December 13, 2012

What Ales You: Miller's time well-spent writing of regional brewers

A beer columnist from Massachusetts says he supports New England brewers 'because they are good and produce great beer.'

By TOM ATWELL

New England has become a haven for local beer, with new breweries opening every few months and new beers coming out every few days.

Norman Miller, beer columnist for the MetroWest Daily News in Framingham, Mass., has written "Beer Lover's New England" about the breweries, brew pubs, beer bars and pub crawls in the six-state region.

"Since I've written this book, everyone thinks I am a huge proponent of New England beer, and to an extent that is true," Miller said in a recent telephone interview. "But I don't support New England brewers because they are local. I support local brewers because they are good and produce great beer."

Miller has been writing his Beer Nut column for six or seven years. He was then, and still is, what he calls "a cops and courts reporter" for MetroWest, and someone was doing a story on a billboard campaign in support of Brahma Beer, a Brazilian beer aimed at the growing Brazilian population in Framingham. 

"My editor said to me, 'You like good beer. Why don't you do a sidebar on what this beer is like?' That worked well, and he asked me to do a beer column every week," Miller said.

Although the paper did not take away any of his other duties, he says he really enjoys doing the beer column.

"It's a good break from the cops and courts stuff," he said. "The police and courts are all serious stuff, and this is a little bit of fun to balance it out."

When he got the idea to write the book, he said, most of the research was done after five years of writing columns, and he just had to make a few visits, phone calls and emails to people to make sure it was all up to date at the time of publication.

But he knows it's not up to date now.

"I hope to talk to the publisher into doing some updates from time to time," he said. "Some new breweries have come out. I'd love to add Bull Jagger in Portland, because I love their beers a lot. And there are a couple of Massachusetts breweries I would like to get in there."

In college, Miller did not like the beer that most people were drinking, considering them flavorless, so he stuck with Captain Morgan and Coke. That changed when he was working in Laconia, N.H., for a New Hampshire newspaper.

"We had an early deadline Friday nights, so to blow off steam, we went to the closest bar, which was the Stone Coast brew pub," he said. "Beer was cheaper than mixed drinks, so I tried some, and I was shocked: It was beer with flavor."

That Stone Coast brew pub was a sister to the one on Fore Street in Portland, which operated for about a dozen years beginning in 1996. Miller said he has a soft spot in his heart for the Sunday River Brew Pub in Bethel, because it still has some of the first craft beers he tried at the Laconia Stone Coast.

The book is well organized and easy to follow. It goes state by state, from the state with the most breweries to the one with the least: Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

First in each state are the full breweries, giving a description of the brewery, the different beers they make and his "Beer Lover's Pick": Miller's choice as the best beer from that specific brewery.

After the breweries, he discusses the brew pubs in each state, describing the food as well as the beer. Then he lists a few of the best beer bars in each state that do not brew their own beer. At the end, he has some pub crawls and a list of beer festivals.

Miller said he would hate to list his favorite brewers or beers.

But off the top of his head, he really likes Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro Bend, Vt.; Jack's Abby Brewing in Framingham, Mass.; and Cambridge Brewing Co. in Cambridge, Mass.

For specific beers, he says he drinks seasonally -- with lighter beers in the summer and darker, heavier beers in the winter.

"But I am a big fan of Allagash Curieux," he said. "It is one of my favorite beers, and I could drink that all of the time."

"Beer Lover's New England" is published by Globe Pequot Press in Guilford, Conn., is 269 pages in an oversized paperback, and costs $19.95. It's available in some bookstores and all online sites. Miller's beer blog is at blogs.wickedlocal.com/beernut.

This book is going to gain a place on my office bookshelf, right next to the Oxford Companion to Beer, which is an invaluable guide. 

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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