Saturday, July 30, 2011

Travelin' Maine(rs)

To no one's surprise, my parents also appreciate good beer. In fact, I am not sure my father has ever been prouder than the day I took up homebrewing. (Just keep the free beer coming, right, Dad?) The two of them also love to travel and eat and thus the Travelin' Maine(rs) were born. This column / blog allows the two of them to travel to some of Maine's best inns and restaurants and write up the experience. (And get some more free stuff...) Not a bad deal.

Their latest article highlighted the Maine Beer Trail and included a guest appearance by yours truly.

GET SOME EXERCISE: Take a hike on the Maine Beer and Wine Trails

Kennebec Journal, 7/25/11

The Travelin Maine(rs), George and Linda Smith of Mount Vernon, have spent their lifetimes enjoying all that Maine has to offer. Now they’ll tell you all about it — their favorite inns, restaurants, trips, activities, experiences, and travel books and websites — in their own personal style. They’ll be offering anecdotes, tips and all the details you need. So join them in exploring, experiencing and enjoying the great state of Maine.

The best hikes in Maine are on the Maine Beer Trail. And you don't need hiking boots!

Our state has gone from a wasteland to a wonderland of beer brewing. We've established an international reputation for finely crafted beers and many brew masters welcome you into their facilities for tours and tastings.

The Maine Brewers Guild provides maps and a list of brewery tours including days and hours. Some of the breweries include restaurants. Prizes are awarded if you visit 5, 10 or all 25 breweries on the trail. As if you needed any incentive.

Today's column includes a piece by our son Joshua Smith, who works for My Brothers Keeper, serving the poor in Brockton, Massachusetts. We're very proud of Josh, especially for his commitment to public service. He is also a home-brewer and writer with his own beer blog, and we're stealing a piece he wrote after visiting the Penobscot Bay Brewery in Winterport, also the site of the very fine Winterport Winery.


During those cold winter months, many hunker down and put on a warm mug of cocoa. I decided to go the other way with it. Since 2008, I have rounded up a few friends, driven to northern Maine, and enjoyed a few cold beers.

Previous destinations included Ebenezer's Pub, Oak Pond Brewing, Bray's Brew Pub, Great Lost Bear, Sea Dog Brew Pub and Shipyard Brewing. The road less-traveled, I guess.

This year, on our way to a University of Maine hockey game in Orono, I arranged for a visit to Penobscot Bay Brewery in Winterport, operated by Mike and Joan Anderson who also own Winterport Winery.

They were kind enough to invite us for a tour despite being officially closed for the winter. It's a very nice facility with kitchen, tasting room, gift shop, winery and brewery -- all overlooking the Penobscot River.

This small brewery opened in 2009. Mike gave us a very entertaining tour, tracing each piece of brewing equipment back through its previous owners. While the room had the feel of a garage, I was impressed with how well-organized and clean the whole operation was.

Needless to say, Mike isn't haphazardly throwing handfuls of chipotle peppers into the brew pot like I do when home brewing.

The tasting room is simply beautiful, with shelves jammed with fruit wines, winery merchandise and local Maine products. They even sell Bay Brew Ice Cream, made with their own Half Moon Stout! My stout float was indescribable.

On tap were their Old Factory Whistle Scottish Ale, Stout and Wheat and Brown Ale. It made for a very enjoyable and tasty afternoon. Because you can only get Penobscot Bay's beers in Maine, this is a great stop on any beer trip.


Shipyard dominates Maine's microbrewing industry, so it's no surprise they their Portland facility offers the best tour, complete with a video, tour of the bottling process and tastings of my favorite Shipyard beers (be sure to try the Pugsley series). To get inside the huge brewery itself, reserve a space online for their Tuesday-night tour.

Bar Harbor Brewing Company produces one of my all-time favorites, Cadillac Mountain Stout, so Linda and I stopped by the brewery for a tour during our June visit to Bar Harbor. There's not a lot to see in a brewery, so a good tour guide is essential.

At Bar Harbor, our guide was a young guy named Ezra, nicely seasoned in his fourth year at the brewery. He was very humorous. He encouraged us to taste the ingredients that go into their beers, including barley, a chocolate malt that tasted like burned brownies and oats that Ezra claimed to eat out of the vat for breakfast.

He saved the worst for last, a hop he described as "bittery, sour candy with a hint of grass clippings." It was worse than described and stuck with me for a couple of hours.

Shipyard, as it does for a number of beer makers, brews some of Bar Harbor's beers, "but we send them our own yeast and recipe," Ezra was quick to point out.

The tasting went on for a while, helped by a tasty snack of pretzels dipped in Raye's mustard. I learned that another favorite brew, Coal Porter, is great in chili and beef stew. Who knew?

