Maine Beer Company Rings the Dinner Bell One More Time

It’s three in the afternoon.  Tim and I barrel up 295 with the singular purpose of acquiring Maine Beer Company’s Dinner.  We talk idly about nothing in particular; the clear subtext to this chatter is the nervous energy that when we get to the Freeport tasting room Dinner time will be over.

I was assured by one of the marvelous tasting room pourers at MBC earlier in the week that they made 300 cases this run as opposed to the 70 cases they brewed in the inaugural batch.

Dinner LabelStill, my anxiety rumbles with the same intensity of Tim’s tires on the black pavement.

This beer is a big deal.  From my review of the beer when it first came out March, I noted that this beer is a panoply of fresh citrus flavor.  Just smelling this beer’s aroma is as good if not better than drinking most other beers.

In a dream, Tim pulls off the Freeport exit, turns onto Route 1, and there is the sky-blue Maine Beer Company sign.  We park in a surprisingly uncongested lot.  Up the steps two at a time, through the door, and I’m greeted by Christina, MBC’s pourer extrodanaire.

“You’re lucky you made it.  There are three cases left,” she says as other customers vie for her attention.

“What?  I thought they made 300 cases this time,” I say.

“They did.  It’s been crazy.  Some guy slept in his car last night.  The brewers saw him when they showed up at 6 this morning,” she laughs.

Tim and I laugh, but our mirth is cut short by our understanding that we need to act.  We procure our bottles — some of the very last bottles available — and Christina stores them behind the counter where they’ll be safe from the ravenous customers.

Glass of DinnerWe order up a couple 10 oz. glasses of Dinner — they still seemed to have plenty on tap at the tasting room — and sit.

Nose to the glass.  Breathe.  The rough edges of the world are smoothed out.  The citrus nirvana is everything I remembered.

Mouth to glass.  Gulp.  The initial flavor of fresh hop resins shine with Mosaic, Citra, Falconer’s Flight, and Simcoe hops.  I taste the alchemy of a hop boil done astoundingly right.

Glass to table.  Wait.  The way this beer moves from aroma to flavor to that final bitter in the back of the tongue is world class.  The bitter at the end is just right.  For a double IPA, it thankfully does not annihilate the back of the tongue.

Tim burps.  He says, “Even the beer-burps of Dinner are amazing.”

We laugh.

Out of DinnerI’m basking in the bounty of my glass of Dinner, when a small man enters the tasting room.  He’s the first customer to walk in since they ran out of bottles.

The man: “Do you have any bottles of Dinner?”

MBC beer pourer: “We just ran out.”

The man: “Fuck!”

People are serious about this beer.  As they should be.  The cloudy yellow liquid is brilliant.  It rivals Heady Topper.  (Yeah, I said it.  Again.)  In my estimation, it’s still the best beer brewed in this state, even if you can only get it for a few hours every few months.  For those of you who missed out, look for another batch around July.

Before leaving, I say to Christina, “Good luck this week.”

“Thanks.  It’s going to be a long week of telling people we don’t have any more Dinner.”  She smiles.

With our Dinner securely tucked under our arms and our heads set right by two 10 oz. glasses of Dinner, Tim and I forge back into our lives, rejuvenated with the joy of living in a world where a beer this good is possible.

Cheers!

After Reading of the Heroin Epidemic in Vermont, I Write a Letter Home

Note: I recently finished the Rolling Stone article on the heroin problem in Vermont.  The article opens with a heroin addict from my hometown of Milton.  This poem emerged from the rush of nostalgia and visceral thoughts that the article broke open in my veins. 

welcome-to-vermont-5972688

A Letter Home

 

Milton, Vermont, the dirty poem from

which I sprung. Your syntax of trailer parks

punctuated by open fields and front lawns

littered with the corpses of rusted trucks.

 

Though you tried to kill my brother with your

wellspring of OxyContin pills, you nurtured

my mother back to her family with your green

hills and dirt roads while she fought

the death-promise of cancer.  So I forgave you.

 

And now I read that the realism of Oxy pills

you swallowed with well water have been

replaced by the opiate pinprick of heroin.

I’m aghast, but not surprised by this turn.

