Let The Maine Brew Bus Drive You To Maine Beer Bliss

You’ve seen the green school bus driving through Portland’s Old Port.  I know you have.  You’ve watched people board this bus and thought, “What is that?  What kind of magical place are those people going to?”  And if you’re a local, you’ve probably let the thought pass like a cumulus cloud floating through a summer’s sky as you continue on your own self-guided tour of Portland.

maine-brew-bus-logo

I know you’ve had this experience, because I have too.  I fancy myself a cat in the know about Maine’s brewing scene.  Recently, however, I boarded the big green Maine Brew Bus (his name is Lennie, by the way) and realized that though I’ve spent the past year writing about and drinking my fair share of Maine beer, I didn’t know the beer scene as intimately as I thought.

The first tour I took is called The Casco Fiasco Tour.  I spotted the impossible-to-miss green school bus parked outside In’Finiti on Commercial St. and was promptly greeted by Adam and Bob, our, respectively, tall and mustachioed tour guide and bus driver.  As soon as Lennie’s doors swung closed and Bob and his mustache pulled out of the parking lot, it was clear that we were in the hands of knowledgeable beer aficionados.

Allagash Barrels 2The Maine Brew Bus is an educational tour.  (Don’t worry, there are a healthy number of samples to imbibe.)  Adam gave the thirteen passengers on the bus a concise history of Maine’s brewing scene on our drive to Allagash Brewing Co., our first destination.  The local beer scene was framed for us, now we were ready to drink knowledgeably.

The tour visited Allagash’s stunning facility, the art-infused, hip-hop driven Bissell Brother (Mmm…The Substance), enjoyed lunch at Sebago, and finished up at the forward-thinking Rising Tide Brewery.

When I sadly stepped off Lennie the Magical Beer Bus back at In’Finiti, my head was crammed with a deeper knowledge and appreciation of the Maine beer scene, and my belly was crammed with delicious Maine beer.

Maine Craft DistillingAs fate would have it, I found myself back on Lennie two weeks later for The Local Pour Tour to visit Maine Mead Works, Urban Farm Fermentory, Maine Craft Distilling, and Bunker Brewing Company.  I’m a beer guy, so I was a little hesitant about a tour that was only featuring one brewery.  Mead?  Kombucha? Cider?  A carrot spirit?  Not my wheelhouse, but the first ride on Lennie had been bliss-filled, plus, it’s good to get out your bibulous comfort zone from time to time.

After a beer and sausage tasting at the Thirsty Pig featuring Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA, Rising Tide Daymark, and Sebago Simmer Down (Yes!) I was feeling loose and up for trying some new libations.

Our tour guide this time was Don.  How do I describe Don?  He’s a mix between a high-octane game show host and an undergraduate professor schooling you on Maine history and beer.  This man is a born tour guide.

BunkerWhat I got out of the Local Pour Tour, besides a new appreciation for Mead, is that Portland is a city brimming with entrepreneurs and artisans who are passionate about food, drink, and living creative lives.  If for nothing else, take the Local Pour tour to get an inside look at the brilliant endeavors going down in Portland’s thriving East Bayside neighborhood.

Whether you’re visiting Maine for the weekend or you’re a seasoned local, hop on Lennie (or his new sister Mabel) and let The Maine Brew Bus drive you to Maine beer bliss.

Cheers!

IXNAY: D.L. Geary’s Gluten Free Triumph

“I’m old school,” D.L. Geary says from behind his desk.  His crystal blue eyes make him look boyish, despite the white hair, ruddy complexion, and outdated office decor.

I’ve been invited to his brewery to try IXNAY, a gluten free beer that by all accounts actually tastes like beer.  But before we can get to the beer, D.L. has some thoughts he wants to share about the current craft beer scene.

IXNAY labelGeary is certainly old school in his approach to the complex beer-scape in Maine right now.  He isn’t impressed with the cloudy, hop-forward beers that spring up daily in this state.  Geary learned to brew beer by apprenticing at breweries in England.  The man wants his beer simple, clear, and refreshing.  Though I might be a student of the new school, I can respect that.

If he doesn’t like the look or the taste of the new beer offerings in Maine, he absolutely cannot stand the new names being slapped onto these beers.  Moose Drool?  Pork Slap?  Arrogant Bastard?  No.  No.  And hell no.

