Brewery Overview: Maine Beer Company

Maine Beer Co Lineup

Location: 525 US Route 1 Freeport, Maine. A very easy stop off of I-295 if you are in the area. Their tasting room offers flights and full pours of 8 selections, plus bottles to go. It is a welcoming place to sit and hang out, especially if you need to take a break from shopping at the outlets in downtown Freeport.

Website: http://www.mainebeercompany.com

Leadoff: Even though Boston is my home now I am a Mainer. I was born, raised and educated in the great state of Maine, so a brewery with the audacity to name itself after my home state needs to meet an extremely high standard in my mind. With their wide variety of well-made hop-focused beers, the Maine Beer Company in Freeport lives up to these high expectations.

Maine Beer Co PeeperStaple Beers:

Peeper Pale Ale: The first beer Maine Beer Company released, a light bodied, hoppy pale ale. Peeper started as a homebrew recipe made in a garage in Maine, and is now a flagship beer for the brewery.

Mo Pale Ale: While many hold out for MBC’s IPAs, you should really try Mo, a widely available and delicious pale ale. Mo has more malt body than Peeper, without the aggressive bitterness of an IPA.

Lunch IPA: One of the most sought after and respected IPAs in New England, and for a good reason. Tons of hop flavor and aroma balanced by just enough malt body, a must try for any hop-head.

Maine Beer Co Another OneOther Favorites: I love hoppy amber ales, especially in the fall and spring, and Zoe is one of my favorites. The fittingly named Another One is MBC’s “other” IPA, and holds up to the standard established by Lunch. Weez is Another One’s sister beer, a black IPA brewed with the same hop profile but very different malts. While MBC is mostly known for their hop-forward beers, you also need to try their dark and malty King Titus porter and Mean Old Tom stout. Don’t take the name of Lil One literally, this bold strong ale is a tasty mix of an American IPA and a boozy barleywine.

Unicorn Beers: Due to their popularity and relative scarcity you could list Lunch (or even Another One) in this category, but the big unicorn is Dinner, MBC’s occasionally brewed and highly sought after double IPA. A Dinner release results in lines at the brewery and people bragging about sleeping in their cars in the parking lot the night before. I have yet to try Dinner, but I’ve heard very good things.  

Beers I’d Still Like to Try: I’ve done a decent job tasting what this brewery offers, but haven’t tried Red Wheelbarrow or A Tiny Beautiful Something yet. They are both on my short list, along with Dinner. Maine Beer Company isn’t the type of brewery that releases 10 new beers a year, it is clear that each release is well thought out and tested.

Maine Beer Co 2013Collaborations: Maine Beer Company does occasional collaboration beers, usually with other Maine brewers like Allagash and Rising Tide. Keep an eye out for these, the releases I’ve tried have been spectacular.  

Charity Work: Maine Beer Company prints “Do What’s Right” on every bottle, and they put their money where their mouth is. 1% of gross sales go to environmental non-profits and they support a variety of local and national charities. They also take extra effort to use energy efficient and environmentally friendly products in all parts of the brewing process.

Final Thoughts: Maine Beer Company has established themselves as one of the premier craft brewers in all of New England. Their IPAs are considered some of the best in the region, and they do not disappoint. While they are proficient with the big hop flavors, you should really try the whole variety of beers they brew. I hope you enjoyed the first in my Brewery Overview Series, let me know what you think and I’ll keep working on the details!

 

Maine Beer Co. King Titus

Tomorrow I am planning on posting my first brewery overview article covering Maine Beer Company. As part of my research for this article, I have been tasting or re-tasting a few of their beers to get their work fresh in my head. I hope to make this a trend, posting a standard review right before the brewery overview. While Maine Beer Company is best known for their hop-forward brews, they also make a couple of darker/maltier beers. One of these selections is King Titus, an American porter. King Titus is named for a silverback gorilla, and part of the proceeds from every bottle go toward the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, one of the multitude of charities that Maine Beer Company routinely supports. King Titus is brewed with a laundry list of malts along with Centennial and Columbus hops. It is available year-round on draft and in 500 mL bottles.