 

I moved three hundred miles away

to shed the rural skin you wrapped me

in only to find that even in coastal Maine,

despite the strong ocean winds, the marrow

of my bones still speaks your savage name.

 

 

University of Southern Maine, We Will Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night

Since I posted my open letter to the University of Southern Maine about their plan to sell the Stone House where I attended the Stonecoast MFA program, a lot has gone down.  This week’s Portland Phoenix explains that the University is delaying its plans to lay off faculty, and from my contacts at Stonecoast it appears that the Stone House has at least one more residency left.

The bad press over the last couple of months has frustrated the USM administrators into stalling their big plans to gut the University.  It is clear, however, that just because they are stalling, does not mean they are stopping the austerity train.  No, it seems they are waiting for the rough seas of discontent to calm, people’s anger and attention to wane, and then, when no one is watching, they plan to go right on ahead with their plan.

I say, fat chance.

Stone House Image copyFrom my sources at Stonecoast — a low-residency writing program that meets twice a year at the Stone House in Freeport — I’ve been told that University officials are going to close the Stone House in the winter, not this summer as was originally planned.  However, the rough waters of resistance will continue to rage right through to the end of any plan they have hatched.  That’s a promise.

Here’s my biggest issue with the closure of the Stone House.  USM has noted that the Stone House costs $45,000 to maintain a year.  With an alleged $14 million budget shortfall the University claims it cannot afford to keep the 96 year old waterfront estate open.  But the numbers don’t work out here.

Yearly tuition from three to four students in the program covers this cost.  That leaves the tuition from the remaining students to cover the rest of the expenses to run the program.

Furthermore, what is $45,000 in the grand scheme of a $14 million deficit?  Even if they sell the beautiful waterfront estate, that only brings in a one-time influx of money.  You can’t base a sustainable, long term budget around a quick sale of a property.  Property that will only appreciate in value.  The money they will lose from prospective students alone has to outweigh the short term gain.

What is going on with this institution of higher learning?  If I was a member of the family of Mrs. Eleanor Houston Smith, the family who donated the Stone House to the University, I would be livid.  How could this University be such a poor steward of a generous gift of this magnitude?

After reading the Portland Phoenix article, it seems that this entire budget short fall might just be a fabricated move on the administration’s part to allow them to enact vast changes to the University of Southern Maine.  Oh, humanity, I hope this isn’t the case.

I’m joining #USMfuture, a group that has helped push back the cuts at USM, and I will continue to join them in this fight as an alumnus of the Stonecoast MFA program.

USM officials, despite your greatest wishes, we will rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Bunker Brewing Rings in the Summer of India Pale Lagers with Cypher

On my last visit to Bunker Brewing in Portland’s hip East Bayside neighborhood, Bunker’s head brewer Chreston Sorensen proclaimed, “This is going to be the summer of the IPL.”

BunkerHe handed me a sample of their beautifully hopped India Pale Lager, Cypher, and from that first crisp taste, I knew he was right.

As an IPA guy with a predilection for big citrus hops and 8% abv in his IPA’s, I’m skeptical of the light colored, low alcohol IPL and Session Beer movements.  However, with the explosion of new aroma and flavor hops, brewers across New England are convincing me to change my tune.

Otter Creek’s Citra Mantra IPL, brewed, of course, with Citra hops, was the first IPL to grab my palate by the shirt collar.  Cypher was the IPL that landed the knockout punch.

India Pale Lager is kind of an oxymoron.  As craft beer enthusiasts, we’ve been taught that lagers are from Satan.  Bud.  Miller.  Coors.  Those are the lagers of the past that still haunt the modern beer drinker.  But with the glut of ingredients available to brewers and that old Yankee ingenuity, brewers are re-imagining the lager and our drinking experience.

Why can’t we have hop-smacking beers that won’t knock you on your ass with high alcohol content?  You may ask.  Well, now we can.

