V-MA Day: Victory in Massachusetts

So, I’m not sure how many people noticed it, but Boston.com ran an alarming article last week (Aug 4, 2011) titled “Rule change alarms small brewers.” The article discussed the farmer-brewer licensing rule in Massachusetts.

Basically, this rule allows smaller, startup breweries to be licensed as a farmer-brewery collaboration, which supports local farming. It originally allowed farms to use their crops (wheat, barley, hops, etc) to brew beer. The rule has been around for a very long time, but only really became useful after 1978, when the US Congress passed an Act allowing brewing beer at home, for personal use, exempt from taxes, as long as you didn’t sell it. That started the craft beer revolution, as many homebrewers began experimenting, and perfecting their brews until they decided to start a legal brewery. Samuel Adams started off this way and is now the largest domestically-owned brewery in the US (Boston Beer Co. is headquartered in Boston, MA. The big macrobrews are either in collaboration with foreign brewing conglomerates, like MillerCoors, which is partnered with Molson in Canada, or Budweiser’s Anheuser-Busch, owned by InBev, a Belgian-based brewing corporation.)

Here are the important things about the farmer-brewer license: firstly, it’s much much cheaper than a regular brewing license. Secondly, it allows breweries to bypass the three-tier distribution method set up following the repeal of Prohibition. Third, it gives breweries the option to offer tastings and samples of their products to the public, along with tours of the facilities. These are all a no-brainer when it comes to small, craft breweries, but vitally important to the industry.

The problem came when MA realized that they hadn’t been enforcing the requirements of the license, part of which states that 50% of a breweries raw material (barley or wheat, and hops) must be sourced from “domestic farmland.” That is a LOT of grain, and would be prohibitively expensive and difficult for small breweries to obtain. As quoted in the article,

“ ‘There’s no brewer in the state that could meet that,’ said Ipswich Ale Brewery’s
Rob Martin, president of the Massachusetts Brewers Guild,
which represents 34 craft brewers in the state.
‘For me to meet that today, I would need 1,200 acres of grain.’ “
Source: Rule change alarms small brewers
by Erin Ailworth, Boston.com

1,200 acres of grain. That’s a f-ton, not to mention the hops. The good hops in the US are mainly grown in the Pacific Northwest, like the Yakima and Willamette valleys in Washington and Oregon, respectively. While hops DO grow in New England (outside of breweries and Irish Lad’s porch), I don’t know how well they fare with the drastic climate shifts from 90+ degree summers to below-zero winters. I would suspect it’s like grape vines; Lady Friend doesn’t particularly like New England wines, because the grapes don’t have the best growing season, unlike the more temperate weather on the West Coast.

Since most of the MA craft breweries (about 25) wouldn’t be able to meet this requirement, they’d lose their farmer-brewer license and have to opt for the more expensive one. As near as I can tell from the application forms, the smallest (under 5,000 barrels) farmer brewery license has a fee of $22, with a surety bond of $3,000. The regular (manufacturer) license has a fee of $4,500, plus a surety bond of $10,000. That’s a hell of a difference. Additionally, they’d have to use the three-tier distribution system, and pay a distributor to deliver their products to point-of-sale outlets (liquor, or in MA “package” stores or “packies”). They’d have to fight for space alongside Miller or Budweiser in warehouses, trucks and store shelves. This also takes away the face-to-face interaction of a small brewer setup personally delivering product to the store owners, and perhaps getting vital feedback on their sales, and even just keeping up a rapport with the store owners who carry their product.

After chatting with Andris Veidis, the brewer/owner of Blue Hills Brewery in Canton, MA, he wasn’t sure if it was the state or the distributors suddenly pushing for enforcement of the law, which hadn’t been a problem for the past 35 years or so. He claims the state is the one encouraging small start-up breweries to utilize the farmer-brewers license, which Blue Hills operates under as well. If it were enforced to the letter, it would mean the end of his business and he says he’d “party for a couple months until they shut us down.”

I also checked in with Bully Boy Distilling, who is operating under a farmer-DISTILLER license, to see how different the regulations were, and if it would affect their business, since they source their wheat from Maine. Owner/distiller Dave Willis replied:

“Honestly, the Farmer-Distiller license, while a nice thing to have,
is not all that important to our business. It’s a much bigger issue for those
that rely on tastings (i.e., a brew-pub). It’s a bigger annual fee, but that’s about it. Also, we use far, far less grain than a brewery, so it’s a lot easier for us to meet the 50% thresh hold. In short, I feel really bad for the Farmer-Brewers out there, but it’s not that big a deal for us.”

Good to know that Boston’s first craft distillery will ride it out. And, it turns out there’s good news for the breweries as well. After meeting behind closed-doors, the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission and members of the Massachusetts Brewers Guild came to an agreement. The Commission admitted they had been a bit too hasty, without realizing the implications of enforcing the 50% rule, which would close nearly all the small craft breweries in the state, and hinder even the larger ones, affecting around 1,100 jobs.

” ‘The 50 percent threshold will not be implemented,’ Grossman [ABCC Treasurer Steven Grossman] said. ‘We realized that perhaps we went a little beyond what was practical.’

Instead, Grossman said, commission officials will hold several regulatory
hearings across the state focusing on how to develop
common-sense regulations that will promote agriculture
and help create jobs in the state’s growing craft-brewing industry.”