Maine Beer Co King TitusMaine Beer Company King Titus pours a cola brown with a mild sand-colored head. The smell is dark and roast malts with just a touch of floral hops. The taste is also malt forward, lots of chocolate and coffee with a little caramel and nuttiness. There are some noticeable hops, touches of pine and grass along with a crisp bitterness, but nowhere near the hops you’d find in many of Maine Beer Company’s brews. King Titus has a full body without being overly heavy, at 7.5% ABV it is solidly boozy for a standard porter. The finish is a mixture of subtle maltiness and drying hops. I know MBC’s most popular beers are their IPAs (and for good reason, those beers are delicious), but you definitely shouldn’t sleep on King Titus. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Maine Beer Company Reviews:

Maine Beer Company Lunch, Maine Beer Co. Another One, Maine Beer Co./Allagash/In’finiti 2013 Ale, Maine Beer Co. Peeper

Mystic Descendant

Several factors cause the flavor of beer to change over time. In beers that haven’t been pasteurized (like most craft beers) residual yeast will continue to eat anything that is digestible, adding new flavors to the beer. The hop oils that lead to those beautiful aromas in hop-forward beers are volatile, so they dissipate over time. Most beer styles are best when the beer is fresh, but in some cases additional aging can be advantageous, leading to interesting new flavors. Typically higher alcohol, malt-forward beers are the best to age. Cellaring has become a hobby for many beer geeks, storing appropriate beers in a temperature-controlled environment for months to years. Each bottle is typically marked with its year of origin, which allows for vertical tasting, allowing the drinker to compare fresh beer with the aged. I don’t have much space in my current apartment, and haven’t done much cellaring, but occasionally I have the opportunity to taste some aged beers. I visited Mystic Brewery this summer and grabbed an aged version of Descendant (batch #002). Descendant is called a Suffolk dark ale, it’s a unique style that is part Irish stout, part English porter, and part Belgian dark (due to the use of Mystic’s house Renaud yeast strain). It is meant as a throwback to the older New England brewing tradition, so it is brewed with the addition of a popular ingredient in this area, molasses. If I was smart I would have grabbed a fresh bottle of Descendant for a direct comparison (I’ve had it before and enjoyed it), but I’m a moron and didn’t think of that until after I was enjoying the beer. Hopefully once I have some cellar space I’ll be able to try vertical aging.

Mystic DescendantMystic Descendant pours midnight black with a pillowy tan head. The scent is mostly dark malts, coffee and chocolate. The malts lead the flavor too, notes of mocha, molasses, dark chocolate, caramel, currant and plum. The Renaud house yeast is more muted here than in some of the saisons Mystic brews, but adds a layer of complexity with touches of pepper, apple and pear. There isn’t much hop character, but the beer drys out at the end and isn’t overly sweet. This is a full bodied beer, perfect for sipping on a cold winter evening. At 7.0% ABV Descendant isn’t a light beer but it’s also not as heavy as some of the burly imperial stouts that many brewers favor. The finish is clean with a little residual malt sweetness. This is a really good beer, complex, flavorful and drinkable. When/if I get a cellar system set up I will try and do some proper aging with Mystic Descendant. Hoppy Boston score 4.5/5.

Previous Mystic Reviews:

Mystic Vinland ThreeMystic Brewery visit and Day of Doom, Mystic Hazy Jane, Mystic Mary of the Gael, Mystic Vinland Two, Mystic Table Beer

Ommegang Valar Morghulis

When I reviewed Take the Black Stout, one of the early releases in Brewery Ommegang’s Game of Thrones beer series, I boldly predicted that the increase in popularity of craft beer would lead to many tie-ins and marketing promotions between breweries and movies or TV shows. It’s been over a year and my prediction hasn’t really panned out. There is apparently a series of beers based on the Hobbit movies, but they are brewed in Washington and not distributed to the East Coast. Other than that I haven’t heard of any of these types of collaborations (feel free to pass along any that I might have missed). I’m not really sure why, these Game of Thrones beers seem to fly off the shelf. I would imagine there is some hesitancy to market using an alcoholic beverage, and that some brewers feel like this type of collaboration would be “selling out”. I personally think it’s a fun way for a brewer to be creative, trying to come up with recipes that relate to specific scenes or characters in a show or movie. The newest release in the Game of Thrones series is Valar Morghulis, a Belgian style dubbel. I am a fan of the Game of Thrones show as well as the books (anyone who reads this blog regularly should realize my geekiness extends well beyond beer), and love this beer title. Valar Morghulis is a popular saying in Braavos and means “all men must die” and the coin on the label plays an important role in the show and books. Ommegang chose the title and style after an online fan vote. Ommegang Valar Morghulis is brewed with a series of specialty malts, Belgian Candi sugar, and Apollo and Hallertau hops. It is sold in 750 mL bottles for a limited time.

Ommegang Valar MorghulisOmmegang Valar Morghulis pours a deep amber with a moderate sand-colored head. The smell is a mixture of bready malts and a little fruity yeast. The taste is malt forward as you would expect from the style, touches of toasted bread, caramel, plum and raisin. The Belgian style yeast adds significant complexity with notes of apple, apricot, clove and pepper. The hops aren’t very evident in the flavor, but they dry out the finish a little and keep the beer from being too sweet. The beer is medium bodied and good to sip at 8% ABV. The fruity esters from the yeast come through more as the beer warms. This is a solid version of a Belgian dubbel, grab some for now or to enjoy with the premiere of the next season on HBO. You could even age a bottle until the next book comes out, it will still be good years from now and we might be waiting that long for a new book :). Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.

Previous Ommegang Reviews:

Ommegang Glimmerglass, Ommegang Take the Black Stout

H2H Beer Review: DIPA, Grey Sail Captain’s Daughter vs. Baxter Bootleg Fireworks

IPAs are big business for craft breweries. Beers falling under the IPA umbrella easily outpace other styles in volume of sales. American beer drinkers love the bold hoppy flavors and tongue numbing bitterness, pushing brewers to produce beers with ever climbing IBU and ABV numbers. There are very few breweries that don’t brew a flagship IPA, and many also make big and boozy double IPAs. A great DIPA can put your brewery on the map in the increasingly competitive market (just ask the Alchemist or Russian River), so it is no surprise that newer breweries work hard to perfect and then market their DIPAs. I recently picked up a couple of new and highly recommended DIPAs, sampled both and thought they would be perfect for a head-to-head beer review.

The Competitors: Two relatively new releases in the double IPA catagory, Captain’s Daughter from Grey Sail Brewing and Bootleg Fireworks from Baxter Brewing Company.

Grey Sail Brewing and Baxter Brewing Company actually have a lot in common outside of their locations (Grey Sail is headquartered in Rhode Island while Baxter is in Maine). Both breweries were founded in the last few years, long enough to gain a loyal local following but still new enough to be unfamiliar to many. Both breweries also predominantly can their beer for distribution, including the beers reviewed here (Grey Sail bottles a few special releases, Baxter only cans). I have enjoyed a number of selections from each brewery, enough so that I seek out anything new they release. Here is how these beers stack up:

Grey Sail Captain's DaughterA 12 oz. can of Grey Sail Captain’s Daughter pours a cloudy deep amber-orange with a moderate white head and some nice lacing on the glass. the hops dominate the smell, deep resin along with a little fruitiness. The hops are also the predominant flavor, a little more citrus and tropical fruit in the flavor than on the nose. There is significant bitterness balanced by a noticeable full malt backbone. The beer is full bodied and you get a little alcoholic sweetness followed by a dry finish. This is a very good beer for the winter months, the full flavor and 8.5% ABV will help keep you warm during a cold snap.

Baxter Bootleg FireworksBaxter Bootleg Fireworks comes in 16 oz. tallboy cans, pouring a lighter yellow with a massive white head. This is also hop forward, strong scents of pine and citrus on the nose. As expected Bootleg Fireworks is another hop-bomb, notes of lemon, grapefruit and orange along with floral and earthy touches. The maltiness is a little more subdued here, but the bitterness is not, this beer numbs the tongue a bit. Despite the aggressive hop flavor the beer is remarkably drinkable, even at 9.0% ABV you don’t get a hint of booze. This is a beer for the true hop lover, the flavors really shine through.

The Verdict: When I do a H2H review of two beers that I have enjoyed previously I know it will be tough to pick a favorite. It was a pleasant surprise to have the same issue with two beers that were completely new to me! Both of these beers are worth picking up if you enjoy hop forward selections. If you prefer a little more body and a touch of boozy sweetness to balance out the aggressive hops you will probably love the Grey Sail Captain’s Daughter. Personally I enjoyed the Baxter Bootleg Fireworks just a hair more as it was slightly easier to drink and the combination of hop varieties was perfect for my palate. Baxter Bootleg Fireworks gets the win here.

