Geary’s Hampshire Special Ale, Danny’s Oatmeal Stout from Lake St. George Brewing and Allagash Tripel. Photo by Ben Lisle

“If you consider the words beer connoisseur an oxymoron – like jumbo shrimp or sweet sorrow – you’re missing out on the new beer culture.” So wrote Press Herald staff writer Patti Lanigan Horvat on the cusp of the first Maine Brewers’ Festival in 1994. “In the last decade microbrewers and brew pubs have revived the art of brewing beers for the cultivated palates of beer connoisseurs,” she continued, “and everyone, it seems, has started fermenting something in the basement.”

Three decades on, many of those original “microbrewers” are still at it (and no doubt some of those basement brewers have since joined the ranks of the professionals). Visitors to the festival would have paid $15 to attend at the Portland Exposition Building. Drinkers today would recognize many of those breweries: Atlantic Brewing Company, Gritty McDuff’s, Sea Dog, Shipyard and Sunday River among them. Also there, of course, was Portland-based D.L. Geary Brewing – Maine’s first post-Prohibition brewery. The original Lake St. George Brewing Company (closed later that year, but re-launched in Liberty in 2017) was pouring as well. Not yet on the scene? The venerable Allagash Brewing, which would launch in Portland with its now legendary White the following year.

For me, one of the pleasures of beer is how it embodies its own history. We drink the past – centuries of experiential, evolving knowledge from Britain, Belgium, Bohemia and Bavaria – right out of the glass. We drink the ways those traditions (and others) have been refracted through more local craft practices, here in Maine.

So I raise a toast to three Maine beers that have endured from the previous century – all of which can imaginatively transport you to distant times, but also more simply provide a bit of warmth and comfort in the dour days of winter.


STYLE: Strong ale
ABV: 7%
NOTES: A “winter warmer” classic with a boozy character (though not at too high of an ABV). Malty sweet and alcoholic aromas emanate from this medium-bodied, deep amber ale. It is nutty, caramelly and bready. A bittersweet finish rounds things out, as the sweetness of the malt runs into a hoppy bitterness that becomes more prominent as the beer warms. Pair with a fire and flannel pajamas.



STYLE: Oatmeal Stout
ABV: 4.9%
NOTES: Danny McGovern’s oatmeal stouts have been a through-line in Maine brewing since the early ’90s, and this version provides a glimpse into that traditional recipe that has hardly changed. It pours a dark brown, verging on black. The smell of roasty malts and coffee dominate, trailed by a bit of fruitiness and a touch of grainy nuttiness. Its finish is medium-dry, somewhere between a Dry Irish Stout and a Milk Stout. Pair with a mid-morning, weekend Premier League fixture.


STYLE: Golden Ale
ABV: 9%
NOTES: Allagash’s take on a Belgian, abbey-style Tripel is remarkably easy drinking and nimble. Pale gold in color, it is redolent with aromas of honey, melon, pineapple and a touch of banana. The flavor matches the nose, coupled with a subtle warming booziness. Medium bodied, it possesses a spicy vitality, wrapping things up with a bitter and dry finish. This sneaky number expertly hides its alcohol, fortifying the winter drinker coaxed by its fruity perfume into dreaming of warmer days.

Ben Lisle is an assistant professor of American Studies at Colby College. He lives among the breweries in Portland’s East Bayside, where he writes about cultural history, urban geography, and craft beer culture. Reach him on Twitter at @bdlisle.

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