Monday, May 20, 2013
Carla Companion is a craft beer lover and investigator of all things beer. She started a craft beer website and blog thebeerbabe.com in 2007, sharing her thoughts as she explored what was new in beer, as well as brewery visits, trips and "beer adventures." Moving to Portland in 2009, she found herself surrounded by the Maine beer community and has been exploring it ever since.
In her blog, Carla profiles craft beer (and some mead and cider, too) being brewed in Maine, as well as looks into the people, places and stories behind the beer that makes the community so vibrant. Join Carla on her beer adventures and advice on where to get the best, newest, and most interesting fermented drinks around.
Carla can be contacted at askthebeerbabe [at] gmail.com or on twitter at @beerbabe.
Imagine walking into your favorite beer store. Maybe it's Bier Cellar on Forest Avenue, perhaps it's a little farther down the road at RSVP Beverage, or in the Old Port at Maine Beer and Beverage Company. When you walk in, you are greeted by the usual selection of bottled beer, but you see something new as well. Instead of being limited to what can be bottled or put in cans, you could also have the option to fill a growler - a glass refillable container - with local beer from all over the state. These beers might include those that you would never have the chance to otherwise sample unless you took a trip to the brewery itself.
This fantasy may not be far from reality. In response to the growth of craft beer in New England and Maine, a new piece of legislation is on the table that would modify the law to allow for the filling of growlers in retail locations like beer and grocery stores. However, when I started talking to colleagues about this, they were surprised that it wasn't already allowed in Maine because it is more widely embraced in other states. When I go home to visit family in New York, there are even small convenience stores and gas stations offering growler fills as part of their business.
This may seem like a small technicality, but enacting this new law might change the local beer landscape quite significantly. "An Act Concerning the Ability of Off-premises Liquor Licensees To Dispense Liquor in Sealed Refillable Containers" (Also known as LD 1082) was introduced to the Legislature in March. The text (read the full text) of the law states that beer would be able to be dispensed into a "sealed refillable container" and then consumed off-premises. Any business with an off-premise retail license that allows them to sell bottled beer would be able to offer growler fills if this piece of legislation passes.
To get the perspective of someone in a state that allows retail growler fills, I asked Tiffany Adamoswki, Co-owner and Shopkeeper of 99 Bottles, a specialty beer store in Washington state. 99 Bottles stocks over 1200 different types of beer in the store, and also can order kegs for customers. Another service offered includes the ability to fill growlers.
This weekend I was walking around downtown in search of a place to get some work done, and stopped in to the Portland Public Market on Monument Square. On the first floor, I always stop at the Maine Beer and Beverage Company. They have a great selection of local beer (as well as beer, wine and mead from far beyond Maine) and I picked up a few things to take home. That day, it was breezy but sunny, so my mind turned to summer. I spied a Portland classic - Gritty McDuff's Black Fly Stout - and promptly took it home with me.
Black flies (jokingly referred to as "Maine's State Bird" on some tourist's T-shirts) are a just a staple of Maine summers. Some years they are bad, and some years they are not so bad, but they are always going to be a part of living in Maine. Though both arrive every year, I imagine finding Black Fly Stout is a bit more welcome.
As expected, this beer pours a brown to black and has a long-lasting and silky, cream-colored head. After a few sips, it leaves a really nice lacing on the glass. This is one of the prettier beers I've had lately. The aroma was assertive, and definitely had a roast or burnt flavor to it, with undertones of chocolate or coffee. There's a little bit of acidity there that I can't place, but the roastiness is definitely its stronger characteristic.
Maine Beer Company MO (American Pale Ale).
