Sebago Brewing Co. releases its Barleywine this week. Photo courtesy of Sebago Brewing Co.

At the beginning of the month, a famous groundhog let us know that we’d be on track for an early spring, but between the ice and snow storms that have happened since, that prediction has been hard to believe. Winter can be a downtime for breweries, too, which is why I am excited to share three beer-related reasons that you should consider leaving the house.

The first is the return of a special beer style that has a reputation for warming up one’s insides: the barleywine. Despite its name, a barleywine is not a wine, but a beer style that typically has a higher alcohol content and a malty sweetness that is sometimes accompanied by caramel, toffee or dark fruit flavors on the palate. Usually barleywines are considered beers that should be sipped and enjoyed, and are sometimes compared to sherry or port. Because they are labor intensive and expensive to make, most breweries do not keep them on year-round rotation and tend to make small, exclusive batches. Fortunately, the doldrums of February are exactly when Sebago Brewing Co.’s barleywine returns, and it couldn’t come at a better time. Sebago announced that Barleywine (now clad in a classy new can design) will begin hitting stores this week.

Sebago Barleywine pours a delightful ruby color and has all the wonderful aromas of malt, bourbon and sherry when you open it up. It is 11.9 percent, so don’t plan on doing much else after finishing one of these beauties. When you look for it in your favorite beer store, don’t let last year’s date on the label fool you, the batch coming out in February is the newest it gets. It was brewed in 2019 and aged in bourbon barrels to impart that boozy sweetness.

If your idea of a winter activity involves socializing, look no further than Novare Res Bier Cafe as it welcomes two out-of-state breweries making their Maine debut at the end of the month. On Feb. 28, Novare Res will have a selection on tap from Exhibit “A” brewing (Framingham, Massachusetts) and Schilling Beer Co. (Littleton, New Hampshire).

Beers from these breweries have been poured in Maine before, but have been turning heads in New England for some time. Exhibit “A” has been brewing since 2016, and should be bringing a variety of hoppy and interesting experiments to share. Exhibit “A” brewers have collaborated with Allagash and Bissell Brothers before, so they are familiar with our beer scene and seem excited to share their beer as well. Since opening in 2013, Schilling Beer Co. often has been named among the best in New Hampshire’s growing craft beer scene. It’s known for its lagers, but has a solid portfolio of European and German-inspired beers. At the event, Exhibit “A” co-founder and head brewer Matthew Steinberg, as well as the crew from Schilling, will be in attendance, so it is more than worth the trip off the couch.

The Maine Brewers Guild is bringing back its Winter Session beer festival, and this year it will be held Feb. 29, aka Leap Day. This festival is a gem and a great way to enjoy some of the beers that you haven’t had a chance to try over the winter, as well as catch up with familiar faces in the Maine craft beer scene. The festival lineup includes an impressive list of 95 breweries, 20 of whom are out-of-state “guests” of Maine breweries. When the Brewers Guild puts on a festival, it does a terrific job of creating an experience that is enjoyable and not overcrowded, but packed with delicious and unique beers that would be nearly impossible to get all in the same place any other way.

This year, the pricing for the Winter Session has changed a little bit, and the VIP session has been removed. A general admission ticket is $55, covers the entire session (1 -5 p.m.) and includes a tasting glass and unlimited samples. However, if you plan to bring a friend or date, a pair of general admission tickets can be bundled for $99. As with all Maine Brewers Guild events, a nondrinking designated driver ticket is available for $10, which includes free snacks and seltzer. Unlike the Summer Session, this festival will be (thankfully) held completely indoors, in the Brick South Building at Thompson’s Point in Portland, so the weather or temperature shouldn’t deter anyone from going.

Winter here in Maine can be long, but I’m always grateful that I can find people, events and things to put in my glass to make it feel a little bit warmer.

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

Twitter: beerbabe

The Maine Brewers Guild Winter Session brewfest is at Thompson’s Point on Feb. 29. Whitney J. Fox Photography/Courtesy of Maine Brewers Guild


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