I dropped by the Great Lost Bear in Portland last week to try a glass of a Belgian-style pale ale made by White Birch Brewing, a brewery in Hooksett, N.H., founded in 2009.

The beer was surprisingly sweet and fairly malty, and was dominated by Belgian yeast with just a little bit of hops. It also was fairly crisp, despite coming in at 8.5 percent alcohol.

It was a wonderfully complex beer that is just now showing up in Maine stores, so I figured I’d call the founder of the company.

Bill Herlicka had been home-brewing beer for 17 years while working for Health Dialog, a Portland-based company that analyzes medical data to improve health-care strategies.

“It was a nice job, but they were going through their first wave of layoffs,” Herlicka said. “And I thought, ‘Why not go back to doing what I love? Why not open a business in the worst economy in many years?’ “

He started by brewing 15 to 20 gallons of beer at a time and selling it to three stores, and now has brewed 43 types of beer and expanded to many more stores.

The flagships are the Belgian Style Pale Ale; a Dubbel, his version of the classic Belgian beer; and Hooksett Ale, described as a mix of West Coast and Belgian.

Herlicka said almost all of his beer is sold in 22-ounce and 750-milliliter bottles. The draft I drank at the Great Lost Bear was put in a keg borrowed from the distributor.

Herlicka said that as he has experimented with beer, he has gotten into a lot of barrel aging and creating wild ales.

In barrel aging, the beers are either fermented or aged in oak barrels, usually barrels that have been previously used in making whiskey or wine.

Wild ales are similar to beers like the Belgian lambics, which are fermented without adding any yeast — using instead the yeast that naturally floats around in the air.

“What I have pretty much done is hone in my brewing on flavor and aroma, which is much more important than following any particular style guidelines,” Herlicka said.

And he really seems to be enjoying his new career path.

“I love that really exciting moment when I pour a beer for someone, and they say, ‘I’ve never had something like this before,’ and I really feel like I have made a connection.”

In addition to all the time Herlicka spent in Portland while working with Health Dialog, White Birch Brewing has another Maine connection.

Herlicka recently decided he needed to spend more time tending to expanding the business, so he hired a brewer.

David Kilgour, who joined White Birch in December, was head brewer at Bar Harbor Brewing and became part of the brewing team at Atlantic Brewing when it took over Bar Harbor Brewing.

For more information, go to whitebirchbrewing.com.

 

SEBAGO BREWING COMPANY, headquartered in Gorham, recently brought out its summer seasonal, Sebago Hefeweizen. This is a light but flavorful beer with 4.2 percent alcohol, brewed with malted red wheat and unfiltered.

The beer will be available through August at Sebago’s pubs in Gorham, Scarborough, Portland and Kennebunk.

 

Staff Writer Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at

[email protected]