February 7, 2013

What Ales You: He who hesitates may taste only half the beer he seeks

By TOM ATWELL

You have to act quickly to get a taste of all of the new and great beers that local breweries are producing -- especially if you have a life outside of beer.

click image to enlarge

Rising Tide’s Calvera began life as a batch of Ursa Minor, but the brewery had to improvise when a yeast shipment failed to come through.

Courtesy photo

Last week, I succeeded in tasting one because I know the company owners, and failed in another because I took the beer for granted.

Rising Tide announced on Facebook (and probably a few other places) that it would be selling a limited-release beer, Calvera, beginning Saturday, but only at the brewery. It was going to be $8 for a cork-and-cage, 375-milliliter bottle.

I was going to be busy Saturday, so I dropped by the Fox Street brewery just at closing on Friday and asked co-owner Heather Sanborn if she could sell me a bottle early.

Well, no, she said, she couldn't because it would not be fair. But the staff had just tapped a keg for the following day's sales, and I got to be the first non-employee to taste Calvera -- something that should probably go in my obituary.

It was described as a wheat stout refermented with cherry puree and aged in red wine barrels. I was a little doubtful about this, because I have been off cherries in beer since I bought a home-brew kit to make kriek a couple of decades ago and it ended up tasting like Vicks Formula 44 cough syrup.

I should have trusted Nathan Sanborn, the brewer. This is a very good beer, with only a hint of cherry. The red-wine flavor dominates, but the wheat stout provides a strong backbone.

Heather said Calvera had a strange route to creation.

Sometime during the summer, they started a batch of Ursa Minor, Rising Tide's regular wheat stout, that they intended to age in bourbon barrels to create Polaris. Nathan made the beer on the day that the yeast was supposed to be delivered, only the yeast never arrived -- it got lost in shipment.

"So we did what we always do when we get into trouble," Heather said. "We called our friends at Allagash."

Dee Dee Germain, a brewer and marketing director at Allagash, advised them to use the yeast they use for their non-wheat beers rather than the one they use for Ursa Minor.

Because they now had a beer that was almost but not quite Ursa Minor, they had to decide what to do with it, Heather said. They had some cherry extract from an experimental beer that "turned to vinegar," so they added that to the mix.

When the fermentation was done, the Sanborns again called Allagash and got two wine barrels to age the beer. One of the barrels went sour because of some stray yeast, so they are saving that to see how it develops, while the other stayed true to its yeast and became Calvera.

As a result, they had one barrel (30 cases of the beer) to sell. A lot of it sold on Saturday, and some bottles were left for Rising Tide's Tuesday business hours, but there is a good chance it will be gone when the company opens from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday.

Calvera, by the way, like Polaris, is a star in the constellation Ursa Minor, which is also called the Little Bear or Little Dipper.

I HAD LESS LUCK with Maine Beer Co.'s Lil One. The beer was going to be introduced Jan. 31 at the Thirsty Pig, and I foolishly thought that I would be able to stop by early Friday and taste the beer. The keg actually disappeared fairly early last Thursday night.

Maine Beer describes this as a strong winter ale coming in at 9.1 percent alcohol, with "intense hop aromatics and flavor (think pine, candied orange) blended with just enough malt sweetness to balance out the palate."

Colleen Croteau, who works in marketing and logistics at Maine Beer, said the company made only two kegs of Lil One. The other one went to Novare Res, and also emptied quickly.

But a number of Portland stores should have bottles of Lil One available by the time this column comes out.

"Mariner Beverages, our distributor, picked them up Friday, and they all should be out by Wednesday," Croteau said.

She said RSVP on Forest Avenue will be getting a larger part of the shipment, but others will be going to Downeast Beverages, the Bier Cellar, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods.

I would recommend not waiting until the weekend to get your bottles.

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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