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.

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.

I had recently met Steve Kierstad, sales representative for Maine, New Hampshire and Boston for Long Trail, so I stopped by to try its naturally carbonated, unfiltered Traditional IPA. This is another good example of an English rather than a West Coast IPA. Well-balanced and not too hoppy, a fairly easy-drinking 5.9 percent beer.


Bunker Brewing had a Peninsula Pale Ale at 6 percent, which I had not had before, and it was complex, quite malty, clean and a beer you could sit down and drink with just about anything.

My one disappointment of the day was Baxter Brewing’s Hayride Autumn Ale, which I had at the booth for cask-conditioned real ales. I have enjoyed all of Baxter’s other beers, but not this one. It has two different rye malts, but it also has pepper, ginger and orange peel. I just did not like the spice mixture.

I will try this beer in the cans to get a true test. But it might just be a beer that, while it is very good, I just don’t like.

As my next-to-last drink, I tried Urban Farm Fermentory’s 1.5 percent alcohol Ginger Kombucha. It was both sweet and sour, refreshing and quite nice. And I was quite surprised.

OUR SON ZACHARY and his family recently spent a week vacationing at Bayside in Northport, so the first thing I thought of was giving him my empty Marshall Wharf growler — so he could drop by the Belfast brewery and have some great beer during his week in midcoast Maine.

As a bonus, he brought back a growler of Little Mayhem Stout, which we all absolutely adored.


This is a small beer — but it is definitely not small in flavor.

Small beers are the second beer made from the same mash, or mix of grains and hops that create the beer. When Marshall Wharf makes its Chaos Chaos Russian Imperial Stout, there is enough sugar left in the grains to make a second beer with a much lower alcohol content.

Little Mayhem still had a lot of roasty grain flavor, with a good hit of hops and a fairly stiff tan head. The mouthfeel, as would be expected, is a little bit thinner than most stouts, but still pleasant, and only 5 percent alcohol — giving it a lot of flavor for relatively little alcohol.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:


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