Previous Grey Sail Reviews: Grey Sail Leaning Chimney Smoked Porter

Previous Baxter Reviews: Baxter TarnationBaxter Phantom Punch Stout

Dogfish Head Burton Baton

I love a good porter or saison, but the IPA remains my favorite beer style. When I was first making the transition from the cheap macro lagers served at college keggers to the diverse styles offered by craft breweries there were a few beers that nurtured my love for the IPA. One was the omnipresent Harpoon IPA, which quickly became my go-to beer when I moved to Boston. Another was Dogfish Head 60 minutes IPA. Compared to the English-style IPAs that were made by many local brewers, the continually hopped 60-minute (and it’s big-brother 90 minute) were my first introductions to the hop-bomb IPA styles. I imagine some younger beer drinkers would find 60 Minute IPA to be relatively mild (if still delicious) compared to some newer offerings. With all of the history I have with Dogfish Head I was a little surprised to realize that I hadn’t reviewed any of their beers for Hoppy Boston yet. Today I’ll amend that by reviewing Burton Baton, a barrel aged IPA. Burton Baton is actually a mixture of an English old ale and an IPA, brewed separately then mixed and aged in oak barrels for a month. While I love some barrel-aged stouts, I am undecided of aged IPA’s. One of my favorite parts of hoppy beers is the aroma, and some of this is lost with aging. Since this beer is more of a hybrid, and I trust the brewery, I thought it would be more fun to review Burton Baton over the ubiquitous 60 and 90 minute IPAs.

Dogfish Head Burton BatonDogfish Head Burton Baton pours a tangerine orange with a moderate but quickly dissipating white head. The scent is a mixture of floral hops and some oaky notes. The taste is hop forward but not in the palate-wrecking hop-bomb way that you get with West coast style IPAs. There are touches of pine, lemon and grass along with a bit of bitterness. The malts are also well represented, adding substantial caramel and grainy bread to the flavor. The aging clearly supplements the hops and malt, the distinct flavor of vanilla and oak comes through strong. At 10% ABV this is a big beer and the sweet and warming flavor of the alcohol is evident. I am still not completely sold on barrel-aging IPAs or similar hop-forward beers, just a personal preference. That being said, this is a solid offering with a complex and tasty flavor profile. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.

Slumbrew American Fresh Tap Room at Assembly Row

My wife and I have hit the phase in our lives where the idea of going out to an overpriced and overcrowded bar in order to ring in the New Year with a bunch of drunken strangers is far from appealing. The last few New Years have been spent sharing some quality beverages in the comfort of our home. Instead of the crowds at night we have started to do a New Years Eve lunch, find a fun spot and have a good afternoon meal with some of the money we saved staying in at night. This New Years we went over to Assembly Row in Somerville, the new hotspot for shopping and dining. As part of this mid-day trip I finally made it to the American Fresh Taproom, the beer garden opened by Somerville Brewing Company aka Slumbrew. The taproom was initially supposed to open in the late summer, but there were a series of issues with special ordered building materials that delayed the opening. It is very accessible between on site parking and the new Assembly Station MBTA stop on the orange line.

Slumbrew American Fresh TaproomThe American Fresh Taproom is designed as an open air beer garden, but during the winter months the side flaps come down and it is a heated tent. We were there on a particularly chilly afternoon and were quite comfortable under the tent. They serve a selection of food from charcuterie and snacks to sandwiches. The atmosphere is very casual, that afternoon there were a number of families with younger children enjoying food and drinks as well as a group of people playing Jenga. There were a number of posters in the tent advertising events ranging from afternoon meet-ups for stay at home moms and dads to trivia nights. It is clear that the taproom is meant to be welcoming to all, a great philosophy in a big shopping area that includes family destinations like LEGOLAND.

All of the beers available at American Fresh Taproom are brewed by Slumbrew, from their flagships like Happy Sol and Porter Square Porter to seasonals like Attic and Eaves and Yankee Swap. They also have Assembly Row Ale, a tap-room only selection, which was the beer I chose to try. Assembly Row Ale is a Double IPA that drinks smooth for 9.2% ABV and packs some great hop flavor and bitterness. This beer alone is worth the trip out to the taproom, next visit I may grab a growler and do a full review. This is one of the most unique local taprooms, I love the idea of an open-air beer garden, and Slumbrew really pulled off their vision. I can’t wait to go back this spring/summer when the weather gets warm!