Last week up to the Forks, we enjoyed a visit at Northern Outdoors resort including a tour of their Kennebec River Brewery. Jim Yearwood and Mike McConnell spent a lot of time telling us about their brewing process. I really enjoy the smaller brewers that don't have established tours -- they just love to tell you about their beer, anytime you show up.

All but their IPA is consumed at the resort, so you'll need to get up there to see if you agree with me -- their smoky porter is superb. For the record, Lin liked the summer ale best.


Really good barbecue is hard to find. Once you've had great barbecue, you're always looking for a place close-by.

Lately, I've noticed more barbecue places popping up in Maine. Thank goodness. My theory is that restaurants specializing in good barbecue have figured out the perfect way to season and slowly smoke meats. Many have also created their own great barbecue sauce.

So when we noticed that one of Bar Harbor's two Mainely Meat BBQ restaurants was right next to the Bar Harbor brewery, we decided we had to try it. And we're soooo glad we did!

All of their sandwiches (chicken, hamburger, veggie burger, and pulled pork) come with choice of chips, potato salad or coleslaw for $7.71.

We ordered the pulled pork and it was absolutely delicious -- lots of tender pork with a choice of barbecue sauces. Dinner choices include ribs, chicken, hot Italian sausage and steak ($10 to $15) and a sampler plate.

We dined inside at a long high table with bar stools, but there's also a screened-in porch with lots of seats. The atmosphere is casual and friendly.


Join us this summer on the tastiest trail in the state: the Maine Beer Trail. And check out Josh's beer blog!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Out of the brewpot

Time to rank the homebrews! Sadly, my last two were just good, not great. Expectations are high though for my upcoming Belgian Pale Ale and Black IPA!

Josh's Homebrew Pilgrimage Porter, Score: 5
a chocolate raspb
erry porter named for my annual winter trek up to maine for some beer and hockey. raspberry flavoring extract was used simply because pounds of fresh ones would have been ridiculously expensive. real unsweetened baker's chocolate was used however, to not entirely positive results. super sweet raspberries absolutely dominate the aroma and are fairly appealing. chocolate joins in flavor but the extreme dryness of texture gives distinct impression of cocoa powder. mouthfeel is still creamy but well-carbonated. ultimately, the excessive dryness imparted by chocolate proves to be fatal flaw for me. lot of potential but ends up being a sipper of a dessert beer.

Josh's Homebrew It Must Be Wedding Saison, Batch 2, Score: 6
the first recipe that i have brewed twice, this time in honor of dan and dena's wedding. sadly, this did not turn out quite as well as homebrew #7. much of the blame goes to the fact that i couldn't come up with the same yeast as the first time around... far more spiced and peppery than i was looking for. earthy yeast, light fruity bitterness, and balancing malts defined the beer once again. also dried out a little more and heavier in body, but still sessionable. good not great.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Nanobreweries on the rise

The Boston Globe ran a good article yesterday about the rise of nanobreweries in Massachusetts. New nanobreweries mentioned included Notch Brewing, Wormtown Brewery, Idle Hands Craft Ales, Jack’s Abby, Mystic Brewery, Night Shift, Trillium Brewing, and Wandering Star Brewing. Of these, I have only sampled the Notch Session Pils (which was pretty good.) Looks like there is some work to be done!

Where others see barroom taps crowded with beer options, Chris Lohring sees opportunity brewing.

Lohring is manufacturing and packaging two new beers, Notch Session Ale and Notch Session Pils, using equipment he leases from Ipswich Ale Brewery. Introduced this spring, those beers, which feature a lower-than-usual alcohol content, aim to capitalize on a growing thirst for locally made brews, following a trail blazed a generation ago by brands like Sam Adams and Harpoon and more recently by the likes of Dogfish Head and Stone Brewing Co., regional craft breweries that have built national followings.

Lohring has plenty of company these days. In Framingham, brothers Jack, Eric, and Sam Hendler just produced the first kegs of Jack’s Abby, a line of handcrafted lagers being brewed in a former welding shop. Boston will soon get another home brew of its own, too. Last week, Trillium Brewing Co. was granted a municipal license to begin production at its Congress Street facility, the first step in a process that could have it up and running by early next year.

“It’s almost like the recession caused a wave of Yankee ingenuity,’’ says Bryan Greenhagen, founder of Mystic Brewery in Chelsea, yet another start-up coming online soon. Adds Greenhagen, whose resume includes cofounding an industrial fermentation company: “Everyone is doing a different take on brewing. It’s exciting.’’