Source: Brewers greet state’s reversal on rule
by Erin Ailworth, Boston.com

Whew. Crisis averted, and a victory for the craft brewers of MA. I chatted with brew-brother Irish Lad about it last week, as I was shaking in anger that the state would even think to destroy the local craft brewing industry. He wasn’t as concerned, believing that an agreement would be reached, rather than shut down 25 or so breweries. I’ve seen MA do crazier things in the past; they like to shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to making common sense decisions dealing with local economies. However, it all seems to be heading in the right direction, for now. As Irish Lad says:

“Yeah, just as predicted! Oh, ye of little faith in the Massachusetts government.
1100 lost jobs is a shit stain no politician wants on their drawers in this economy.
Brew on!”

Upta Potlind, Paht 6: Novare Res Bier Cafe

This is Part Six of an ongoing series chronicling the Maine Beercation of late July, 2011. To start at Part One, click here.

The Old Port section of Portland is great and all, but I grew up in a coastal New England town. I get it. I’ve seen it. It’s lovely, but only when the tourists migrate back to their homes in the winter. Sure, tourism sustains the economy and triples the summer population of a lot of New England destinations, but some of us have to live here, and get really tired of the word “quaint.” Ironically, having moved to Massachusetts, I’m now an embodiment of the dreaded Masshole that invades such scenic little Yankee locales. My mission isn’t the beach, or trinket shops, or “lobstah,” “chowdah,” or “outlet shopping.” I’m on a mission for drinkables.

What’s interesting about our Maine Beercation, is that Maine has a history of an anti-imbibing nature. The State of Maine was one of the first states in the country to pass a law prohibiting the manufacture and sale of alcohol in 1851. Some assclown named Neal Dow decided that because HE thought alcohol was bad, that NO ONE should have it. (Actually, at the time people drank 3-5 times more liquor than they do today, and it was a bit of a problem). He got his way and Maine went dry. People finally got fed up and mobbed Portland City Hall where Dow had stashed a supply of “medicinal” rum. The militia was called out and fired two broadsides into the crowd, wounding seven and killing one man. For reference, only 11 people were hit during the Boston “Massacre.”

This basically started to turn public opinion against Dow, and the law was eventually repealed the next year. In an M. Night Shyamalan style twist, Dow himself was charged with illegally procuring the rum in the first place, though he was eventually acquitted.

Anyway, following dinner, and more importantly, a sampling of beers at the Sebago Brewpub, as is our 21st Amendment right, the Lady Friend and I sauntered down Fore Street in the heart of the Old Port. It had been raining, so the other pedestrians were scarce. Passing cobblestones and Customs Houses, we searched for our next target: Novare Res Bier Cafe. Unfortunately, it lies off the beaten path, behind a fence in a pseudo-alley/courtyard area just off of Exchange Street, between Fore and Middle. We walked right past it, until, not unlike Ace of Base, we saw the sign.

Life IS demanding (without understanding).

If you’re looking for Novare Res, on a rainy night, keep an eye out for that sign. Once past the fence, you’ll see the building.

We went in and took a look around. The main tables are long, with benches creating a more communal style seating arrangement. We scored some seats next to an older group of two couples, and started the impossible task of choosing a beer. I know I’ve said that before, but this was really a challenge; Novare Res comes from the Latin “to start a revolution,” which is apparently what they’re trying to do. They had roughly 24 draughs and 500 bottles available. The beer list was 13 pages long.

Pick one.

Our waitress, Sarah, was patient, and came back several times to see if I had finally made up my damn mind. Lady Friend went with a Dogfish Head Sah-tea on tap, and I got a North Coast Acme IPA from CA, clocking in at 7.1 abv. It had a stale, earthy nose with a very slight essence of floral hop. Bitter taste, very hop forward, but smoothed out to a nice finish. Delish. Lady’s Sah-tea was a 9% abv in an 8oz pour described as a “Finnish beer with rye, juniper, ginger, cloves, and tea.” Ok then. It nosed as a Belgian, with wheaty banana fruit and a touch of spice. The taste was Belgian sweet and a slight ginger start. Banana certainly, but Lady Friend was hoping for something with a bit more punch, and wanted more of the ginger to come through. She moved on to an Einbecker Schwarzbier at 4.9%, with a malty nose, and slightly pils taste above malty sweetness. She enjoyed it.

I unintentionally stuck with North Coast for my second drink, an Old Stock Ale, which was a 12.5% abv barleywine. MALT nose. Nothin’ but malt brotha. And the taste… well in my notes I just wrote “wowsers.” Syrup MALT. Very tasty, like liquefied caramel. I nursed that for the rest of the evening, and Lady Friend moved onto her third, a Southern Tier Southern Hemisphere, which was supposed to be a brown ale. I’m suspicious now, because I’ve seen Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere, and wonder if someone mixed up the names. Whatever it was, it wasn’t a brown ale. It had a HOPPY nose, and tasted like a pale ale, with no roast, and a hoppy/malty finish. It was good, but I’d like to know what it was for sure.