“We’re in the age of the stupid beer name,” he says to me, leaning forward in his seat.  He tells me about a YouTube video called Hipsters Love Beer.  I watch it when I get home.  Even if I am a major supporter of the nouveau beer scene, I did almost pee myself laughing at this video.  (“It’s brewed by slutty nuns up in the Appalachian mountains.”)

So here were are, a Maine brewing icon who was at the forefront of the craft brewing movement in the mid-80’s, and the new school beer writer who loves him some hoppy, strange-named, cloudy beer.  What could possibly bring us together?

IXNAY, of course.  After we share a laugh over the stupid beer names, he asks, “Do you want to try the beer?”

Confession: I’ve never had a gluten free beer.  By all accounts, they taste like (cover your kid’s ears) ass.  Most GF beers use Sorghum, a grain substitute that gives beer a non-beer taste.  My GF friends are desperate for a beer that tastes like actual beer.  And because I want everyone on this planet to find the beer that’s right for them, when D.L. asks if I want to try IXNAY, I give an emphatic, “Yes!”

He takes a bottle from his small office fridge, pops the top, and pushes the bottle and a Geary’s pint glass across his desk.  He is giddy.  I love his enthusiasm for this beer.

IXNAYHere’s the lowdown on IXNAY.  The first characteristic I notice is the clear, golden appearance I’ve come to expect from a Geary’s beer.  It develops a nice foamy head with tiny beads.  I bury my nose into the pint glass and breath in the coppery, yeasty aroma.  So far, all signs point towards this baby tasting like beer.  With D.L.’s crystal blue eyes intently watching, I take a generous gulp.  The verdict?  It’s beer.

I put the glass down and wait.  From what I’ve heard, GF beers often start out tasting like beer, but leave a tainted aftertaste on the tongue.  After a few moments, all I’m left with is Geary’s beer.  This a Herculean triumph.  I take a few more healthy glugs and by the time the pint is finished, it’s apparent that this beer is the real deal.

Geary tells me that the beer is somewhere between their Pale Ale and Summer Ale.  I can imagine drinking this beer on a hot summer day and not even thinking that it’s GF.  I cannot offer a bigger compliment to a GF beer.

Geary'sBecause people with gluten afflictions can be so painfully ravaged by exposure to gluten, I’ll try to clarify some of the science behind IXNAY.  It’s technically not free of gluten.  The Geary’s team experimented with a number of recipes over the last three years, and finally developed a recipe that calls for grain instead of Sorghum.  They use an enzyme from Aspergillus Niger – a clarifying agent – to break down the gluten in the beer.  The FDA has a threshold of 20 parts per million of detectable gluten for something to be considered GF.  Geary tells me that when he has IXNAY tested by an independent lab in San Diego, it always comes out well below the 20 ppm mark.  He’s given IXNAY to three people with Celiacs Disease, and none of them have experienced the horrific pain associated with ingesting gluten products.

Though D.L. Geary’s cantankerous aversion to the vibrant post-millennial beer scene does make his product seem antiquated, his passion to give the world a beautifully crafted GF beer, just might put the Geary’s brand back on the ever-shifting beer map.

Cheers!

Final Results and Analysis of the Maine Madness Beer Tournament

Rising Tide Maine Island Trail AleTwo weeks, 64 beers, and 1,524 votes later, we have our 2014 Maine Madness Beer Tournament Champion: Rising Tide Maine Island Trail Ale.  MITA received 76% of yesterday’s vote, giving it a landslide victory over Allagash Curieux, a mighty, mighty opponent.  Rising Tide fans got out the vote and made it happen for this tasty, summertime offering.  Congratulations, Rising Tide.  You had a great tournament with three spots in the Elite Eight, and knocking off tournament favorite Maine Beer Company Lunch in the Final Four.

Before launching into analysis of this year’s tournament and thoughts for next year’s bracket, let’s spotlight the championship beer.

Maine Island Trail Ale is an American Ale brimming with malt and hop character.  At 4.3% abv, I initially thought this beer would be a light-weight brew.  Au contraire, MITA is brewed with Citra and Simcoe hops.  The hop flavor is ever-present and crisp.  They focus mainly on flavoring and aroma hops, making this beer drinkable for almost everyone since it doesn’t have a smack-you-in-the-face bitter finish that lingers on the back of your tongue for days.  Hop Heads love MITA because of the citrus intensity of the Citra and Simcoe hops, and all the non-Hop Heads love it because it’s a refreshing, well-balanced beer.

