Saturday, May 25, 2013

Breweries of Maine

I've been meaning to get around to this for a while, and hopefully once I get out of my current job and into something with somewhat human hours I can start writing relatively regularly again (just 2 more weeks).

Now, to be fair, before I met R my idea of a great dinner was putting frozen shrimp in a pot of ramen.  I was really proud of myself for that one, so inventive.  She's the one who taught me how to taste, who showed me what real cooking can be, and how much fun it can be.  I never grilled before I met her, now it's my favorite thing to listen to John Sterling call a Yankees game in the back, grill flaming away, beer in hand.  I use the beer to time my grilling, if you were wondering.

All that said, I really feel like R captured our culinary experiences in Maine beautifully, and I'm hoping she's planning another post to describe the lobster pound we basically maxed our credit cards at 3 days in a row (hint).  I don't feel there's a ton I can add about the food, so I'm going to talk about the beer instead.

Being a fan of craft brewing, I love living in the northeast.  R kind of humors me when we go on vacation, we always look up and visit at least one brewery near wherever we're staying even though she doesn't really drink.  Win-win for me, since at tastings I get to drink hers too if I like it.  Here, in order of visit, are the breweries in Maine we've visited and my thoughts on their brews:
The Liberal Cup
This little brewpub is just outside Augusta.  I went in expecting great things, as this was suggested by my sister-in-law, and my brother is a very good homebrewer.  That said, I really enjoyed their beers and I can see why a homebrewer would too.  It's been over a year (didn't stop there this year because we were stuffed to the gills by the time we hit Augusta) so some of my recollections may be a bit off, but I recall very bold, strong flavors.  What impressed me enough to leave a mark was that their beer was not overly hoppy, which some Maine beer tends to be, and they managed to create a lot of actual flavor from the grains.  Also, their beer is pretty powerful stuff.

Sebago Brewing Co
We stopped at their pub location in Portland on our first night, where I sampled a flight of beers and we split a blueberry cheesecake.  As a cheesecake and blueberry lover, I was pretty let down.  Beers were pretty generic and, frankly, watery.  That said, they had a decent porter and pale ale if you're in to that sort of thing.

Shipyard Brewing Co.
This may be one of two locations most people who have never been to Maine will know about.  I will say, the beers straight off brewery taps taste a lot better than bottles shipped across state lines.  They had some of their signature brews out, namely their Smashed Blueberry.  I was very impressed with the way they married the tartness of the blueberry with the caramel notes of a porter, making one fade into the other.  I wouldn't drink a lot of it in one go unless it were on a dare, but it was pretty tasty in a shotglass.

I also got a chance to show off my knowledge of the civil war when he pulled out the Chamberlain Pale Ale, so that was fun and probably annoying for everyone else.  I've always liked their Chamberlain Pale solely for the man they based it off, and the picture on the bottle.  One of the few great American statesman-soldiers.  But I digress.

Also interesting, we learned that Sea Dog is actually now owned by Shipyard.  I was surprised as the brewing styles are basically night and day, but apparently the line is a big money maker so I can't say I blame them.  Personally I like fruity beer, possibly because I am a bit of a fruitcake, but I have trouble drinking Sea Dog out of the bottle where it tends to get a bit tinny and oxidized, but I find it very tasty off the tap.
All that said, Shipyard tends towards the English style of hopping the crap out of everything.  Some of their beers, such as the Chamberlain Pale, the Smashed Blueberry, and their Summer ale were pretty well balanced and tasty.  Others I find downright difficult to drink.  It was still a great experience to tour and sample at a major brewery.

Baxter Brewing Co.
This is a baby in the brewing world, just opening its first brew in 2011.  It's also pretty unique in that it ships entirely in cans.  Their major brews were the export, summer, and one so apparently forgettable that I've forgotten it.  The export was frankly bad, pretty much a Molson knockoff with about the same amount of flavor, and I wasn't floored by the Summer ale but I would certainly drink it.  Where the master brewer really shined was in their signature beers (except the barley wine, which is always terrible and anyone who claims to like it is just being contrary).  They all packed good flavor profiles, and a good amount of hops.  I'm honestly interested to see what this brewery is doing next time we visit.

Atlantic Brewing Company
Unfortunately the gift shop and tasting bar were closed until after we left, but I visited them last year and got some of my favorites at local restaurants and their Bar Harbor location.  Beyond question, my favorite brew of theirs is the Island Ginger, if for nothing other than the uniqueness of the concept.  I would say it's a little underhopped and the Ginger can be tough to find unless you get it on draft, which you're probably only going to do in Bar Harbor.  Still a great beer if you like Ginger, which I do.

Bar Harbor Brewing Company
To clarify, this brewery is owned by Atlantic.  It wasn't clear to me if this was their local branch for signature beers or if they'd bought out the company at some point, but the two are now the same company.  That said, they are very distinct and I think Bar Harbor beats Atlantic by a mile.  The Thunder Hole Brown is not only a very amusing name (it's named after a very cool local landmark, in fact), but is the best brown ale I've ever had.  It's actually something of a fusion, brewed with roasted barley which results in very heavy caramel notes, the best way I can describe it is as a very light porter.

Also of note is their True Blue.  Yes, it's a blueberry beer, but it captures the distinctive Maine Blueberry perfectly.  The nose hits you right away with that tartness, but there is very little of the sweet fruitiness you'll find in, say, Sea Dog.  The body complements the nose while remaining its own flavor.  The only way to accurately describe this beer is delicious.  It also traveled well even in the back of a car for 2 days.  In fact, both the Thunder Hole and True Blue traveled remarkably well.

Hopefully I didn't miss or forget anything.  If anyone has feedback or wants to mention their own favorites then feel free to leave a comment so we can argue about how you're wrong.  Unless you agree with me, probably. 

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