Maine Beers to Drink This Fall

Shipyard Geary's Gritty's Fall Seasonals

(Originally published in Maine Today Magazine on September 18, 2014.)

Things change quickly in the modern world.  The computer you’re reading this post on will be obsolete in a mind-numbingly short amount of time.  Your cell phone?  You might as well exchange it for a new one the day you bring it home.

But not all change is bad.  And in this beer revolution we find ourselves in, the change is downright euphoric.  New breweries pop up weekly in Maine and outside-the-box beers are being concocted at a staggering rate.

The fall beer offerings in Maine are no exception.  Mainers are no longer limited to the old guard offerings that were once the only options in the fall season.  Don’t get me wrong, I tossed back my fair share of Geary’s Autumn, Shipyard Pumpkinhead, and Gritty’s Halloween back in the day.  I would never tell a beer drinker not to revisit these old friends—they’ve stuck around for a reason; however, it’s time we look beyond the OG’s and see what else is out there.

Here are a few beers you should put on your radar this fall.

Sebago Bonfire RyeBonfire Rye Ale, Sebago Brewing Company

In their quest to keep forging forward into the great beer future, Sebago introduced this rye ale last fall.  For me, a fall beer needs to have a strong malt foundation without crossing the line into the heavy stouts and porters indicative of winter beers.  Bonfire Rye has that perfect malt character for a fall beer.  To balance out that vibrant malt flavor, this beer has bright hop notes from a bounty of American hops.

Zoe Amber Ale, Maine Beer Company

This is another great example of a malty ale that is superb for fall nights when the air is crisp.  Zoe pours a dark amber color and has the hop quality that is emblematic of Maine Beer Company brews.  The beer starts off with a pleasing citrus aroma, and the flavor contains a wonderful symmetry between the malts and the citrus fruit hops.  At the end of the tasting experience, you’re left with a subtle pine bitterness from the hops, but your tongue remains pleasantly coated in malty sweetness.

Rising Tide GrowlerArmada Brown Ale, Rising Tide Brewing Company

A brown ale is another good fall beer choice, but the only problem is that brown ales can be a bit bland for my taste.  The Armada Brown Ale from Rising Tide, however, has just the right balance of brown ale maltiness and clean hop notes to satisfy the palate.  Rising Tide beers have a signature freshness imparted from their American ale yeast, and the synergy between the malt, the hops, and the yeast makes for a great fall brew.  This limited edition beer is only available at the brewery in growlers.

Allagash Black, Allagash Brewing Company

I know I said earlier that I’m not ready for stouts and porters before the first snowfall, but this Belgium style stout from Allagash drinks more like a dark ale than a stout.  Think of this beer as a dark, strong ale.  Like most beers from Allagash, the Black has a refined flavor and shouldn’t be feared by people who claim not to like dark beer.  It’s brewed with chocolate malts and caramelized candi sugar.  Unlike the beers above, Allagash Black doesn’t have a strong hop character, but that lets the chocolate and toffee malt flavors really shine.

Hop Harvest Beers

With the burgeoning hop farm scene in Maine right now, you need to be on the look out for Harvest Beers from the countless breweries up and down this state who are brewing with local hops this fall.  The Hop Yard in Gorham alone sourced hops to fifteen breweries in the area.  On October 25th, In’finiti in Portland is having their Hoptoberfest featuring Harvest beers from fourteen different breweries.  Though these hoppy beers might not be what we normally think of as fall beers, they are a must try for a true taste of Maine.

Cheers to a fall filled with tasty Maine beers!


Maine Brewing Supply Rolls Out Clone Recipes

(Originally published in Maine Today Magazine on September 16, 2014.)

Do you crave a beer that you can’t buy here in Maine? Maybe it’s the elusive Pliny the Elder from Russian River Brewing in California. Or perhaps you still haven’t had the luxury of trying a Heady Topper from the Alchemist in Vermont. Or maybe Zombie Dust from Three Floyds in Indiana has piqued your interest, but you just can’t get your hands on a bottle of that diabolical IPA.

Maine Brewing Supply FrontIf the I-can’t-buy-that-beer-in-Maine blues have you feeling low, fret not. Maine Brewing Supply on Forest Ave in Portland has you covered.

The homebrew shop has started selling clone recipes of world-renowned beers both from Maine and beyond. A sign outside the store urges: “If you can’t get ‘em, brew ‘em!”

I first discovered their well-crafted clone recipes last year when I asked Kyle Jongerden, the Brewing Supply attendant, if they had any bottles of Zombie Dust in their well-stocked beer cooler. He nearly fell over laughing.

His laughter subsided, however, and he smiled at me and said, “We don’t have any bottles, but I have a good recipe for it.”

Clone KitsNext thing you know, my arms are filled with the arsenal to make the impossible-to-get Zombie Dust. I brew it, bottle it, and let it sit. A month later I’m sipping the best homebrew I’ve ever made. The beer is citrusy from the 8 oz. of Citra hops and well balanced from the recipe’s perfect grain/malt portions.

Last month, feeling the itch to brew, I headed to Maine Brewing Supply. On this trip Jongerden told me he had just perfected a Heady Topper recipe

I was so thrilled I think I may have done a backflip. As Jongerden gathered the ingredients into a green mesh bag, he explained that he’s been hunched over his computer for weeks digging through the deep recesses of internet beer forums, looking at recipes, trying out different configurations of ingredients in his own kitchen, until finally, he created a recipe that resembles the highly rated double IPA from Vermont.

Anyone who has ever crawled into the rabbit hole of internet forums knows how persnickety these people can be. What I love is that Jongerden is willing to enter these forums so we don’t have to. He does the dirty work and emerges with astounding homebrew recipes.