MITA copyAnd there it is.  Maybe that’s why this beer made it past Lunch and Curieux, two of Maine’s best beers.  It’s a world-class beer that doesn’t get backed into a corner by being a niche beer.  It’s brilliantly crafted and accessible, like a great Beatles’ album or a Steve Jobs designed Apple product.

Here’s the best news, this picture from Rising Tide’s Facebook page shows them receiving their Summer supply of cans.  That means that we will be able to drink the Maine Madness Beer Tournament Champion soon.  Very soon.  Look for it in May.  Hopefully early May.

This tournament started as something my friends and I thought would just be voted on by us.  Quickly, it became clear that people wanted in on the action.  More than anything else, I take that as a sign that people are passionate about Maine beer.  It simply reinforced what I already believed: this state has a world-class beer scene, and it’s just getting better with each new brewery.

A huge thanks goes out to Maine.Eater.com who hosted the Final Four and the Championship, allowing us to collect more votes and reach a larger voting audience.  They are a great publication.  Go to the for Maine food and drink news.

I’ve heard people’s feedback about the tournament, and there will be some changes next year.  First, we’re thinking of supplanting the Seasonal category for a Belgium category where we can put farmhouse ales, saisons, tripels, sours, lambics, and Belgium whites.  There are enough Belgium beers and super fans in Maine to inspire this change.  We received some well-deserved flack for leaving Oxbow out of the tournament, so expect a good showing from this brewery next year.

In one year, we also expect the Maine beer scene to be richer with more breweries opening and new beers appearing from established breweries.  This will make next year’s bracket look vastly different from the bracket we brought you this year.

Thank you to all the Maine beer fanatics who engaged in this process of voting and trying new beer.  And the biggest thanks is due to the brewers who labor over their beers to get the final product just right for our palates.  Without you, there would be no tournament, and no Maine beer happiness in our lives.

See you next year.

And remember: To Drink ME is to Love ME!

Cheers!

Results and Analysis of the Final Four

This tournament has been a whirlwind ever since voting started two weeks ago in the Round of 64.  If Warren Buffet offered a billion dollars to anyone who could pick a perfect bracket in the Maine Madness Beer Tournament, I have a feeling that he wouldn’t have to pay up in our tournament either.

Rising Tide Maine Island Trail AleIf you voted in the Final Four round, then you saw the close races between these monster Maine beers.  Maine Beer Company Lunch and Rising Tide Maine Island Trail Ale were in a tight battle all day until Rising Tide fans united to take down MBC’s delicious IPA.  We got messages from more than one voter stunned by the sizable victory Maine Island Trail Ale had mounted.  But the people have spoken, and Rising Tide’s seasonal Ale is now in the Finals.

The Maine Beer Company Peeper and Allagash Curieux match-up was a clash of two Maine beer titans that never got further away than a handful of votes.  Allagash’s bourbon barrel aged strong ale held a slight lead all day, and though Peeper made a couple good runs at it, the Curieux never relinquished the number one spot.  Curieux has proven over and over during this tournament that it is a force to be reckon with.

Allagash Barrels 2We are ecstatic for today’s championship match between two beautiful brews.  Thanks to everyone who participated in this tournament by voting and drinking Maine beer.  Maine is a great state, and this tournament helps to illustrate that truth.

Good luck voting today!  Remember: To Drink ME Is To Love ME!

Results and Analysis of the Elite Eight

Elite Eight AlesSomeone commented after yesterday’s Elite Eight round that they felt like a traitor voting against any of the remaining beers.  But voters steeled themselves and made the hard choices, and we have our Final Four Lineup:

Maine Beer Company Peeper (2) vs. Allagash Curieux (9)

Maine Beer Company Lunch (1) vs. Rising Tide Brewing Maine Island Trail Ale (1)

Good luck parsing out your loyalties between these monster brews!

(Click here to view full bracket.)

In a breakdown of yesterday’s match-ups, Bissell Brothers The Substance gave a mighty fight against Lunch.  Though the Brothers Bissell have only been open for a few months now, they have overtaken Maine with their well-balanced American Ale.  Kudos to them for being aggressive getting The Substance on a number of taps in Portland, making a buzz by doing a limited run of cans, and zeroing in on one beer and killing it.  I have a feeling they will be a denizen of the Maine Madness Beer Tournament for years to come.

