Beer festivals work best when you plan carefully to taste beers you have never had before. You might love Allagash Curieux — and I and a lot of other people do — but if you have had it several times before, you might not want to make it your first choice at a festival.
That probably explains the huge lines at the taps for Oxbow Brewing at last Saturday’s Maine Brewer’s Festival. Oxbow is just a bit more than a year old, and is sold only in bars and in growlers at its Newcastle brewery. It does not bottle its beer.
Oxbow was offering four beers Saturday, and I had tasted only one of them before, its flagship Farmhouse Pale Ale. There were two ales from its Freestyle Series, No. 8 and No. 11.
Oxbow says its Freestyle series is made up of beers it plans on brewing only once. No. 8 is described as a ‘Merican IPA, and it was a good version of the type. It was a bit cloudy, as an unfiltered beer should be, fairly hoppy but not overpoweringly so, and with a good bit of malt.
I stood in another fairly long line to get some Rising Tide Daymark, even though I had had all of that brewery’s offerings before, because the people with whom I was attending wanted to try some.
Then I went back to the Oxbow line. This time, I got the Space Cowboy Country Ale, which had a little bit of a sour ale funk that I liked but not everyone in the group did. This tastes like a good Belgium farmhouse ale — complex and tasty, yet only 4 percent alcohol.
After a side trip to Sheepscot Valley Brewing Co., where I had the Damariscotta Double Brown (a very good brown ale with a strong maltiness), I got back in the Oxbow line for a third time. The line moved very slowly, and when I got closer, I understood why: There were actually three separate lines merging into one about 30 feet from the Oxbow taps.
The Freestyle No. 11 is a dry-hopped black saison, which did not have the little bit of funk that Space Cowboy did. It was more of a straightforward beer with a great hops aroma. I liked it, but I liked both the No. 8 and the Space Cowboy more.
If we are using length of lines to rate popularity, I think Allagash had the second-longest line in the hall. It was serpentine and difficult to find where it started, and as I had had all four of its offerings before, I avoided it. Rising Tide also had some long lines for most of the day.
The beer that made the biggest hit with my crew of 10 Cape Elizabeth residents was Federal Jack’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Wee Heavy, a really sweet and rich Scottish ale. It tastes like it has a high alcohol content, and most Wee Heavy’s do, but without a whole lot of hops. It was really tremendous.
Another excellent beer was the Small Beer being poured by Sebago Brewing. This beer was flavorful at only 3.8 percent alcohol.
Small beers are made from a second batch of a beer made with the same grains. The first batch is usually a high-alcohol beer, and the second batch is the small beer. Marshall Wharf has been making small beers for a while now, and I am glad the practice is spreading.
Gritty McDuff’s was offering an oak-aged bitter on cask, and this was another beer I enjoyed a lot. It was smooth and flavorful, and there wasn’t much carbonation.
I had not had the Sea Dog Brewery’s Sunfish Wheat before, and this was a pretty good beer. One of my companions said it reminded him of Magic Hat No. 9, which is flavored with apricot. I tasted more orange in it, but it was late in the day, and my palate was probably getting shot.
I also had a cask-conditioned IPA from Sea Dog that seemed pretty good, a ginger-flavored beer from Atlantic Brewing that was quite light on the ginger, and a good cask-conditioned Hampshire Special Ale from Geary’s.
I will say that doing the festival with a crowd of 10 people made it more of a social occasion, and I thanked them for not laughing at me when I kept saying that I was working. It is a tough job.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: