I had my first-ever beer from Black Bear Brewing Co. last week, and I was not disappointed. 

I was traveling through Bethel with a friend from England, so we had to stop at The Jolly Drayman, a restaurant specializing in English food. The waiter said one of the beers on tap was Black Bear Porter, so I jumped at it.

This was a really good porter: totally dry and crisp but very malty, with a bit of chocolate and caramel in the flavor. The beer went very well with a Cornish pasty.

Although it was described at the Drayman as just Black Bear Porter, the Orono brewery’s website indicated it was Voodoo Porter, which is their winter seasonal, coming in at 6.3 percent alcohol.

Barring a trip to Orono in the near future, I will just have to look for more Black Bear beer when I’m in Bethel — or anywhere else it may be.

The real reason for the trip to Bethel was a winter-camp weekend with hiking, snowshoeing, a Robert Burns-day dinner with haggis, a little bit of on-river curling and other sub-zero activities.

The guests did bring a lot of very good beer.

The haggis was prepared by two employees of Rosemont Market, and one of them brought a Cockeyed Cooper Bourbon Barrel Barely Wine Ale that was on the shelf at the store.

The wine ale was made in Salt Lake City by Uinta Brewery, about which I have heard a lot of good things. It lived up to its reputation with this drink.

It was a fairly sweet barley wine with a lot of fruity flavors and a little bit of oak, but no noticeable bourbon from the barrels. It had a nice, spicy bit of hops to offset the sweetness, but nothing overpowering. There was a bit of alcohol, but you expect that with a barley wine coming in at 11.1 percent alcohol.

The label on the 750-milliliter bottle says it cost $12.49, and we split the bottle eight ways. It was a beer to be savored.

Another savoring beer was Gravitation, part of the Smuttynose Big Beer Series. This is described as a Belgian-style quadruple ale, but it is Belgian with a big New England accent, based on it being brewed in Portsmouth, N.H.

The beer is brewed with 200 pounds of raisins in each batch, so it has quite a bit of sweetness and even a bit of stickiness in it. It is orange, a little bit hazy, and with only a little bit of a head. The flavor was quite complex, but not overly subtle. It cost about $6 at RSVP.

We had two brown ales that I had never had before, and both were very good but quite different.

Moat Mountain’s Boneshaker Brown Ale came in a 24-ounce can and cost about $5. This is from Steve Johnson, who now runs Moat Mountain Inn and brewery in North Conway, after working previously at Cafe Brix in South Portland and founding Federal Spice in Portland.

This is definitely an American brown ale, with the emphasis on “American.” It has a good amount of malt and some caramel with it, but it is fairly dry. It has a lot more hops than any English brown would have.

The Adnams Tally-Ho was actually purchased for the same English guy who led us to The Jolly Drayman, but he shared the 12-ounce bottle with me in deference to my research. No one knows how much we paid for it, but it did come from RSVP.

This is a rich, malty, in-your-face brown, with a lot of dark fruit and toastiness. It actually has a flavor like marmite, which is a British condiment that the same guy served on toast for a mid-afternoon snack — sort of a salty, sugary syrup.

This is 7.2 percent alcohol, so it’s bit higher than most British browns, but it was wonderfully intense and sweet.

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

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