The Thirsty Pig at 37 Exchange St. in Portland converted all of its taps to session beers on the first Saturday of Portland Beer Week because it was also the day of the Maine Brewers Festival at the Portland Expo.
Allison Stevens, owner of the barbecue and sausage restaurant, knew people would be coming in for a meal after attending the fest, and they would want to have a beer, but she didn’t want to give them a lot of alcohol.
“We are always careful not to over-serve our customers,” Stevens said, “but we want to be especially careful today.”
The line-up was testimony to the fact that beers do not have to be high in alcohol to taste good.
Local beers that I have written about before on draft that day included Peak Organic’s Fresh Cut, a new pilsner that Stevens said is now her favorite beer by Peak; Moat Mountain Czech Pilsner; High & Mighty’s Beer of the Gods and Allagash White.
The prime reason I dropped by was to try beers from Notch, a session beer company brewing mostly at the Mercury Brewing plant in Ipswich, Mass.
Zac Antczak, who I had gotten to know as the sales rep for Narragansett, recently moved to Notch and urged me to give their beers a try.
Chris Lohring founded Notch in 2010 to brew only beers of 4.5 percent alcohol by volume or lower. He had worked as a brewer since 1993, first as an intern at Kennebunkport Brewing Company, which makes the beer for Federal Jack’s and is the birthplace of Shipyard. Then he was one of the founders of Tremont Brewery in Boston, before selling his share of the company.
Notch beers from Mercury are available on draft and in bottles, but Lohring has brewed other beers at Two Roads brewery, for cans and draft, and at Kennebunkport Brewing, for a one-time, draft-only beer.
“This isn’t contract brewing,” Antczak told me when I met him at The Thirsty Pig. “With contract brewing they send in a recipe and let the brewery make it. Chris actually shows up at the brewery and brews it himself, with the host brewer looking on.”
The only places Notch beers are now available, Antczak said, are Massachusetts and southern Maine, where the distribution is handled by Nappi.
My favorite of the three Notch beers I tasted was the LP India Pale Lager, a fall release available only on draft, coming in at 4.3 percent ABV. It was crystal clear – even though it is unfiltered – with a good hops flavor and aroma but not a lot of bitterness, a nice clean finish and a good amount of malt. It was an easy-drinking beer, but still with a good amount of maltiness.
The Session Pils at 4.0 ABV is Czech-style pilsner, nicely hoppy with a light body, just a good, easy-drinking beer. This is the flagship of the Notch line, and is available in cans and bottles as well as on draft.
The Notch Valley Malt BSA is a 4.4 percent ABV saison or American farmhouse ale, and it poured quite cloudy with a stiff head. It was yeasty and sweeter than most saisons, with a little bit of spiciness as well.
Antczak said this is Notch’s offering through the Brewery Supported Agriculture program, in which it buys shares of the barley crop grown by Valley Malt in western Massachusetts.
Antczak said Notch’s year-round saison, which also uses barley from Valley Malt, is not as sweet as the seasonal.
Notch makes a lot of other one-off beers, including a beer that Antczak said uses corn for its flavor, and not just to increase the alcohol content, and you can find out more about them at notchbrewing.com.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: