Have you checked on Sebago lately? I feel like it’s only been a little while since I’ve last turned my attention in its direction, and it seems like there’s a lot on the horizon for the brewery.

Last year was the opening of a custom-built facility in Gorham, leaving behind previous headquarters for Lone Pine to take over, and develop into a production and tasting facility of their own. But beyond the move and the success of the new headquarters/brewpub, there’s a lot of moving and shaking happening with the beer lineup.

A New England IPA, Back in the Day was originally called Pack in the Day, in recognition of the brewery’s packaging crew. Photos courtesy of Sebago Brewing co.

This year the brewery started to produce small-batch beers that were canned and released at the tasting room at Fresh Fill Friday events, where the public was invited in to get cans fresh off the line as they were being bottled – pretty much as fresh as you can get. One of those events featured the hazy Back in the Day, a New England IPA in tallboy cans that had a label featuring retro styling that reminded me of TV shows from the early ’90s (like “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” or “Saved by The Bell”). If Back in the Day sounds familiar, that’s because it used to be called Pack in the Day and was brewed for Sebago’s 20th anniversary in recognition of the packaging crew’s work.

If you’re surprised to see Sebago embracing the hazy New England IPA style, you’re not alone. But going the hoppy route isn’t surprising: consider the masterful hop handling in everything from Frye’s Leap, the flagship IPA that’s accessible and piney, to Whistle Punk, the West-coast style Double IPA that’s piney and gooey and practically perfect, to the ever-changing Hop Swap line.

So, what happens when a well-established brewery throws its hat into the ring by brewing a novel or popular style? In the case of Sebago, it’s all good things. Back in the Day was a hit for the brief time it was around at the beginning of the year, but it also was a signal of a new direction at Sebago, including a cool and retro/stylish brand refresh for some of its core beers.

Haze FWD is Sebago’s more refined New England IPA.

More recently, Sebago released Haze FWD (pronounced “forward,” but meant to evoke the text on a fast-foward button), such a well put together version of a New England IPA that I have already found myself craving it. Sebago describes it as a “refined version of a New England IPA,” and it comes in at 6.7 percent ABV. It’s hoppy and a hazy yellow color, true to the recent haze craze, and has some tropical flavors that remind me of eating fresh fruits in an exotic place. Thankfully, Haze FWD lacks that somewhat muddy appearance and flavor jumble that can sometimes plague the style. In taste, it’s really all the things you want in a cloudy IPA – the juiciness, the satisfaction, the mouth feel – and none of the things that you don’t (the burning hop flavors, muddled fruit-basket hops). 

Another, less hoppy small-batch beer that’s worth seeking out is Yellow on Friday, a Czech-style pilsner. I got a chance to sip Yellow on Friday at the Maine Brewers Guild festival while looking out into Casco Bay on a beautiful summer day. This is also a bit of a departure for Sebago, which usually focuses on ales, but it’s just as well executed as the hoppy beers. The hops in this are there but just enough to balance the really delicate malts. The best part is its crisp finish, and it immediately calls you back for another sip. Yellow on Friday was released at the end of July and is still crispy and tasty. It might get rarer and harder to find as summer goes on, so if you see the yellow, take it as a sign to bring it home.

And lastly, if you’re already looking ahead until fall, Sebago will host its beer-and-food focused Oktoberfest on Sept. 21. Back at Sebago’s old location, the Oktoberfest party had a tendency to get a little wild but since has evolved into a bit more family-friendly affair, though it still includes a stein-hoisting competition, german food feast and costume contest. 

If there’s one thing that Sebago excels at it’s evolving, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else it comes up with as the year goes on.

Carla Jean Lauter is a freelance beer writer and blogger who lives in Lisbon. Follow her beer adventures at:

Twitter: beerbabe


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