Maine Brewing Supply Street SignIn a side-by-side comparison, my clone Heady Topper holds its own with the original. Though I seem to have fallen a bit short on capturing the magic. This is all the more reason to try again!

What’s their most popular clone recipe? It’s actually a beer brewed right here in Portland: The Substance from Bissell Brothers Brewing. Seems like people can’t get enough of that beer right now.

Whether you’re an expert homebrewer or just thinking about buying your first homebrewing kit, head to Maine Brewing Supply, grab one of Kyle’s recipes, and bring the magic to your kitchen.


Get Yourself to Hidden Cove Brewing

Jali Beer 2 Hidden Cove(Originally published in Maine Today Magazine on September 10, 2014.)

Before Hidden Cove Brewing Company in Wells changed their name from Captain Dick’s Brewing, I would have made a great marketing executive for them. I mean, I could have Don Drapered the heck out of a slogan for Captain Dick’s.

The name change, however, was a great idea; it took the attention off an aggressive name and puts it back where it belongs: on their innovative line of well-crafted beer.

The brewing company is the brainchild of Fire N Brew proprietor, Richard Verano, and his son in law and former Fire N Brew head chef Gregg Spickler. Both Verano and Spickler are graduates of the Culinary Institute of America. When Spickler started pouring Verano pints of his outside-the-box homebrew, Verano said, “Let’s start a brewery at the restaurant.”

Hidden Cove is playing around with both brettanomyces yeast and saccharomyces yeast. Without going too Bill Nye on you, just know that the brett yeast is used to create sour beers and the saccharomyces yeast is typically used to brew American style ales and lagers. Spickler uses a blend of both yeasts in his beers, allowing him to pump out brews that will satisfy the sour beer drinkers and the hoppy beer drinkers.

What I love most about these beers is that they are not pale imitations of sours and hoppy ales. They are the real deal.

The Scally Ale is an American Ale lover’s dream. It’s got a hoppy bite from the Centennial, Chinook, and Summit hops, while being balanced by a nice malt backbone. The A’Rye IPA and the Crowsfoot Black Ale will also satisfy the ale drinker in you.

Gregg Spickler in BrewhouseBut the beer that should put Hidden Cove at the top of your ‘To Drink’ list is their apricot jalapeño beer, Jali. Spickler brews this beer with jalapenos and apricots that he roasts and smokes himself in the Fire N Brew kitchen. He then ferments it in tequila barrels. Drinking this beer is a symphonic sensory experience. Jali has an immediate jalapeno aroma, but when you take that first drink, you get a bit of the sour from the brett yeast, then a kick of sweet from the apricots, next comes the smoky flavor, and finally a slight burn from the jalapenos with a dry finish. I typically loathe fruity beer, but I love this beer. Don’t let the ingredients intimidate you. Order one and dive right in.

On my last visit, Verano and Spickler were kind enough to give me a tour of the tightly packed brewery. Spickler even poured samples of sours he’s aging in oak barrels. I prophesize that when these beers are fully aged, they will rival some of the best sours being made in this state.

Make the drive to Wells, weave through the tourists still clinging on to the final days of summer, belly up to the bar at Fire N Brew Restaurant and order yourself a pint of some of the most intriguing beer being brewed in Maine.


The Beer World Goes Sour

(Originally published in Maine Today Magazine on September 3, 2014.)

AllagashSourBottlesIf you’ve read my column, you’ve gathered that I’m a hop head. Heck, I even shave with soap made from hoppy beer. As the Beer Muse, I’ve mostly steered the Maine drinking community towards local brews awash in hops.

But it’s clear to me that the next big beer movement in this country is going to be sour beer. This trend has been underway for a few years, and it’s starting to come to the forefront of the beer renaissance.

Quick lesson. While hoppy beers like American-style Pale Ales and India Pale Ales get the brunt of their flavor from hops, the intense flavor of sour beer is derived from yeast such as Brettanomyces or from bacteria intentionally introduced to the beer such as Lactobacillus.

The result is a brew that tastes like Sour Patch Kids or a really tart Granny Smith apple. My face is puckering just writing these sentences.

In an attempt to understand this beer movement, I enlisted the help of some sour-loving friends to give me a crash course in sours. Nick, who works at Novare Res Bier Café (one of Maine’s sour beer epicenters), suggested that we meet at the Bier Cellar in Portland to have owner Greg Norton help us choose a lineup of beers that would be a good introduction to the world of sours. Eight different sours were purchased, and we were off.

BierCellarA solid entry-level sour we tried in our tasting was a Gose style beer called Döllnitzer Ritterguts out of Germany. A Gose is a sour beer brewed with salt. Sounds strange, but the salt cuts the intensity of the tartness. It has almost a lemon Gatorade flavor.

Another beginner sour we popped was a saison from Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales out of Michigan called Bam Biere. For a sour, it’s crisp and easy to drink with a subtle tartness.

As we moved from the training-wheel sours into the heavy hitters, a name that came up over and over was Allagash Brewing Company. Allagash is becoming a leader in sour beers with the innovative work they’re doing with wild yeast in their Coolship series.

By far, one of the best beers we tried in this tasting was a bottle of Allagash Coolship Red. Matt, another Novare Res hand, had been holding onto the bottle for a few years, and he graciously uncorked it for our tasting. This beer is made with Maine raspberries and aged in oak barrels. It has a fresh raspberry nose and a nuanced tartness. After my first sip, I commented, “I love this beer.”

Nick turned to me and said, “Funny, we’ve been around the world with this tasting, and arguably the best beer we’ve had is made in Maine.”

We laughed at the irony, our palates tingling from our tart tasting, our heads light from beer.

In the end, I wouldn’t call myself a sour beer zealot, but I do understand why this craze is sweeping the beer world. So pucker up and get sour.