As the evening went on, the crowd got a bit more… granola. Dreadlocks started appearing, and the Burlington vibe started wafting in, along with the bouquet of bud, patchouli and underachievement. Like a live band setting up, we took this as our cue to skedaddle, and prepared to leave. It was, however, a Maine Monsoon outside, and while I had brought along a raincoat, Lady Friend had to make do with a copy of the Yankee Brew News paper to ward off the rain, with little success. We ducked into Gritty’s with the thought of having a last beer, but the place was PACKED with plaid shorts, popped collars and bootleg Prada sunglasses, so we ventured back into the typhoon. We dashed to another bar, whose name I forget, and the bouncer had a stick up his ass about my camera bag, and wanted to store it “in a closet.” Yeah, my gear stays with me, thanks. I don’t want your Corona that badly. Grabbed a cab and went back to the hotel to wring ourselves out, and get some sleep before the next day’s travels.

Upta Potlind, Paht 5: Sebago Brewpub

This is Part Five of an ongoing series chronicling the Maine Beercation of late July, 2011. To start at Part One, click here.

I say See-bay-go, you say See-bah-go

I had stopped by Sebago Brewpub a couple years ago while interviewing for a job in Portland. It was on the corner of Market and Middle streets right in the middle of downtown/Old Port, and looked the way a brewpub should… dark wood, a proper bar, fermenting tanks lurking behind glass along the side of the dining area. However, as Lady Friend and I discovered, they had moved to a new location, on Fore Street, several months ago. This… was a bit disappointing.

Um. Not very brewpubby.

Their new location is all shiny and new, with lighter wood, brightly painted walls, and silly track lighting. The dining sections take up the majority of the space, but there is a decently long bar. I’m guessing they were doing well enough to abandon the old location in favor of this space. Good for them. I’m not saying more business is bad; I’m just of the opinion that the old location had a lot more character, and this one looks too new and manufactured, like a Boston Beer Works. I know that Sebago has several locations, but this new space LOOKS like it’s part of a chain.

Is there a bar back there somewhere?

This was a bit disappointing, but I’ll get over it. At least it means that business is good, and people are buying decent, local, craft beers, so I’ll let it slide. We asked the hostess for a table for two, and she said it’d be an hour wait. Yikes. I mean, it was Friday night, and the place was hopping, as evidenced by the interior photos above. We put our names in and headed to the bar with the idea of having at least one beer, and bouncing to another place for food if we didn’t feel like waiting. I spotted a breech in the wall of bodies at the bar and sent Lady Friend scooting over to secure a beachhead. I was staring at the taps, trying to decide what to order, when someone tapped me on the shoulder: it was Rob, the brewer from Gritty’s I had met at lunchtime. We chatted a bit about who works where, and how everybody has worked for Shipyard Brewing at some point, and I ordered a Citra Hop IPA that was on tap, not part of the normal lineup. Lady Friend snagged a blueberry ale, and as we were paying for the drinks, the hostess came up and said a table was ready. It had been about five minutes of the original hour wait estimate. Cool. We hadn’t understood why the wait was an hour in the first place, when we could see several empty tables.

We sat and started to taste our drinks. My Citra Hop IPA nosed with floral hop and a citrus aroma. The taste smacked of apple/tree fruit, a bit more sharp and/or tart than Irish Lad’s homebrew version, and drier. There was a smooth, malty undertone that didn’t so much counteract the hop, but added a counter-melody, playing along with the predominately fruit/hop flavor. It was good. Her blueberry was tasty, without being too sweet. A lot of fruit-flavored beers tend to wind up tasting like a mild ale with fruit syrup flavoring dumped in. Sebago’s version didn’t seem to have that problem. Lady Friend really enjoyed it, saying it was her favorite blueberry beer that she’s encountered so far.

We ordered dinner, and it was perfectly tasty. More importantly, we had to get a flight of beers for a tasting. There were five in a flight, decently sized at about 4 oz, and 10 varieties to choose from. Ours consisted of the five standard offerings: ale, IPA, brown ale, red ale and stout.

Saddleback Ale
Nose: Faint fruit/wheat. Faint.
Taste: Malt. Cereal grain with a touch of bitter.

Boathouse Brown Ale
Nose: Roasted and malty
Taste: Roasted and malty. (I know, very original). Sweet. Slight copper tang, but then finishes malt sweet.

Lake Trout Stout
Nose: Roast. Coffee beans.
Taste: Creamy mouthfeel. Bitter roast, but not unpleasant. Hint of vanilla sweetness. VERY good.

Runabout Red Ale
Nose: Very faint. Slight fruity malt, but hard to tell.
Taste: Starts fruity sweet, changes over to copper/metallic. Finishes copper bitter, but there is an interesting point in the middle of the taste when the sweetness starts to mix with the copper bitter. Unfortunately, the copper keeps going and leaves a sour taste after a nice transition.

Frye’s Leap IPA
Nose: Floral hop with a sweetness behind it
Taste: Syrupy mouthfeel. Starts with hop bitter, finishes medicinal. Alcohol. Middle has tart apple, and a bit of earthy flavor. Terrible finish. Too harsh. Like the red ale, there’s a lot of interest in the middle transitional flavors, but then gets ruined by a bad finish.

So, Sebago was a mixed bag. I miss the character of the old location, but if they’re doing business well enough to open this new space, good for them. The food was good, standard burgers-and-fries type pub grub. The beers were tasty overall, with a few disappointing finishes. However, the Lake Trout Stout stood out as the clear winner in the batch we had… a nice roast, smooth mouthfeel and pleasant experience start to finish. Lady Friend saved half for an after dinner treat. I was horrified to see a table of four behind us with only one member drinking beer. There was actually some dbag drinking a martini. In a brewpub. I bet it was vodka.

