July 18, 2013

What Ales You: Two Sebago single-batch beers provide crucial summer flavors

Time to catch up on summer offerings.

By TOM ATWELL

It's summer, and I have been trying a lot of new beers recently and haven't had a chance to update you on all of them. This week I am going to catch up.

Allagash Grand Cru is a straight-forward, malty and flavorful Belgian.

Courtesy photo

I stopped by Sebago Brewing in Portland and tried two of their latest single-batch beers, and enjoyed them both.

Sebago doesn't often do many Belgian beers, but they did brew four of them last fall and one of them came back for June. The Patersbier follows the tradition of a thirst-quenching beer made by monks, fairly low in alcohol at 5.4 percent. This was an aromatic beer, with aromas of yeast and spice, fairly cloudy and highly refreshing on a muggy 90-degree day.

The newer single-batch beer is Hop Swap, more closely fitting Sebago's profile of American ales. This is the second year -- at least -- that Sebago has done an ale with the same malts, coming in at 6.1 percent alcohol, but with different hops. Last year the beer had Cascade, Centennial and Citra hops while this year it has Cascade, Simcoe, Amarillo and Falconer's Flight hops. This mix of hops provides both fruitiness and spiciness, and while the hops do have a bit of a bite, it is not overly bitter.

Speaking of Sebago, our go-to supermarket beer so far this summer has been Runabout Red. It has a wonderfully malty but still crisp flavor, and fits the bill on warm afternoons.

I TRIED TWO Allagash beers I had not had before when I stopped by the brewery recently.

Grand Cru and Confluence are both Belgian-style beers -- as are all of the beers from Allagash -- and are 7.5 percent alcohol.

The Grand Cru was malty and flavorful, with a little bit of fruit and spice added, but it was a fairly simple and straight-forward beer. I liked it but didn't love it.

Confluence was much more complex. It uses a little bit of Brettanomyces yeast along with the regular Allagash house yeast, and that gave the beer a little bit of a tang without making it at all sour. In addition to the yeast, it has a strong flavor of malt, but just enough hops to be noticed. This was a superbly complex beer, and among the best I have tasted from the brewery.

I ALSO GOT TO TASTE two new beers from Rising Tide.

Nathan and Heather Sanborn, the company owners, just got a new puppy named Calypso, so they brewed a new beer called Calypso, using only Calypso hops. As this is a "puppy beer," it is only 3.5 percent alcohol, easy to drink and easy to love.

Lyra, a limited release of only 750 bottles available only at the brewery, is a much-more grown-up beer, at 8.9 percent alcohol. The price is $8 for a 12.7-ounce bottle.

It has both French and American ale yeasts, Pilsener and white wheat malts, and Magnum, Mt. Hood and Nelson Sauvin hops. This beer was both fruity and oaky, and something to be savored slowly.

THE BIG BREWERS keep putting out crafty offerings, and I usually try them at least once.

Nancy and I saw Third Shift Amber Lager out of Fort Worth, Texas, at the supermarket, and we bought some because we were low on beer and had never had it. We searched the outside of the plain brown box for information about the brewer, and there was nothing. The beer was good, not great, after some warm work in the garden. An online search showed it was a collaboration of brewers from different Coors breweries.

I LOVE IT when my two main interests of gardening and beer come together.

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay is offering a program on the botany of beer from 5 to 8 p.m. July 25.

Tim Boland, a nationally recognized plantsman and director of the Polly Hill Arboretum on Martha's Vineyard, and Julie Jenney, education coordinator at Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania will, discuss how different plants are combined to make beer, how the styles of beer differ, the rise of craft beers and some ancient beers.

Cost is $60 for CMBG members, $72 for non-members, and includes sandwiches, snacks and some beer to drink. Preregistration is required at mainegardens.org or 633-4333.

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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