BunkerGunnerThrough the hum of hip-hop music from the PA system, Sorensen explains that Cypher is made with experimental hops and Amarillo hops.  I put the glass to my nose and breathe in.  I’m greeted by the citrus tangerine aroma characteristic of the Amarillo hop.  Smells like an IPA.  When I hold the glass up to the light, however, the appearance is light, true to a lager profile.  The aroma and appearance are conflicting, but let’s remember, beer is largely about the flavor.  I raise the glass, breathe in the citrus aroma and gulp.  Yes, yes, and yes again.  It’s a fascinating experience.  The Bunker lager is crisp and tangy.  Almost like a German pils.  Then the American hops lay on top of that lager, and the experience is truly something new.  The bitter on the back of the tongue lasts nicely, but isn’t destroy-your-mouth bitter.

Sorenson was right, this is going to be the summer of the IPL.  Think about it.  Summer in Maine means enjoying afternoon brews on the beach or on the plethora of outdoor patios peppering the Old Port.  The IPL allows drinkers to get their hops without the inundation of tons of alcohol.  I’m not sure of the exact abv of Cypher, but if I was to guess, I’d say it was around 4.5%.  It’s a win-friggin’-win.

Look for Cypher in your local Portland watering hole or visit the brewery and buy a gunner, then sip the hoppy goodness while you relish in this new movement of the India Pale Lager.

Cheers!

Simmer Down Brings a Twenty-First Century Flavor to Sebago Brewing Company

In his book Maine Beer: Brewing in Vacationland – a must read for all Maine beer enthusiasts – Josh Christie asserts, “Sebago Brewing Company is, in my mind, one of the most underrated breweries.”  I concur.  When I moved to Maine in 2005, Sebago was the only brewery in this state making high quality American-style beer, yet it didn’t seem garner the reverence heaped upon other Maine breweries.

Their underrated status on the Maine beer scene may stem from a few possible factors.  Maybe people see them as more of a restaurant chain than a brewery.  Perhaps their corporate-vibed brewpubs don’t jive with the new hipster brew scene.  Or it could be that since they began in 1998, they’re simply thought of as part of the Old Guard of Maine brewing, cast off before their delicious beer is even imbibed.

IMG_20130816_121823If you follow my blog, you know I’ve dubbed their Frye’s Leap IPA, ‘The Best Everyday IPA in Maine.’  For my money, you’re not going to buy a better six-pack IPA in this state.

Unlike some of the other O.G.’s in Maine brewing, Sebago is working to find its place in our post-millennial beer world.  Case in point, last year they rebranded their labels to look more chic and less cartoonish.

This spring, however, they have brewed a Session Beer that is surely to earn them some street cred in the hop-forward beer scene that has swept the nation.

Out is their old summer seasonal, a middling hefeweizen, and in is a new summer Session Ale Simmer Down.

Cue the choir of angels singing, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”

Simmer Down is a twenty-first century beer.  By this I mean that Kai Adams and co. brewed this beer with three hops that have all been developed and patented during the aroma hop boom of the last fifteen years.  Simmer Down boasts El Dorado, Mosaic, and Ahtanum hops.

Let’s get into a description of this beer to see how the magic of these three hops will forever change your summer drinking experience.

Simmer DownWhen you first pop a bottle of Simmer Down, place your nose right into the beer and breath deeply.  You will be awash in tropical fruits: mango, star fruit, a hint of lemon.  I’m going to guess that the center-stage hop in Simmer Down is Mosaic – the sexy daughter of the citrusy Simcoe hop.  Now that you’ve bathed in the aroma of Simmer Down, take a healthy gulp.  There is an immediate flavor of tropical fruit, and then the clean finish of a fresh Sebago ale.  A slight bitter flavor lingers on the back of the tongue, but only a hint, not the big finish of their Frye’s Leap.  The light golden color is perfect for a summer day.  From aroma to appearance to flavor to finish, everything in this beer works.

Simmer Down is as brilliant and clean as a Macklemore song playing through your radio on a sunny day at Crescent Beach.

This isn’t Sebago’s anemic attempt to join the hip beer scene in the way that Sam Adams Rebel IPA clearly is.  Simmer Down is something new.  It takes Maine brewing into new territory, the way Sebago Brewing Company did in 1998 when they first hoisted their American-style beer flag in a territory dominated by British-style brews.

Cheers, Sebago!  Simmer Down tastes like the future of brewing.

P.S., Any chance you guys will give us cans of this beer so it can be my beach beer this summer?