October 10, 2013

What Ales You: New from the Kennebec River Brewery

Bear Naked Black Lager makes the trip to The Forks worthwhile.

By Tom Atwell

Kennebec River Brewery in The Forks has come up with a couple of new beers since I visited last year, and the one I was able to try last week was superb.

Kennebec River Brewery turned out an excellent schwarzbier – Bear Naked Black Lager – in April, brewing on a 4.5-barrel system in The Forks.

Courtesy photo

The brewery is part of the Northern Outdoors recreation complex in The Forks, which has guides for whitewater rafting, fishing and hunting and serves snowmobilers in the winter. I like to take one or two trips a year to the region for fly fishing, and I usually drop in for a meal and a beer when I do.

Kennebec River brews on a 4.5-barrel system in the basement of the Northern Outdoors restaurant, shop and gathering place, and it sells its beers only on site or at beer festivals. If you find Kennebec River beers in 12-ounce bottles, they were brewed at Mercury Brewing in Ipswich, Mass.

When I saw Bear Naked Black Lager on the menu, I knew I had to try it. David, our server, said that the brewer had made this German-style Schwarzbier sometime in April and the batch I drank was the second one.

Schwarzbiers are dark lagers, with much lighter body than stouts and porters, and a good crisp finish, and Kennebec River’s version was right on the mark.

The roasted malt provided a great flavor with just a hint of chocolate. The color was very close to pure black, and the beer had a good head that lasted quite a while.

Kennebec River does not list alcohol content on its menu or website, but Schwarzbiers are typically 5 percent alcohol by volume, and I would guess that this beer was in that range.

My fishing buddy went with the Honey Badger Rye, which was introduced last year because brewer Mike McConnell had never brewed with either rye or honey, and he got a chance to use both of them with this beer. David, our server, said this year’s Honey Badger Rye had more hops than last year, but the beer was still most strongly flavored by honey, with the rye and extra hops balancing it out nicely.

The Honey Badger and an Octoberfest I had after the Black Lager were a little cloudy, which is expected, as all of Kennebec River’s beers are unfiltered and keg conditioned. The Schwarzbier was so dark I could not tell if it was cloudy or not.

The menu listed Weisse Guy, a Berliner weisse, served with a side container of raspberry syrup, and I was really looking forward to trying this beer. But David told us they had just used the last of it.

The menu said this was the company’s lowest-alcohol beer, and that would be right according to style. Most Berliner weisses come in at about 3 percent ABV, and often are a bit sour, which is the reason for the raspberry syrup. Next year I will have to plan the fishing trip just a little bit early, hoping that the beer will be offered again.

The price for all of these beers was $4.44 for a pint.

SON-IN-LAW CHRISTIAN brought over a dry-hopped version of Saison Dupont when he visited last month, and it was a very nice gift.

Saison Dupont is the classic Belgian farmhouse ale, a truly great beer at 6.5 percent ABV with a yeasty mix of wine, fruit and herbs all together. I have enjoyed this beer since I first had it about 10 years ago.

The dry-hopped version was produced for the first time about six years ago, but it was exported to the United States for the first time this year.

The label says that the dry-hopped version allows brewer Oliver Dedeycker “to take advantage of the new hop varieties appearing every season.” Dry hopping involves putting dry hops on top of the wort, or unfermented beer, while it is fermenting.

The hop used this year was Triskel, a variety grown in the Alsace section of France and hybridized from French and one English hop varieties.

The dry-hopping added an even more floral flavor and aroma to the Saison Dupont. I would not say that the dry-hopping improved an already excellent beer, but it did make it a bit more complex, and for that it was worth it.

Regular Saison Dupont will cost about $10 for a 750-milliliter cork-and-cage bottle, and the dry-hopped version would run a bit above $15, according to a quick online comparison.

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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