Next up: Novare Res Bier Cafe

Upta Potlind, Paht 4: Rising Tide Fail and Great Lost Bear

This is Part Four of an ongoing series chronicling the Maine Beercation of late July, 2011. To start at Part One, click here.

This is where I’m supposed to tell you how awesome the tour of Rising Tide Brewing Company was. The Lady Friend had been in contact with the brewer/owner several days prior to our visit. It’s located in the same building as the Maine Beer Company, around the back. Though they don’t have regular tours, you can schedule one by appointment. Our tour was supposed to be at 3:30.

This was at 3:45.

The dude never showed up. Door locked, lights out, not answering phone. Great.

I was pissed. I really love small, up-and-coming breweries making great products, going up against the big macrobreweries. I’m a big fan of the beer underdogs, who need all the support they can get. Supposedly, Rising Tide makes great beers. I wouldn’t know.

After sending an email the following Monday morning, we got a reply that said he had some issue with child care and had to leave early. That’s completely understandable. What I can’t stand is not being notified. As a photographer, I know plans can change at the drop of a hat, and have had to deal with flaky models who simply don’t show up for a shoot. No call/no show is one of my biggest pet peeves. If you can’t make it for whatever reason, I’ll probably be disappointed, but I’ll understand. If you simply don’t show up and leave me hanging, then we have a problem. Rising Tide flaked out.

So we went to a bar instead.

On the way to the bar, we made a quick stop at a liquor store to pick up a bottle of Maine Beer Co.’s IPA, and saw a display of Rising Tide. We declined to purchase any.

Anyway. Back to beer!

How come that bear is so great?

Well, the Great Lost Bear taproom came up on the list of great Portland beer destinations. They boast something silly like 60+ taps at any given time. It’s a couple miles away from the hubbub of the Old Port, so it’s not really walkable if you’re hanging around downtown. It is totally worth taking a detour to check out. Tons of bumper stickers on the walls, led lights, and bears everywhere.


So we hunkered down at the bar and started the endless task of choosing a beer. Lady Friend wanted something Mainey, and got an Atlantic Bar Harbor Real Ale (brown ale). She seems to be developing a taste for browns, and likes the malty sweet flavors, just not to the barleywine level. Yet.

I went with a Geary’s Cask Conditioned IPA.
Nose: Light “beer” aroma with a thick, foamy head. No particular scent.
Taste: Very malty. No carbonated bite. A touch sour. Woody.

Not bad, but I wouldn’t want more than one at a time. The cask-conditioned ales are much smoother than their non-aged siblings, but usually seem much more filling.

Despite the myriad of options available, we just stayed for one beer at GLB. They gave me some free bumper stickers, and apparently, they’ll give you some too. It was a great place, but we had other destinations: Sebago Brew Pub.

Upta Potlind, Paht 3: Maine Beer Company

This is Part Three of an ongoing series chronicling the Maine Beercation of late July, 2011. To start at Part One, click here.

Zounds! What epic façade be this? Why, verily, ’tis The Maine Beer Company!

Oh yeah. It’s all Taj Mahals and Versailleseses over here. Brewers truly lead lives of runaway opulence and awe-inspiring vistas.

Or, you lease a unit of an industrial space, toss in some equipment and make beer.

Like the Maine Beer Company.

Don’t get me wrong; this was one of my favorite stops of the trip. We just got a little concerned upon our arrival seeing the sign in the window.

Oh, I thought it said ‘Sorry, we’re CLOTHED.’
This makes more sense.

Turns out, they were open. The brewer saw our panicked looks through the window and opened up, saying he’d wait a few minutes before starting the tour in case others showed up. No prob. You’d never guess what the interior of this place looked like if you had just passed by. Bright, screaming colors contrasting the gleaming stainless brew tanks. Very energetic. A row of glasses lined up waiting to be filled.

Put beer in us!

While waiting for others, Lady Friend and I chatted with Dan, the brewer. He started the place with his brother, Dave. Dan is in charge of brewing; Dave does everything else. It reminded me a lot of Bully Boy Distillery: both companies were started by two brothers, and Dan comes from a law background, as does Dave the distiller from Bully Boy. Dave from Maine Beer Co. was a financial adviser, and the brothers grew up in Southeast Michigan. They brew all American-style hop-forward beers, because that’s what they like.

Like Allagash, we started with the tasting first. It wasn’t so much of a comparative tasting as “have a glass of our beer,” since they only had one variety available at the time. It was the Peeper Ale, which was a very nice pale ale. Hop floral nose, bitter hop flower taste, dry and crisp on the finish. Hopped with Cascade, Amarillo and Centennial. It was delicious. I wish they had their IPA available. When I visited the Mayflower Brewery several months ago, I tasted their pale ale and IPA back-to-back and finally had the “aha” moment. Mayflower’s pale ale was delicious, and the IPA was simply a hoppier, stronger tasting version. I’m hoping the same holds true for Maine Beer, and I picked up a bottle of their Lunch IPA (“Lunch” is apparently the name of a humpback whale) at a local liquor store later that day. I did, however, also find a bottle of their Peeper Ale a few days later in Quincy’s Atlas Liquors. The plan is to taste them alongside each other and see where the differences lie.

Notable brewery factoids: Maine Beer specifically buys wind-powered electricity from the power grid. They are a 15 barrel brewery, having recently (Nov. ’10) upgraded from a ONE barrel system. Yes, one. Dan said it was just constant production to keep up with demand, and things are much easier with the larger system, including two fermenters (can do two different beers at the same time). Their old system was sold to Rising Tide Brewing Company, which is located around the back of the same building. More on THAT later.

Being such a small brewery (two employees), Maine Beer purchases their malt pre-milled, eliminating the time and expense of an in-house grain mill. They love to dry-hop for strong aromatics. Their beers take about four weeks, start to finish, with two weeks spent bottle conditioning. No filtering or forced carbonation is used, though the Peeper Ale pours nice and clear. Everything is bottle- and keg-conditioned; there is only natural carbonation, using about 30lbs of priming sugar per batch, and re-pitching the same yeast strain. There is a new test batch currently conditioning in French oak pinot noir barrels from Sidiuri Winery in Napa, which they got for free, though the barrels normally cost $600-$700.

Bottle conditioning. Sleep, my pretties.

One of the tour members asked why they decided to start a brewery. Dan replied with a couple of reasons. Number one, it’s kinda fun. Number two, he and his brother couldn’t buy locally-produced American-style hoppy ales that they enjoyed. Most of those come from the West Coast. So they decided to brew the beer that THEY like. This was also similar to the attitude of Dave at Bully Boy: he said they didn’t make a gin, because they don’t LIKE gin. You have to make a product that YOU enjoy, and are passionate about, otherwise you won’t get a great result.

Maine Beer Company’s target is to reach to a production level of about 4,000 barrels, without wanting to get much bigger. Considering they’ve only been in business for about 18 months, they seem to be doing quite well. They feel that they’ve gotten over the start-up hump, and now have two employees, including their first full-time brewer. Kevin, who was just hired, has production experience at Shipyard and Sebago. While experience helps, Dan says starting a brewery is really about practical business experience. Good to know, since most of the start-up capital investment for the brewery was from the two owners themselves. You pay attention very closely when it’s your own money on the line.

I really enjoyed the tour of Maine Beer… one of the highlights of the trip. There’s something about the attitude of a small operation that you don’t get from the larger breweries. Dan was very laid-back, friendly and willing to answer whatever questions we could come up with. The parallels in philosophy between Maine Beer and Bully Boy really hit me – two groups of brothers who had prior careers and decided to jump into doing what they love: making alcohol. The excitement and spark of ambition is evident, with the brightly painted walls adding a touch of personality to an otherwise cold, industrial setting. Well worth the trip if you’re in Portland.

Plus, they make great beer.

And awesomely minimalist tshirts.

Next up: Rising Tide Brewing Company and Great Lost Bear Brewpub.

Upta Potlind, Paht 2: Allagash

This is Part Two of an ongoing series chronicling the Maine Beercation of late July, 2011. To start at Part One, click here.

Aaaaaaaaallagash-y where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain
And the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet
When the beer isn’t made from barley graaaaaain

Yikes. Enough of that.

Allagash is a wheaty kind of place, producing pretty much only Belgian wit styles. Apparently, they were one of the first in the US to really start making Belgians back in the mid-90s, and they’ve been doing pretty good ever since. They’re all over the place in ME, and not hard to find in other New England states, though some of their more exclusive bottles might be less common. I remember seeing many of their premium bottles on the list at American Flatbread in Burlington, VT. They’ve got a decently large facility in an industrial park on the outskirts of Portland, complete with hop vines out front, which I’ve started to look for at breweries.

Unlike most tours, we started with the tasting, which our tour guide, Kate, promised would make the actual tour more fun. They were currently finishing up construction on their retail/ tasting room, so there was a bit of drywall and paint reek wafting through the air. The space looked like it was expanded to be a decent size, with a cool bar that appeared to be constructed from old barn rafters. I imagine they get some rather large tours, as there were probably about 20 people in our group, and it seemed like a low-key day. There were four beers to sample:

White Ale
A Belgian Witbier, 5% abv. Spiced with Curaçao orange peel, coriander and a “secret spice.” This is their flagship beer and accounts for 80% of production. It’s distributed in 16 states, and DC, with California being the biggest market. Allagash uses bottle conditioning, so there is still active yeast in the bottle, creating the cloudy appearance (you’re supposed to invert the bottle and swirl the yeast around to mix it evenly before pouring). It smells and tastes like a Belgian. Wheaty, banana. Next.

Tripel Ale
A Belgian Abbey/Trappist Tripel “celebration” style ale. 9% abv, but doesn’t taste it. Honey undertones, but dry. Again, wheaty, banana. Move along.

Ok, now we’re talking. This was unusual. They take the Tripel, and age it in Jim Beam Bourbon barrels for 6-12 weeks (it averages eight weeks). What you get is an 11% abv syrupy, smokey, bourbon taste along with the wheat. Yow. It was very interesting, but a bit too bourbony for me (I like bourbon, but this was a strange flavor). I think I’d need to sample more before making a verdict, but this was certainly intriguing.

