As I wandered through the beer aisle at the grocery store, the artwork on the 12-pack of Geary’s Summer Ale jumped out at me for two reasons.
First, the photograph and design by Kaitlin Callender, a junior in graphic design at the Maine College of Art, are striking. And second, I’ve just started drinking spring beers such as Peak Organic’s Simcoe Spring Ale, even though we still have snow on the ground, and D.L. Geary already has its Summer Ale on the shelves.
“I was just trying to be ironic,” owner and brewer David Geary said when I talked with him. “We shoot for it to be on the shelves on April 1, so we are a week early or maybe two. The fact is, we ran out of Winter Ale, and we had to do something.”
I can understand why the Winter Ale has disappeared. In December 2010, I found this extra special bitter to be just behind the Peak Organic Winter Ale as my favorite of the local winters.
Son-in-law Christian, a frequent co-taster, and wife Nancy rated the Geary’s Winter Ale as the best, and Christian rated it as the best Geary’s beer he had ever tasted – although that was before he had their Oatmeal Stout, which he also liked a lot. We drank a good amount of Winter Ale this year.
Geary does not make a spring ale, so there is no easy transition to summer beer for them.
Back to the Summer Ale. It is a European-style ale rather than an English style, which Geary usually offers. It is a Kolsch, a light German ale originally from around Cologne that has the pale malts of a lager brewed with ale yeast.
Geary’s Summer, which is about 6 percent alcohol, poured an orange golden color with a fairly small, light head and good carbonation. The aroma was mild and more yeasty than anything else, and the beer had a malty sweetness up front but a hops bite just as I swallowed. It’s a good beer, and quite complex for a summer ale.
Each year, Geary’s holds a contest in which students from the Maine College of Art submit designs for the Summer Ale’s packaging, with a $5,000 prize. Callender’s design features a crisp photo of a Portland pier with the Geary’s name in a neon style.
“Every year as a child, Kaitlin and her family would vacation on the lakes in Maine and spend time visiting waterfront towns,” Geary said on the company website. “Her love for water and photography, and her fond memories of summer vacations in Maine, inspired her design.
“The lights and colors reflected on the water were always one of her favorite things, and are a beautiful summer sight in any waterfront city.”
Geary was even more enthusiastic when we spoke.
“I think it is wonderful,” he said. “The scene right down there at Harbor Fish Market, and the lettering she did with a flashlight on the camera. It is not a font or done with Photoshop, but just with a flashlight on the camera.”
In a related topic, Geary said that later this summer, the company will be selling the Summer Ale in cans in a partnership with Wachusett Brewing Co. in Westminster, Mass., near Fitchburg.
“Wachusett has the canning equipment,” Geary said. “What is good about this is that we will brew the beer here, doing everything but the packaging. Then a 200-barrel tank truck shows up and will take it directly to Wachusett’s.”
Because the beer is brewed at the Portland plant, Geary said it should taste just the same in cans as it does in bottles. He is doing cans because they are convenient for traveling.
“Our distributor in Massachusetts tells us that not a lot of cannibalism goes on,” he said. “Some people just prefer cans over bottles, so it opens a lot of new opportunities for us.”
Geary is waiting for approval from the federal government to begin the canning.
He also said that Geary’s and Wachusett, which was founded in 1993 by a group of Worcester Polytechnic Institute graduates, will be doing a collaboration beer later this year. I’ll give you some details when it comes out.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: