October 17, 2013

What Ales You: Vermont sends some friendly competitors over here

The Shed Brewery has two new beers on Maine’s shelves.

By Tom Atwell

Two beers from The Shed Brewery in Stowe, Vt., recently showed up on shelves at beer stores around Maine, and they are good additions.

click image to enlarge

Double Dose IPA, a collaboration by Otter Creek and Lawson’s Finest Liquids of Vermont, is top-notch.

Courtesy photo

Ken Strong opened The Shed Restaurant in 1965 in a former blacksmith shop built in 1830. The blacksmith shop later became a cider mill, so it was a hangout before Strong got involved. Strong started brewing his own beers shortly after opening the restaurant. They were popular with ski bums and locals alike and developed a good reputation.

In 2011 Strong lost his lease and had to find another location.

“Ken Strong came to (Otter Creek Brewing Co.) and asked if we would be willing to brew his beers,” Steve Kierstad, regional sales manager for the company that now includes Otter Creek, Wolavers and Long Trail, said in a recent telephone interview. “We said we’d love to take the brand on as ours and keep him on as brand ambassador.”

Strong, who is 74, jumped at the offer, saying it was perfect for him at his time in life.

“He is still on board and in and around the brewery in Middlebury and getting out to represent his brand,” Kierstad said.

Mountain Ale is The Shed’s flagship beer, with about 65 percent of the brand’s sales. It is described on the label as “a rugged brown ale,” an unfiltered 7.4 percent alcohol by volume beer with a big, malty flavor and a nice hops bite at the finish. It poured a deep, dark brown with a nice head. Despite the high alcohol content, the beer went down smoothly.

The only other Shed beer being offered is an India Pale Ale, at 6 percent alcohol. This had a heavy off-white head, traces of yeast in the otherwise clear orange color, a strong hops aroma and flavor, and a crisp finish. I liked this Americanized English IPA, but would pick the Mountain Ale first. Both are about $7.99 for a six-pack.

Kierstad said these are the only two Shed beers now being brewed at Otter Creek, but others from Strong’s repertoire could be added.

Kierstad doesn’t think there is any duplication in the Shed beers and the offerings from Otter Creek/Wolavers/Long Trail. There are some similarities between Mountain Ale and Long Trail’s Double Bag, but they are enough different that it is fine. Mountain Ale is an English-style strong ale, while Double Bag is a double altbier.

OTTER CREEK made some other news earlier this month when it released Double Dose IPA, a collaboration with Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Warren, Vt.

Sean Lawson, founder/brewer of Lawson’s, and Mike Gerhart, master brewer at Otter Creek, used Vermont malt and hops and water from both breweries to create this double IPA.

I jumped when The Bier Cellar on Forest Avenue said it was getting this collaboration, because I had heard many good things about Lawson’s and it is not licensed to sell in Maine. It was sold in Maine as an Otter Creek beer.

This is a 7.4 percent ABV that poured a nice, cloudy orange (as it is unfiltered) and has a wonderful fruity/piney hops aroma, a cleanly crisp finish and a good amount of malt to hold it all together. This is a top-notch beer. It cost $15.99 for a four-pack, and I have heard the bottles are sold out. The collaboration was only 1,900 cases and 120 kegs. If you see it on draft or in bottlers, try it.

Kierstad said Otter Creek – whose new label includes Gerhart’s classic VW microbus – will be bringing out a new winter seasonal called Kind Ryed IPA, a rye IPA with Apollo, Simcoe and Chinook hops and dry-hopped with Centennial. I’ll keep an eye out for that.

IT TOOK a while, but I finally got to taste Gritty McDuff’s fourth 25th anniversary beer, Monster Mash, and it was rich and superb. This is a 7.4 percent ABV Extra Special Bitter that was the original recipe for Halloween Ale, brewer/owner Ed Stebbins told me. Because strong beers were not as popular when Halloween Ale came out, Stebbins dialed the beer back a little. If you hurry, you can taste his original vision – only on draft.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

tomatwell@me.com

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