Fluxus ’11
French-style farmhouse ale, 8% abv. Brewed every year in July for the anniversary of the brewery’s first beer sale in 1995. This is a “bier-de-garde” as it is aged and conditioned (or “guarded”) for six weeks. I was expecting something much more… let’s say “earthy,” from this farmhouse ale. They tend to be a bit on the bovine-deuce side in aroma and underlying tastes. This one, however, was built as a malt showcase, and certainly succeeds. They were aiming for “malty, but not too sweet,” and definitely hit the mark. I found it to be quite tasty, with just a hint of that Belgian wheatiness, but without an overpowering malt syrup as in a barleywine. This one is part of their “Tribute” series of beers, of which $1 of the sale of each bottle goes towards a charitable organization in Maine. Which makes me wonder if the bottle costs $1 more than it should. Yes, I’m a terrible person.

Tour time! Now that we had a healthy dose of 5%-11% wheaty Belgian bubble bearers, we donned our OSHA-approved, State of Maine issued occular protection apparatuses. Safeten up!

Pictured left, in resting mode, and right, in active deployment.

We were warned that we’d be entering a working brewery, and production was in progress today, so be aware of your surroundings. Also, “There will be things screaming ‘touch me!’ Lots of shiny buttons and knobs.”

Ooooooh, shiny.

Standard brewery tour, this is how to make beer, skip ahead, skip ahead. Interesting bits: they sell their spent wort for cattle feed. One of their whirlpools is an old Ben & Jerry’s dairy tank. Largest tank is 120 barrels (if my math is correct, 1 barrel is 31 gallons, so that’s a 3720 gallon tank. In beer terms it’s 39,680 12oz bottles. Approx one f-ton). Their production is around 4800 barrels per year. The bottler will run both bottle caps AND corks for 12oz bottles and 22oz bottles (many of their premium bottles are corked).

Ok. Now we get to see the barrel “house,” two climate controlled rooms used for aging and conditioning the beers. The first room was cooler, and had an immediate smack of bourbon aroma, like a punch to the nose. Yum. This is where all the Curieux is aged (again, an average of eight weeks) before bottling. The second room was filled with 90% experimental brews with some great names. We saw “Zebulon,” “The Lude/ El Luderino/ His Ludeness,” “B’oncé,” and even a Three Sheets shoutout:

That curious little monkey.

That was about it for the tour. Overall, very cool. I don’t like Belgians/wheats, but they do some very nice work there. Allagash is one of the big boys in Maine, although nowhere near Shipyard Brewing, which is a MONSTER. We opted to check out some smaller places instead of Shipyard, so we didn’t make that tour. But Allagash was well worth the visit. It’s probably one of the larger “smaller” breweries. Our next stop was on the other end of the spectrum, a tiny place just down the road in the same industrial park: Maine Beer Company.

Upta Potlind, Paht 1: Gritty McDuff’s

This is Part One of an ongoing series chronicling the Maine Beercation of late July, 2011.

It’s summah time up dere in Maine, ayuh. The ol’ Lady Friend and I ventured north to the City of Portland, ME (Pot-lind) for another round of dastardly drinkable destinations. Apparently you CAN get there from here. We got into town around 11am, and after a brief, nauseating look around the touristy shops in the Old Port, headed into our first stop: Gritty McDuff’s brewpub.

Gritty’s is exactly what a brewpub should be: good pub food, a large bar, tasty beers and lots of dark wood. It shouldn’t look like a dance club, it should look like a refuge from the sober cubicle drone world outside. It should have personality. And lots of beer.

Pictured: lots of beer.

Gritty’s had a flight of seven beers offered, which was great. Most places have about five. The food was good too; I had a chicken sangwich, and Lady Friend had some sandwich with silly green vegetable thingys. Ew.

Vacationland Summer Ale
Nose: Beer. Light hop aroma.
Taste: Slight bitter. Light and refreshing.
Not much aroma or flavor, but very drinkable.

Um. That’s all I’ve got.

Original Pub Style Ale
Nose: No discernible aroma. I tried. I really did.
Taste: Light cereal barley start. Cereal sweet.
Mild hop bitter finish. Well balanced, tasty.

VERY nicely done. This one impressed me. Yum.

Black Fly Stout
Nose: Roast, slightly bitter. Weak aroma.
Taste: VERY creamy mouthfeel. Roasted barley, slight bitter.

Smooth. Good. More.

Red Claws Ale
Nose: Weak, malty-copper aroma.
Taste: Rubbery taste. A touch of metallic copper, but not much. Watery finish. Flushes palate.

Sorry about the shot. There’s no beer in that glass. I picked myself a bouquet of whoopsie-dasies.

21 IPA
Nose: Sweet, a little fruity. Apple.
Taste: Malty sweet with tree fruit. Nectarine/ peach/ apple. Very reminiscent of a Citra hopped IPA.

Mouthwatering finish. Juicy. Slight hop. TASTY.

21 IPA Cask Conditioned (avg 2 weeks)
Nose: Same aroma, but weaker, subdued.
Taste: FRUIT. Nectarine/ pear. Mouthwatery.

Sweet, flat/ low carbonation. A bit syrupy. Excellent.

Best Bitter Cask Conditioned (avg 2 weeks)
Nose: Lighter, fruity. Slight malt.
Taste: Czech Pils taste. Wet paper. Bit of a bitter finish.

Not as stale tasting as a pils. Tasty, but not a flavor powerhouse.