The Daymark/Peeper showdown was another brew battle that was fun to watch in real time.  Peeper took an early lead that it never relinquished, but Daymark kept getting within a few votes, close enough to brush the crisp hops of Peeper.  But, alas, Peeper was too dominate among voters.  Rising Tide still has Maine Island Trail Ale in the competition, and they should be proud, having the most brews in the Elite Eight.

Elite Eight DarksTime to admit a mistake.  Making Allagash Curieux a 9 seed was a colossal oversight.  This beer has been a juggernaut in the tournament and deserved a much higher seed from us here at MMBT.  However, despite our ranking snafu, Curiuex has barreled its way into today’s Final Four.  Next year, Curieux, expect a higher ranking!

Thanks for making this tournament such a beautiful celebration of Maine beer.  Here’s our new slogan (so new it still has that new slogan smell): To Drink ME Is To Love ME.

Cheers!

Results and Analysis of Sweet 16

Sweet 16 AlesKarin put yesterday’s Sweet Sixteen Round of the Maine Madness Beer Tournament perfectly when she commented, “Daymark or Zoe?!  You are killing me!”  We feel the same way, Karin.  And so did a lot of voters by the results of yesterday’s voting.

(Click here to view full bracket.)

By far, the most enjoyable voting to monitor in real time yesterday was the Ales section of the bracket.  Daymark and Zoe fought an amazing battle.  We couldn’t even count the number of lead changes through the day as Rising Tide fans and Maine Beer Company fans threw blow after blow.  Finally, Daymark proved to be too big of a competitor for Zoe, and it will move on to the Elite Eight to face another MBC brew, Peeper.

The other Maine Ale battle was between Allagash White and the aforementioned Peeper.  We thought Allagash White might pull out this victory over the younger Peeper.  We have a friend from Nashville who gets a case of Allagash White shipped to his home a few times a year.  Nationally and locally, drinkers go nuts for Allagash White.  But in the voting, Peeper proved to be too formidable of an opponent.

The other close race in yesterday’s Sweet 16 was in the seasonal category between Sebago’s Bonfire Rye and Baxter’s Hayride Autumn Ale.  It was reminiscent of the first round Sebago v. Baxter match-up in the IPA category.  This time, however, Sebago pulled out the victory to move on to the Elite 8.

Elite 8 IPAKarin, if you thought yesterday’s match-ups caused you to pull your hair out in wild indecision, look at today’s Elite 8: Lunch vs. The Substance, Maine Island Trail Ale vs. Sebago Bonfire Rye, Allagash Curieux vs. Ursa Minor Stout, and Daymark vs. Peeper.

That’s three brews for Rising Tide, two for Maine Beer Company, and one each for Bissell Brothers, Sebago, and Allagash.

What a beautiful day for Maine beer.  If you haven’t tried any of these beers, you’re crazy.  Find ME.  Drink ME.  Love ME.

Cheers!

(Click to read results and analysis of Elite Eight.)

Results and Analysis from Round Two: Maine IPA’s and Seasonals

Round Two IPA'sJust when you think you know who’s is going to win a head to head match-up in this tournament, the votes come in, and you’re assumptions are eschewed.  This was the case for last night’s voting for Maine IPA’s and Seasonals in the Round of 32.  I hope some of you out there have friendly wagers on who will win, because the way the votes look, it could be anybody’s tournament.

(Click here for full bracket.)

Most notably, Bissell Brothers The Substance and Baxter Brewing Stowaway IPA brawled hard in their match-up.  At one point in the afternoon, it looked like Stowaway might just run-away with the victory, but Bissell fans started casting their votes and pushed The Substance on to the Sweet 16.

Round Two SeasonalsIn another battle of delicious IPA’s, Rising Tide Zephyr and Marshall Wharf Cant Dog exchanged significant blows.  This war raged all day with neither beer pulling ahead by more than two votes at a time.  When the dust settled and the voting window closed, Cant Dog pulled off the victory and will now face The Substance in the Sweet 16.

With that stated, more interesting than any other battle last night will be the battles that happen in the Sweet 16 today.  Lunch vs. Calcutta Cutter.  The Substance vs. Cant Dog.  Allagash Curieux vs. King Titus.  Allagash White vs. Peeper.  Holy hops!  I cannot wait to see how the Sweet 16 plays out.

Find a new beer in the Sweet 16, pop the top, and cast your vote.

Viva la Maine Beer!