Wednesday, December 4, 2013
By TOM ATWELL
I was in a natural-beer mood when I attended the second annual Portland Brew Festival last weekend, and as a result I had some very good beers.
Olde Burnside Brewing Co.’s Hop’t Scot is a hoppy, well-balanced cross between a Scottish ale and an IPA.
Long Trail IPA is another good example of an English rather than a West Coast IPA. It is well-balanced and not too hoppy.
I set my sights on unfiltered beers, and also spent quite a bit of time at a booth with a variety of cask-conditioned real ales. You have to go in with a plan when there are more than 90 beverages -- including beers, ciders, meads and kombucha -- available and you have tickets for only 24 two-ounce tastings.
Mak Sprague, who organized the festival at the Portland Company Complex on Fore Street, made some improvements at this year's festival. More people were in attendance than when I went last year, and the mood seemed a lot more festive. I liked the stout-glass-shaped 2-ounce container used by the festival because the 2 ounces did not look skimpy in the glass. And the servers seemed diligent about collecting the drink coupons.
I had been emailing back and forth with the McClellans of Olde Burnside Brewing Co. in East Hartford, Conn., so I stopped by to see them first. Son-in-law Christian and I had liked their Ten Penny and Dirty Penny Ales a lot when they used to be sold at RSVP in Portland five or 10 years ago.
Robert McClellan said he has signed on with Mariner Distributors and the beer should be coming back to Maine, but I have not seen it yet.
McLellan's grandfather started Olde Burnside as a block-ice company more than a century ago, cutting ice from lakes in the days before electric refrigerators. It is now the last block-ice company operating in Connecticut. Around 50 years ago, McClellan's father drilled a well to get water only to cool the company's equipment, and it turned out to be good water. They had a tap outside and would sell the water to nearby residents.
"Then we noticed a lot of people coming by with these big buckets to get the water," McClellan said. "It was home brewers, who said the water was great for brewing."
McClellan said the water is high in mineral content, and very similar to the water at Burton-on-Trent, one of the brewing centers in England.
Olde Burnside sells its beers in kegs to bars and restaurants in New England and eastern New York and in growlers, but is looking to move into bottles sometime in the near future. It now makes about 5,000 barrels of beer each year, but could make up to 9,000 and plans to make more.
I tried the company's Hop't Scot, a cross between a Scottish ale and an IPA, and the Penny Weiz, its version of a witbier. The Hop't Scot was hoppy but not crazily hoppy, well-balanced and a perfect way to start my afternoon. The Penny Weiz, which I had just as I was leaving, was clean and crisp with a bit of heather, and a refreshing way to bring the afternoon to a close.
Switchback Brewing Co. of Burlington, Vt., brought only its signature ale to the festival, and it is good, clean beer. This is another company that does not have a bottling plant now, but has one on order that is similar to the one at Allagash, and we could see bottles by early 2013. This is a very flavorful, 5.0 percent pale ale that I enjoyed quite a bit.
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