Overall, the beers were great. A couple, like the IPA and the Pub Ale really shone. I was really intrigued by the IPA, since it tasted so much like a Citra hop, and while some beers on the menu had their hops listed (like the stout, strangely) the IPA did not. The waitress said that their brewer was in that day, so I headed downstairs to the second, smaller bar area and brewing setup to ask him a couple questions. Rob, the brewer, was very friendly and helpful, and I wish I could have chatted a bit more, but we had to make the 1pm Allagash tour. He said the IPA was hopped with a combination of Cascade, Warrior and Willamette, giving it that tree-fruity Citra hop-like flavor I had noticed (he was also a fan of Citra). He also said that the cask-conditioned beers are aged at least two weeks, but after that it was just a question of when they were ready to serve.

Gritty’s also has a retail store (brew-tique), but after my brief chat with Rob, we had to book it to Allagash. They also have two other locations, in Freeport and Auburn, and I definitely plan to go back. Gritty’s is pretty common and easy to find in stores in ME, but we also did see some select six-packs in MA after our trip. Unfortunately, it was the Vacationland Summer Ale, which neither Lady Friend nor I thought was the best of the bunch. Maybe it’s because it was the first stop, and we were eager and fresh-palated, but I thought that Gritty’s was great. Go there.

Sidenote: Seeking shelter from a Maine monsoon, we stopped in again later that evening (a Friday night), and it was a much younger, louder crowd. Pretty packed. It is in the Old Port section downtown, so I’m sure it’s a popular gathering place, but just as a heads up, it’s a completely different vibe at night.

Next stop: Allagash Brewing

Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!

Rose Alley Ale House

If you’re a beer nerd, live on the South Coast of MA (or anywhere reasonably close) and haven’t been to the Rose Alley Ale House, you’re a dbag. Seriously. Why didn’t you people tell me about this place?? There’s some craft beer craziness going on there.

Save me, Jeebus.

Following our visit to the Pour Farm Tavern, Yelp pointed my Lady Friend and I towards this place down on Front Street, across from the docks. Next door in a cool old stone building is Cork Wine & Tapas Bar, which is supposedly pretty good. I wouldn’t know. I was on a mission. There’s another stone building that doesn’t appear quite as old or cool, as if it was built to mimic the look of the first. That’s the one you want. Rose Alley Ale House. Go up the stairs, and be warned: it’ll look like a typical sports bar. Stay on target. Have a seat and get the ever-changing beer list. Like the Pour Farm, this place blows through kegs, so there’s a constant changeover of drinkables.

Go local sports team. Defeat the opponents, soundly.

Also, like the Pour Farm, I had trouble deciding what to get. Lady Friend and I knew we were both going for the flight of five beers, but which five? I wanted to try to stay in a flavor neighborhood, so mine mostly went hoppy. She went towards fruity sweetness, and found it hard to stay with. It’ll eat your stomach, unless you have the countenance of Wifey, who can take down a sixer of Smirnoff Ice and still want cake frosting.

My new friends. They like me for who I am. Beers don’t judge.

Left to right:

Firestone Walker Double Jack
Double/Imperial IPA
This was supposed to be the Great Divide Chocolate Yeti Russian Imperial Stout, but they were out of it. I’ve had this beer before, and it’s INCREDIBLE. Unbelievably good. Will sneak up and hit you on the head at 9.3%.
Nose: Strong hop and malt. Sweet, floral.
Taste: Heaven. Hop balanced with malt.

Rogue Imperial YSB
Special Bitter
I hadn’t heard of this one before. Apparently “YSB” is Younger’s Special Bitter.
Nose: Mild. Slightly fruity/malty.
Taste: Watery. Malty. Not much flavor.

Great Divide “Rumble”
Oak-aged IPA
Irish Lad and I had recently been discussing oak-aged ales, so I snagged this one.
Nose: Mild hop, sweetness, fruit.
Taste: MALT. Caramel. Slight hop. Toffee and vanilla. Excellent.

Lagunitas Gnarleywine
Barleywine (10.12%)
Hoo boy. I knew this was going to be a big one. Irish Lad and I got into trouble one night tasting a Smuttynose barleywine, and required an emergency pizza delivery.
Nose: Sweet/syrup. Fruited malt. Plum.
Taste: Wine. Toffee syrup. Nectar. Slight bitter. Delicious.

Pretty Things Baby Tree
Belgian Quad with Plum Juice
I ordered this feeling inspired after seeing earlier that day where Pretty Things is brewed.
Nose: Belgian wheat/yeast. Banana.
Taste: Syrupy, fruity/banana. Belgians are not my fav.

To be clear: I didn’t drink these in order. I did a taste of each, weakest to strongest, while I had a reasonably fresh palate (before the dIPA and barleywine mushroom clouds) and then sipped on them individually. I started with the Rogue Bitter to be fair, since I knew flavor-wise it’d be blown away by the hop-pocalypse I had waiting. These were big samples, somewhere in the range of 5oz if I had to guess. I was driving, and didn’t finish mine, and Lady Friend left a few wounded soldiers as she was going into insulin shock after so much sugary fruit beer.

Her flight consisted of:

- Fruli Strawberry White Fruit Ale (Very good, but sweeeeet. “Like strawberry soda!”)

- Southern Tier Jah’va Imperial Coffee Stout (Just like coffee. Too roasted/bitter for me.)

- Kasteel Rouge Brown Cherry Ale Fruit Ale (Very tasty. Real cherry tang, not like sugary imitation “cherry” or “red” flavor.)

- Leinenkugel Summer Shandy Lemonade/lager mix (Light and lemony. A good palate cleanser. I told Lady Friend to save that for the end to help get the sugar out of her mouth but she took that to mean “drink it all now.” Le sigh.)