To beer specialist Andrew Crouch, author of “Great American Craft Beer,’’ New England is merely catching up with California and other parts of the country already experiencing their own craft beer boomlets. “These aren’t accountants looking for a second career,’’ Crouch says. “They’re social-media savvy, entrepreneurially minded people who are willing to take risks - and who tend to brew more eclectic, experimental beers’’ of limited appeal to mass-market tastes.

This new wave of niche breweries is the most noteworthy since the mid-1990s. Normally, between 100 and 200 breweries start up each year, according to the Colorado-based Brewers Association, an organization representing some 1,760 craft brewers nationally. (A craft brewer is defined as one with an annual production of 6 million barrels or less.) However, the number of craft brewers is up a noteworthy 8 percent since 2009 - and more than 60 percent in the past five years. Sales of existing breweries rose 12 percent in 2010, to $7.6 billion, from the previous year, another measure of these niche brews’ growing popularity.

In March, meanwhile, the association reported an additional 618 breweries in the planning stages. The association’s Massachusetts chapter, which currently lists 28 members, added at least eight new breweries in the past 18 months, with Wandering Star in Pittsfield and Jack’s Abby being among the latest of the marketplace entries.

How many will survive the long haul? No one knows. Greenhagen estimates it takes sales of 2,000 to 5,000 barrels a year to become profitable, a number Ipswich Brewery’s Rob Martin, who heads the Massachusetts Brewers Guild, questions. He says it’s more like 10,000 barrels annually before the necessary economies of scale are realized and profitability reliably flows...

Like the lagers and ales they lovingly produce, these new-generation breweries come in a variety of production models. At the lowest end are the so-called nanobreweries, beer-makers that produce fewer than 100 barrels annually, or roughly two to six kegs per batch. Like Notch, they often rely on bigger bricks-and-mortar breweries to make the beer they formulate, package, and sell. A six-pack of Notch - which keeps its alcohol content below 4.5 percent, while most craft beers run 6 percent and higher - normally retails for about $9, says Lohring.

Idle Hands Craft Ales and Night Shift, both of which will brew in Everett, are among the newest locally owned nanos. Idle Hands owner Christopher Tkach typifies the new breed of New England brewmeister. A 38-year-old software engineer, he is converting a passion for home-brewing into a business that’s focused, at least initially, on making Belgian-style beer, an Old World favorite.

Tkach has invested around $50,000 of his own money in the operation - for now, he wants to keep total control over product and distribution - while awaiting his state brewing license, so he can actually get started. “It will be a true nano, at least for now,’’ says Tkach.

Larger in both scale of operation and capital investment are the microbreweries (up to 1,000 barrels annually). Local start-ups Wormtown Brewery (Worcester), Cape Ann Brewing (Gloucester), Wandering Star, and Jack’s Abby, among others, fall into this category.

Friday, July 8, 2011

ProPho: Off the beaten tap

Chili peppers, watermelon, and other oddities
By Josh Smith | June 21, 2011

Once upon a time beer was made with just four ingredients: malts, hops, yeast, and water. Today there's seemingly no limit to what can be thrown into the brew pot. For experimentally-minded brewers, the world is their oyster . . . which coincidentally enough is an option too!

Exotic ingredients often take their roots in exotic styles, which is true for the ever
-creative Sam Calagione and DOGFISH HEAD BREWERY. Most beers in their profile incorporate something unusual, whether it is raisins (RAISON D'ETRE), lemongrass (NAMASTE), ginger (PANGAEA), or Chrysanthemum flowers (CHATEAU JIAHU). My favorite is SAH'TEA, a take on the Finnish Sahti, a style using juniper berries, chai tea, and almost an entire spice rack! The chai thankfully plays only a supporting role in the flavor, resulting in a very drinkable, original beer.

Another ancient style requiring unusual ingredients is Scottish Gruits, popularized by the pioneering WILLIAMS BROTHERS BREWING. Gruits utilized several natural ingredients before hops were widely available. FRAOCH HEATHER ALE uses heather flower tips to play on the mouth like a hop, creating a fruity, light, and lovely balanced beer. Similarly, ALBA SCOTS PINE ALE uses pine twigs and spruce buds for an herbal, even spicy brew. Even more ambitious (but less successful) is their KELPIE SEAWEED ALE, a dark, earthy and, yes, salty beer that tastes a lot like a thin Porter.

At this point spices are routinely used when brewing so it takes something pretty unusual to make an impression. SAMUEL ADAMS did just that in their most recent Longshot pack with HONEY B'S LAVENDER ALE, a pretty decent beer with only a hint of lavender. Subtly is often the name of the game when dealing with spices, which is why SAISON DU BUFF — a collaborative brew from STONE, DOGFISH HEAD, and VICTORY — fell flat for me. Victory's version of this brew incorporating parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme was not only gimmicky, but a clash between hops and spices.

