Thursday, December 12, 2013
By TOM ATWELL
Long Trail and Otter Creek beers have been available in Maine for about a decade, and I have been drinking both of them occasionally, enjoying them quite a bit.
While I am a Mainer and drink mostly Maine beers, the whole of New England is smaller than a lot of states, so Vermont beers could, without much of a stretch, be considered local.
Long Trail and Otter Creek are now part of the same company -- as is Wolaver's, the organic brewing component of Otter Creek.
I met recently with Steve Kierstead, the company's regional sales manager for Maine, New Hampshire and Boston, who said the merger occurred about three years ago. And he said that business is going well.
The Long Trail I have drunk mostly over the years is Double Bag, a 7.2-percent alcohol, American replication of a German double altbier that's a bit similar to a British strong ale.
This beer does not have a lot of hops to it, letting the malts -- and just a little bit of wheat -- dominate the flavor.
One bit of warning with this beer: It tastes like it is under 5 percent alcohol, so it can sneak up on you fairly quickly.
Long Trail Ale, the company's signature brand, is Double Bag's little brother, a regular altbier at 4.3 percent alcohol. This is a fairly complex beer, full-bodied but not overly hoppy, fairly crisp and easy drinking.
The Harvest Ale, Long Trail's autumn seasonal, is a brown ale made with Vermont ingredients, and it is a rich brown ale with only 3.6 percent alcohol. It's flavorful and pleasant.
Long Trail offers a Double IPA, which comes in 22-ounce bottles, a sign that it is a big and serious beer. This is more of a West Coast IPA -- full-flavored, 8.6 percent alcohol, highly hopped and with an intense body. I split this bottle with four experienced beer drinkers, and we all would be willing to have a bit more of this one.
Long Trail Traditional IPA is another absolutely wonderful beer. This is the beer that people who are a bit older remember as IPAs. The hops is definitely noticeable, but it is not dominant. It is only 5.4 percent alcohol, a bit high to be a session beer but in the same league as your traditional American lagers.
So it is a traditional IPA in that way, but it is also unfiltered, naturally carbonated and dry hopped. It is close with Double Bag, but it is the favorite of the beers I tasted from Long Trail after speaking with Kierstead.
Kierstead said Long Trail, and to a lesser extent Otter Creek, is making pretty good inroads into Maine -- especially in bars.
"In the Portland area, 54 percent of our business is on draught," he said. He said the norm for most beers is 80 percent in bottles and 20 percent on draft, and that Long Trail is more popular on draught throughout the state than it is in bottles -- but the numbers are not as significant as they are in the Portland area.
He also said that Wolaver's is a beer that is gaining market share, although it still sells less than both Long Trail and Otter Creek.
"The brand is 100 percent USDA-certified organic, and people are willing to pay a premium for that," he said. He said Wolaver's has an Oatmeal Stout that is excellent, a good IPA and a pumpkin ale. I will definitely be looking for the Oatmeal Stout.
SEBAGO BREWING CO.'S Local Harvest Ale has been available in four-packs for about 10 days now, and you will have until November to get your fill of this excellent pale ale.
It is strongly hopped, 6 percent alcohol, mahogany in color, and the ideal beer for foodies who like to buy local.
SHIPYARD BREWING CO. is following its release of its Export Ale in cans earlier this summer with the release of its popular Pumpkinhead Ale in cans this fall.
When I tasted the canned Export on a fishing trip in June, I found I liked it better than the bottled variety. I will not be doing a side-by-side tasting of the Pumpkinhead.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:
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