Baxter Brewing Company in Lewiston added Tarnation to its lineup last week, and it is already one of my favorite beers in the Baxter lineup.
Tarnation is a California Common, brewed in the tradition of Anchor Steam Beer out of San Francisco – although there are differences. Both Anchor Steam and Tarnation are amber in color, use Northern Brewer hops and the traditional San Francisco lager yeast, and have a malt-dominated flavor. But Tarnation is a true lager with “several weeks of cold conditoning (lagering),” according to the Baxter website. Anchor Steam uses lager yeasts but ferments at the warmer temperatures used for ales.
Nancy, sister-in-law Martha and I all enjoyed this the first day it was available at the Bier Cellar, priced at $9.99 for a six-pack of 12-ounce cans.
It poured crystal clear and a bright amber color, with about an inch and a half of off-white head in a traditional beer glass, even though I poured slowly to minimize the head. This is a malt-dominated beer with a roasty caramel flavor, although the hops provide enough bitterness to balance it. It has a clean finish and a bit of body in the mouthfeel, and a simple but enticing yet straightforward aroma. Tarnation is 5.3 percent alcohol by volume, a bit higher than Anchor Steam’s 4.8 percent ABV.
Tarnation replaces Amber Road in Baxter’s year-round lineup. Amber Road was a flavorful beer at 5.3 percent ABV and, except for being an ale instead of a lager, filled the same categories as Tarnation. Amber Road was the least popular of Baxter’s year-round offerings, which include Pamola Xtra Pale Ale and Stowaway IPA.
Baxter also announced on its Facebook page that three new 240-barrel fermenters had arrived at the brewery, completing the company’s latest expansion. Before the company’s expansion, Baxter had been able to fill only about 30 percent of the orders it received for its products, company founder Luke Livingstone said when I interviewed him last summer. The expansion should allow Baxter to meet demand in all the places where it is now being sold – Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire – and perhaps expand.
INDIA PALE LAGERS have been popping up like dandelions on a May lawn. I’ve liked the beers, but I have taken a probably irrational dislike to the category name. India pale ales were created because British brewers wanted to create stronger, hoppier beers that could survive shipment to India. These new hoppy lagers are typically American, and have never seen Britain, let alone India.
This mini-rant was inspired by The Weekly Pint, an email newsletter I get out of Palo Alto, Calif., that described the trend for IPLs and listed what it considers the best.
I had already tried three beers on the list, including one that had just arrived in the mail from Magic Hat, plus a couple that were not on the list.
IPLs will not be as hoppy as IPAs because of the brewing process, and that’s OK with me because I am not a big fan of extremely hoppy beers.
Magic Hat’s Dream Machine uses Nugget and Cascade hops in the boil and is dry-hopped with Amarillo and Sterling, and it has crisp flavor with a lot of citrusy hops aroma and flavor without being bitter. It features a crisp maltiness and, coming in at 5.7 percent ABV, is a very good beer.
Son Zachary brought two bottles of Hoponius Union from Jack’s Abby Brewing in Framingham, Mass., and that was very good (and in Daily Pint’s top 10).
The three IPLs I had already written about were Notch Brewing’s LP, High & Mighty’s Purity of Essence and Samuel Adams’ Double Agent IPL. Notch’s was flavorful at 4.3 percent ABV. Purity of Essence, at 4.9 percent ABV, was hoppy but without a lot of nuance, and the Sam Adams was pretty good at 5.0 percent.
Other beers on the Weekly Pint list included Mikkeller American Dream, Speakeasy Metropolis, Widmer Brothers Hopside Down, Coney Island Sword Swallower, Ballast Point Fathom, The Bruery Humulus Lager and Great Lakes Silver and Gold.
Greg Norton said that Brewmaster Mike’s Citra-Mantra from Otter Creek in Vermont is the best of the IPLs that he carries at the Bier Cellar. It was unfiltered and a bit cloudy, with a light aroma and a strong hops flavor with more bitterness than the others. Nancy and I both liked the Magic Hat and Jack’s Abby better.
The only Maine beers that come close to the category are Peak Organic’s Fresh Cut and Bunker’s Machine Pils, but neither of them has enough bitterness to compare.
If a Maine brewery does come up with a beer that fits the made-up category, I hope they call it something else, like a hoppy lager.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: