food -- it could go toe-to-toe with Gritty's in that department -- and the one in Bangor usually has 2 ales on cask. Last night, that included Old Thumper. It's clearly the center of the Bangor social scene, though, so good luck getting a table on the weekends. If you haven't been, though, don't judge them by their fruity wheat beers. They brew an English-style pale, a roasty stout, a mild porter (the other cask beer last night) and a highly-quaffable brown.

Otherwise in Bangor, there's Paddy Murphy's, which doesn't make great food but has a cooler atmosphere/people, and Christopher's, which is usually kind of dead and is expensive, but it's got the best bottle selection in town.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Good morning!

A great new beer. Went to Novare Res last night with Pattie and a couple of friends from college. I was just a day early to catch their 12 Stouts of Christmas. We were meeting people later, so I grabbed a Rogue Double Dead Guy, then a Petrus Dubbel Bruin, both on tap. I decided I'd finish it with a hop bomb and finally try Victory Hop Devil IPA, which they had bottled, but the bartender said they were out.

"If you're into pale ales, though, we've got a new one from Belfast." It wasn't even on the tap list yet, so I ordered it, thinking it was from Belfast Brewing Company, who brew McGovern's Oatmeal Stout and Lobster Red Ale.

At my first sip of Tug Pale Ale, this clearly did not come from by Belfast Brewing. The hopping was so big, bright, so citrusy, that this couldn't even be from Maine. Maine breweries mostly go balanced and English-style with their pales.

On my way out, I checked the tap handle and double checked, "Is this from Belfast Maine?

It turns out they've been brewing for more than a year down there at Marshall Wharf brewery, run out of the 3Tides pub. I remember hearing about the pub a long time ago, in someone's blog, then I guess I forgot.

Well I'm embarrassed not only that a brewery went under my radar, but that it's a brewery of this caliber. I wish I could read more about them, but the Village Soup story that covered them originally is closed to people who don't have paid subscriptions.

What I do know is that they have 12 house beers on tap at a time, with an ambitious rotating lineup that includes 2 IPA's, a mild, an oyster stout, a Scotch ale, a Baltic Porter, and the most intriguing to me: Illegal Ale-ian, described by their Web site as a "hybrid kolsch / wheat beer brewed with blue agave nectar."

Kind of makes me want to call in sick to work tonight and drive up to Belfast. I won't, but I will be begging Florian's to get their hands on some growlers.

Jan at Beer Bloggers has a great review. On Tug Pale, she writes, "at the other end of the scale the Tug Pale Ale offers a hop experience as dramatic as any I’ve had at any gravity." So true. It's a 4.2% abv that could easily become a favorite session beer, if I can get my hands on it here in town.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Peak Organic Espresso Amber Ale

They say the main difference between beer tasters and wine tasters is that beer tasters swallow. Guilty as charged. But we don't do it to get drunk, although I like to imagine beer drinkers have a better appreciation of inebriation than the wine crowd.

We do it because beer is complex enough that our tongues detect different flavors as it passes across. The tips of our tongues are more prone to pick up the malty flavors, while the backs detect bitterness. So beer has a 'finish,' the taste we get as we swallow. EDIT: I have been contacted by someone quoting science, saying that the tongue taste map has been debunked. So I'll search for a more plausible reason that the taste of complex foods/drinks changes and post back here when I find it.

So for tonight's featured beer, I decided to draw a diagram of the tastes encountered drinking Peak Organic Espresso Amber Ale. It's a relatively simple beer with three waves of taste: the maltiness at first, the huge taste of espresso as it passes through the mouth, and a pleasant, lightly hoppy finish.

So here it is:

I know it looks like a floor tile sample here, but it tastes delicious. I thought it was novel of Peak Organic to make an amber coffee beer, and this beer exceeded my expectations. Although one can't drink too much because it clocks in at 6.8% abv, I could easily drink 2 or 3 of these in a session. I've seen complaints that the espresso flavor is overwhelming- that's true only if you're serious about the German Beer Purity Law, or you just don't like espresso.