Photo courtesy of James Sanborn
Living in the middle of such a productive beer community has it's benefits and it's drawbacks. Wherever I go, when I tell people I'm from New England I am immediately asked about The Alchemist's Heady Topper (a super-hoppy canned Vermont beer), and when I mention I'm in Maine, their first inquiry is about Maine Brewing Company's Lunch - their west-coast style IPA that has taken the beer trading world by storm. IPAs have enjoyed a sustained popularity growth over the last five years - so the craving for lots of hops in the craft beer loving community is no surprise. As much as I do enjoy Lunch, I want to tell you about another beer by Maine Beer Company that's recently won my heart - MO. Named as a nod to brewer Daniel Kleban's twins Madeline and Oliver - this one is not an IPA but instead an American Pale Ale, and hasn't reached the level of national fame that Lunch has. American Pale Ales as defined by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) guidelines have, "a moderate to high hop flavor, often showing a citrusy American hop character (although other hop varieties may be used)" and tend to be described as "balanced" with "moderate to high hop bitterness with a medium to dry finish." However, in practice, beers described as American Pale Ales tend to span a wide spectrum of flavors - from fruity to very bitter. To me, American Pale Ales are usually a safe bet for when I'd like to taste some hops, but am not in the mood to be tasting hops on my tongue for hours after drinking a pint. MO, with it's humble and simple white label characteristic of all Maine Beer Company beers can be easy to miss on the shelf, especially from a distance. In a glass it pours out a yellow to orange color, with a very foamy head that sticks around for quite some time. It's one of those pretty beers that you just want to admire after pouring. However, just admiring it wouldn't do it justice. The aroma is fruity and flowery hops, with a really light backbone of malt coming through, too. MO does not have the grassy or particularly bitter hop aromas, but instead presents a fresh snappy assertion of hops. The taste is impressive. It has all of the zesty hop spiciness to it that the aroma promises, but it's balanced on a pretty light body and finishes very dry. The combination of the dry finish and the lightness make this one that keeps me going back to the glass. The hops last in my mouth for just a millisecond too short, and it leaves me wanting another sip immediately. The hops are also very well balanced (though there is not really a detectable malt flavor) it just feels like the put the exactly right proportions in. The hops that Maine Beer Company used are Warrior, Falconer’s Flight, and Simcoe. I love the citrusy flavors that Simcoe can bring, but I'm honestly not familiar with Falconer's Flight hops. Whatever the magic that creates such a combination, at 6% ABV this could become a go-to beer for me when I want something hoppy, light and flavorful. Outside of Maine, Maine Beer Company distributes beer to Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland/DC, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and Vermont. As a resident of Portland, I can't help but wonder what the ratio of beers that are shipped "away" are to those that stay in town, and worry a little about this beer's future availability. But right now, it's plentiful, tasty and available right here. I can only hope that it does not become as well known as it's cousin, Lunch. But just in case, let's keep MO our little secret, okay?
By now, you've probably heard about the newest place downtown to grab delicious food and drink - In'finiti Fermentation & Distillation. If you're interested in a great description of the ambiance and food, John from The Golden Dish blog wrote a great post last week giving you the dining side experience its full glory (including candy-coated bacon... yum!).
But being a new brewery (and distillery) I, of course, had to go down to think about the merits of the beer that they are currently brewing. What I found was not what I was expecting - but definitely worth a taste.
My adventure at In'finiti actually started at Novare Res Bier Cafe. Being a Friday night, I expected a healthy crowd of chalice-sippers and people pondering the almost endless bottle list. However, I was surprised to see that it was a bit quieter - almost like a weeknight. As I left, I shrugged and decided to pop around the corner and check out In'finiti - Novare Res owners' Eric and Judy Michaud's newest food and drink adventure.
My first thought upon entering was that I had found all of the people that were normally at other bars in town - right here. I was able to find an open seat at the bar, but the crowd was bustling and flowing throughout the space.
I enjoy the occasional sip of mead, but haven't really delved into the breadth of it's character. So when I caught sight of a local mead described as an "iced tea mead" that was "carbonated honey wine with natural flavors" I stopped to check it out. Carbonated mead? Iced tea? It piqued my interest enough to put the Maine Mead Works Ram Island Iced Tea Mead into my basket.
Portland-based Maine Mead Works have been harnessing the output of local bees since 2007, and are known for their HoneyMaker line of meads that are available not only in beer and wine stores, but in larger grocery and specialty food stores. Their line of meads includes dry, sweet and even dry-hopped meads, and a variety of herbal and fruit infused meads as well. While I have tasted several of these and were pleased with their complexity, fruitiness and crispness, this was the first time I'd ever come across a carbonated or "sparkling" mead.