December 15, 2011

What Ales You: Bangor pub tries brewing, gets off to a strong start

Geaghan's, which opened in 1975, just started serving beer brewed on-site this month.

By TOM ATWELL

I was in Bangor for a meeting Saturday, and it didn't take much effort to convince the three people riding with me to stop at Geaghan's Pub at 570 Main St., just down the road from Hollywood Slots and across the street from the Bangor Auditorium.

Geaghan's, which opened in 1975, just started serving beer brewed on-site this month -- a bit more than a year after Andrew Geaghan, grandson of the founder, returned to the family business.

After graduating from the University of Maine, working as a high school teacher, getting a master's in theology, working as a pastor and becoming pretty good as a home brewer, Geaghan returned to the restaurant as manager of the front of the house.

Then, at a funeral in Orrington, he met an old family friend whose husband, Jason Courtney, was an award-winning brewer in California.

All of that led to the installation of a five-barrel brewing system in an addition to the restaurant, and Maine's newest brew pub was born.

We had a dozen people at our table Saturday, so I had no trouble getting a taste of all five locally brewed craft beers on the menu.

In a telephone interview Sunday as he took a break from brewing another batch of beer, Geaghan said that, as he had expected, the two beers that are selling best are Smiling Irish Bastard, an American strong pale ale, and The Refueler, an American wheat beer.

The Refueler has been selling just a little bit more than the pale ale in pints, but the Smiling Irish Bastard is outselling Refueler by a lot in growlers -- which I am glad to see is being offered from the start -- and is the biggest seller overall.

The pale ale is the hoppiest beer offered, and at 6.04 percent, the beer with the highest alcohol content. This is a very good beer, and was a hit among everyone at our table -- a good West Coast-style beer, with the malt playing a secondary part to the hops. 

I'm used to cloudy wheat beers, but from a distance The Refueler is so opaque it looks almost like a lemonade. It has 5.25 percent alcohol and just a little bit of hops, but a good, refreshing flavor dominated by the wheat and yeast.

"We are using an American hefe yeast that really doesn't settle out at all," Geaghan said. "It is a really smooth-drinking beer."

When I took the first taste of all the beers at the table, the Penobscot Icebreaker was my favorite, at 5.7 percent alcohol. It had a good density and not a lot of hops, and finished with a pleasant sweetness.

I was surprised when I read the description that it had quite a few adjuncts, including molasses, orange peel, cinnamon, nutmeg and -- the one I fear most of all -- pumpkin.

"Jason and I, both in our brewing and beer drinking, neither one of us like adding anything but barley, wheat and hops to our beers," Geaghan said. "Not to sound arrogant, but sometimes you can tell in a spiced beer that a mediocre beer is hiding behind the spices.

"When we brewed that (Penobscot Icebreaker), we wanted to create a solid, malt-forward winter beer with the addition of those other things -- spices, pumpkin and molasses -- to be an undertone."

The beer I ordered for myself -- partly because, at 4.9 percent alcohol, it was the lowest of the Geaghan Brothers Brewing Co. offerings and partly because I like brown ales -- was the Bangor Brown. I enjoyed it; it had a nice chocolate malt flavor and a good hoppiness.

(Continued on page 2)

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