Otherwise, you'll see this, as I did, as a huge step for Peak Organic. I've always respected their beer - the maple oat ale was pretty good - but it was nothing remarkable until this bold, beautiful creation. Definitely check this one out.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Maine Coast Brewing

Maine Coast is a brewpub I didn't know existed until recently. So, my girlfriend Pattie and I drove to Bar Harbor the other day to check it out.

Going to Bar Harbor in the winter is kind of a waste of time, as the town is about dead. But I saw online that Maine Coast was open year-round and I was anxious to try a new brewpub.

It's a pretty little restaurant with a nearby building where the beer is brewed. The brewery looked closed for the season, and there were only two other tables with diners. On tap, they had a stout, a brown, and IPA, and what I suppose was an imperial IPA called "Armstrong Ale."

I ordered a brown and Pattie got the IPA. The biggest aspect of the beer was the ocean water taste. Seriously, this beer tastes a bit like sea salt, which makes me think seaweed was added to the mash. I'm thinking this because I bought the "Historic Ales from Scotland" giftpack recently, and it includes a seaweed ale. Here's how the brewer describes it:

Prior to the 1850’s there were many Scottish coastal ale-houses which brewed their own ales, these ales were made from local malted barley which was grown on fields fertilised with seaweed. This environment gave the barley a very specific flavour which we have recreated by the inclusion of fresh seaweed in the mash tun.

The brewer wasn't around, and I didn't think to ask the waitress if she knew. But I'll say Legends' Kelpie Ale is a lot more subtle than Maine Coast's beer, where the 'ocean' taste can make it a challenging drink. Like a heavily-smoked beer, it takes a little time to adjust to it.

It mixes easily with the brown ale, but when combined with hops in the IPA Pattie ordered, the result is a strong tang. Pattie said it tasted "like dishwater," but I thought it was interesting. I wanted to buy some to bring home, but our waitress said they didn't have any at the time. Lesson: Don't go to Bar Harbor in the winter. I do plan on heading back sometime to buy some bottles or a growler. God knows how much they'll cost, though- a pint glass there is $9.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Real ale from Sheepscot Valley Brewing Co.

Last week my friend John and I took the hour-long drive from Auburn out to Whitefield, Maine, where the Sheepscot Valley brewery was open from 4-6 p.m. refilling growlers.

Steve Gorrill, who along with a barn on his property comprises the entire brewery, only sells his beer twice a week. He once told me he started the brewery so he could spend more time with his kids, so despite the demand for his beers he doesn't let the brewery consume his life. So you call ahead, then show up during his hours on Friday evening or Saturday afternoon. $6.50 to refill a growler with most of his beers, or $8.50 if you're buying a full new growler.

So it must be pretty good if I'm driving an hour away, down a dirt road called "Hollywood Boulevard," to a barn that's only open 4 hours a week. It's actually incredible. Gorrill's flagship ale is a Scottish style called Pemaquid Ale. The demand for it is so high that he has Sebago contract brewing for kegs in bars and for the 22 oz. bombers you can find in Maine's better beer stores.

But getting it fresh from Gorrill's barn is so much better. Pemaquid packs a kick, but it's medium bodied and malty sweet- heavy on dark crystal malts. He makes a citrusy pale ale and a roasty stout, but I haven't had either one in months.

If you get one growler, get a Pemaquid. If you get two, grab a double brown. It's $9.50, or $7.50 to refill. It's a strong ale, but like the Pemaquid hides it well under malty sweetness. It's a little heavier than the Pemaquid, but I didn't find it overly filling.

I figure Gorrill's setup is perfect. He does everything on his own terms. He's not in a convenient location and he doesn't keep the most convenient hours. But I waited in line to get my growler refilled, and there were several people in line behind me. John and I had stopped at the Liberal Cup (a brewpub which will get its own post) and I asked Gorrill if he had a bathroom there. "I have an outdoors," he said.

Totally on his terms, and the beer is so good, I keep going back.

The New York Times visited the brewery and a half dozen others on a tour of Maine beers. It's a good read.