- Southern Tier Unearthly Imperial IPA (She had several other selections, but they were out, so I suggested this one. I’ve enjoyed it several times. Delish)

So. Rose Alley was awesome. There was an older crowd, mostly late 30s and up, so it didn’t have a wild party vibe. It was a more grown-up place where people can enjoy their meal with a great craft beer. Pretty casual dress, and some younger folks did start to filter in later on, as a live band was setting up. As usual, we took this as our cue to leave, snagged a slice of pizza from nearby Pizan’s, and headed back to home base. Smell ya later, New Beige.

New Bedford

New Bedford, on the south coast of Massachusetts was once one of the most important whaling ports in the world, along with Nantucket. Herman Melville lived and worked in New Bedford, and wrote the novel Moby Dick in the early 1850s. When whaling died out, the town industry turned to textiles and fishing. They… have a whaling museum. That’s about all I know about N’Bedfid (the New England accent pronounces “ford” as “fid,” as in Chelmsfid, Bedfid and Medfid.)

It’s a New Englandy fishing town.

Lady Friend and I parked downtown after our brewery and winery tours, we checked out the Whaling Museum, which was very cool, thanks to a free pass from my coworker. When they kicked us out at 5pm, we set off looking for a good local brewpub or bar for adult beverages and some grub. While wandering down Purchase Street, I noticed a sign for wine tastings. We went in, and it turned out to be a place called Travessia Urban Winery.

Yeah, I didn’t know what an “urban winery” was either. Turns out, they buy local/regional grapes, to blend and ferment them at their facility/storefront in downtown New Bedford. Lady Friend sported me the $3 for the tasting (listed as $5 on the website), and we got three wines: vidal blanc, rosé, and pinot noir.

I didn’t take notes, but my impressions were that the blanc was kind of pear-y and dry, the rosé was GROSS (sour, almost vinegar mouth pucker) and the pinot noir had a lot of cranberry taste to it, almost as if they had cut the wine with Ocean Spray. I actually dumped the rest of my glass of rosé, since it was so bad, before Lady Friend could stop me. She didn’t mind it and would have had my share. Oops. Ironically, the rosé was their “special” wine, and they wouldn’t tell Lady Friend what grapes were in it, saying it was a “proprietary blend, and the only secret they have.” I love when places do that, as if we’re going to go off and make our own wine with their confidential recipe. Lame.

So to get the taste of wine and arrogance out of my mouth, we headed to our original destination, the Pour Farm Tavern. Reviews on Yelp seemed favorable, and once I saw the chalkboard sign out front boasting “twenty-four ice cold draft beers” I got excited. There’s no way that 24 drafts are going to be all macrobrews. It was about 5:15, and the place was empty, so we sat at the bar. I took a look at the beer list, and started to get tingly. All the right names: Bear Republic, Founders, 21st Amendment, Lagunitas, Firestone Walker, Full Sail… wow. A couple of those, like Firestone Walker and 21st Amendment, have only been making their way to the east coast over the past year or two, so to see them on draft is a big deal. However, if you’re a beer-hole like I am, you find yourself in a difficult situation. Despite the fantastic offerings, I had already tried most of the stuff currently on draft, and I wanted something I had never tasted before. Lady Friend had no such problem, and started right away with a 21st Amendment Watermelon Wheat, which I had tried a sip of at Irish Lad’s last beer night. I didn’t like it so much, but Irish Lad, and now Lady Friend, both thought it was good. I LOVED 21st’s (canned) IPA that Irish Lad had snagged for me last winter.

Finally, after ordering food, I made my choice: a Rapscallion Blessing American Amber Ale, 8% abv. A fruity and slightly malty nose. Taste was malt sweet with a mild bitter. Wheaty taste up front, followed by malt smoothness. It was a good ale. By this time, Lady Friend had already moved on to a Heavy Seas “Red Sky at Night” saison/farmhouse ale, which she found too sweet. I didn’t think it had quite the “earthy” flavors that a farmhouse ale normally would. She finished with a Bear Republic Red Rocket Ale, wanting something a bit less sweet, and seemed satisfied. I went with a half pour of Left Hand’s Milk Stout, 6% abv, with a roasted and vanilla sweet aroma. The taste was roasted, smooth and creamy, like coffee with CREAM, not milk, and a slight hint of bitter spice from the roast. Almost like ice cream. Delicious, and perfect for an after-dinner treat without being syrupy sweet or filling.

The Pour Farm was perfect. When we first sat down, the bartender and I struck up a dialogue and discussed various craft beers. She enjoyed Harpoon’s Rye IPA which we all hated on our last beer night, and gave me a sample to try to change my mind. No dice, chica. I’m sorry I didn’t catch her name, but she was very knowledgeable and friendly, and poured us a couple samples before we made our choices. Unfortunately, her shift ended, and we got stuck with a pair of bartenders who clearly didn’t want to be there. How do you tip in that situation? Do you leave a bigger tip for the first bartender, or does it go to the one who enters the check?

Other than the gratuity dilemma, the food was great, and beer selection VERY impressive. Our first bartender was incredibly helpful, and knew what she was talking about (aside from liking the Harpoon Rye… ugh). With a solid meal in the gullet, it was time for the next target: Rose Alley Ale House.

Return top