Fruit Beers also seem old hat by now. I can think of beers using apple, apricot, blackberry, blueberry, cherry, cranberry, orange, raspberry, and strawberry, off the top of my head. But some fruits still seem odd when you see them on the beer shelf. Take 21ST AMENDMENT'S HELL OR HIGH WATERMELON, essentially a watermelon Jolly Rancher in a bottle. MAUI'S COCONUT PORTER is an inspired idea that works pretty well for this dark, sweet beer. And WELLS BANANA BREAD BEER goes beyond the flavor of banana conjured in some European styles to actually brewing with bananas. Unfortunately, this tastes more like banana candy than real beer.

An ingredient that continues to capture my imagination is chili peppers. ROGUE'S CHIPOTLE ALE has a smoky flavor with the distinct taste of pepper (as in salt and pepper.) DOGFISH HEAD'S THEOBROMA took a more successful route with the heat of ancho chilis cut by taste of sweet honey and cocoa malt. I love how the spiciness of the chilis comes through but still fits into the beer, with the spice making your tongue tingle like a Double IPA might. That said I've avoided the infamous ORIGINAL C C
AVE CREEK CHILI BEER, a beer with an entire Serrano pepper in the bottle.

But back to the oysters. Stouts and oysters have long been recognized as a natural pairing, so it was only a matter of time before brewers put them together for us. HARPOON ISLAND CREEK OYSTER STOUT, from their 100 Barrel Series, would certainly go well with oysters, but I wouldn't have noticed their presence but for a hint of salt in the middle of the flavor.

And if you think these beers sound odd, I still haven't gotten my hands on some of th
e most unusual creations. Like NECTAR ALES HUMBOLDT BROWN using toasted hemp, or PIZZA BEER COMPANY'S MAMMA MIA! PIZZA BEER that steeps an entire Margherita pizza in the brew! MIKKELLER takes the prize, however, for BEER GEEK BACON and BEER GEEK BRUNCH WEASEL, the latter using coffee beans made from the droppings of a civet cat — a Vietnamese weasel! Believe it or not, both are supposed to be excellent.

So don't be afraid. Beers that extend frontiers aren't only good for craft beer, they're often just plain good.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Beer + Food + Providence X 2... a winning equation. Or, to put it in common English, we had a couple of great beer dinners in Providence last week. Firstly, Kelly and I tried to duplicate one of our favorite beer experiences: a beer dinner at Julian's in Providence. The dinner with Stone last year was easily a Top 5 beer experience, so expectations were high for Dogfish Head this past Sunday.

Highlights from the six courses included Namaste and a Tarragon Peach Scallop Seviche -- I thought there was a little too much going on with the dish but it was one of Kelly's favorites. A 2010 Pangaea (8) with Spicy Asian Greens in Lavender-Honey Vinaigrette worked a little better for me, although the pepper encrusting the goat cheese was too spicy. The malt profile and 15% ABV in the 2010 Olde School (6) did a nice job cutting into the fat of the Chipotle-Pineapple Roasted Pork Loin.

Saffron Marinated Duck Skewers, a palate-cleansing Lemon Buttermilk Sherbert, and Rhubarb Raisin Tart were solid, but the beers theyand were paired with stole the show. Red & White (9), 2009 World Wide Stout (7), and 2007 Raison D'Extra (6) were all better than my first tasting. The 2010 Sah'tea (9) and 2008 Fort (7) weren't too shabby either. The narration was a highlight once again and made up for the slightly-too-slow pace for the evening. It was not cheap at $90 a pop, but not unreasonable either considering these were some of Julian's last kegs after Dogfish pulled out of the state.

La Laiterie at Farmstead on Providence's East Side has been highly recommended to me by several people. While they have only four taps, mini-kegs mean they are constantly rotating the selections. Of course, it is the ambiance and local artisinal menu that draws people in.

With good reason too. We started with a cheese board of cow and goat cheese. The soft, salty Cremont was one of the best we've ever tried. The grilled cheese was almost as good with more goat cheese, house-cured bacon, and braised fennel with a side of polenta fries and garlic aioli. To close the night we had a root beer float made with Maine Root soda, bourbon, and homespun vanilla ice cream.

McNeill's Warlord IPA (6), Southampton Double White, Mayflower Summer Rye (and a cider) were on tap, but oddly the bartender was unable and unwilling to tell me which brewer each beer was from. Amazingly, with only four taps La Laiterie could still vie for the title of top beer bar in town someday... if only they put a fraction of the effort involved in putting together a cheese board into formulating their tap list. Here's to hoping.