Maine: Interlude 2007, Allagash, Portland

Twenty-four bucks? What was I doing last decade? I have only a few of these aged big bottles left. I gave up a long time ago on trying to keep the cellar up. One of the few beers left from the days of glory, the era of beer blog ad revenue. I was throwing around the cash like a madman. Pretending that I mattered like some current era communicator. Stan actually mocked me about this beer in particular. But that was back in the day when folk weren’t questioning the fleece. Or at least when 2000 brewers weren’t making something good and sour for half the price. You know, the 75 comments under that post from some pretty interesting names are all… pretty interesting – but it’s as if they thought we would all be drinking $60 beers by now. Really? How did that turn out? Market forces thought otherwise. Bulk fine craft FTW!

It’s 40º C out there. Seven week drought might end tomorrow. Worst summer for rain since 1888. Nutty. I just need a reasonably interesting beer. I just need it not to suck. I pulled it out of the cellar, stuck it in the fridge by the orange juice and the milk bags. [Canada. Go figure.] Hey… it doesn’t. It’s good. Still and a bit thick but in no sense off. Fresh with a lighter lingering finish than expected. The colour of aged varnished pine. An orange hue at the edge. On the nose, warm whisky sweet with autumn fruit, brown sugar and grain as well as a fresh Worchestershired yogurty hum. Pear and fig. The baked fruit crisp you dream of. The second half pint pour generates a lovely subdued tang when rinsed about the gums. Like 90% barley wine with maybe 10% old gueuze. Or less. Just a hint. And all those whispers of rich deep malty grain huskiness still there. Lovely.

Am I glad I spent $24 for this nine years ago? I’m sure I don’t care. Do you know how much I have spent on diapers and winter tires since then? It makes me want. And I just want a thick bacon sandwich. I have asked a child younger than this beer to bring me a chunk of the slab of Vermont cheddar we are working on. Fabulous. Rewarding. The espresso of a grain field. Big BAer love and deservedly so.

The Private Thoughts Of Maine’s Bartenders

I have no beer in hand. Not I. I have a Manhattan. More than once in a while in the summer – and it still is summer – I like the clink of ice in glass. So it was with some interest that I read an article from Portland Maine’s community web news site, Switch, that a pal had sent me. It was about the best and worst of the working lives of a number of Portland’s finest bartenders. Most of the bartenders seem to work in cocktail places but my pal sent it to give me the gears as he pointed out that a “guy at novare res, the snooty beer bar, says that on a bad day “for me, nothing beats an ice cold miller – the champagne of beers.” Novare Res man also said a number of other things like:

Describe the atmosphere at your bar: Novare Res is a pretty laid back beer bar. Most requested drink: It’s all about the beer. Mmmmmm … beer.
Worst drink to mix: When I worked with a full bar, martinis were always the worst. Best drink for the worst day: For me, nothing beats an ice cold Miller High Life … Champagne of Beers…
Personal drink favorite: There’s a brown ale that we carry at Novare that’s amazing, and I’m a sucker for Miller Chill…

Well, as I learned in Lansing the other week, there is a proper time for Miller High Life and its not just at the end of a bad day. And just because you work in a great Belgian beer bar in Maine, well, it doesn’t mean you have to like the stuff, right? But shouldn’t he have narrowed it down a bit more that “a brown ale that we carry”… and what’s the hell is with the Miller Chill? Best line of any of the bartenders:

Worst drink to mix: Allen’s Coffee Brandy and milk, or “Fat Ass in a Glass.” Just mixing one makes me question humanity.

A few years ago I wrote a post about how Allen’s Coffee Brandy was the most popular drink in Maine but in all the years that I have visited there, I never met anyone who drank it. Pity those who work the front lines, the ones who have no choice but to serve “Fat Ass in a Glass” when the customer says so.

About Oaked Beer: Musette, Allagash, Portland, Maine

Along with the Sour Beer Studies, there are other classes of beers that set themselves apart in some way other than reflecting traditional styles. Brewers are reintroducing techniques like beer on the wood to explore the limits of what beer can be and we’ll look at them in this series. Dave Line in his 1974 text The Big Book of Brewing wrote about using wooden casks from a home brewing perspective at a time when he saw it as a dying art:

It is a great thrill to draw your own beer from the wood. The management of this beer is an art and it may take years to develop all the skills. I am by no means an expert, but I take comfort in the fact that I am learning the art of one of our most treasured crafts, and that perhaps my efforts will prolong the traditions of our heritage.

Musette by Allagash is another nod to that tradition, this particular one aged on bourbon barrels for three months and then bottled in May 2006 – 32 years after Line feared for the loss of the heritage. At 10% it certainly reflects Line’s preference that beers attempted to be aged on wood be high gravity. At opening, there was a breath of autumn apple from the bottle that stayed with the ale after the pour, providing maybe a hint of calvados mixed with the raisin-malty aroma. It pours a thick clingy white foam head over deep orange amber ale. In the mouth plenty of roundness of raisin, date and apple with a Belgian musty yeast all cut by a hardwood vanilla dryness from the oak with a bit of tea astringency in the finish. Described by the brewer as aimed at the Belgian made Scotch ales like this silly one reviewed last January, the effect is somewhere between dubbel and barleywine. Very nice but not cheap at $15.59 USD for 750 ml.

Eating In Portland

In case you are wondering we are doing OK but you would be if you had Beal’s Ice Cream (hard ice cream specialists), Red’s Dairy Freeze (soft serve specialists), Maine Diner on the way here (lobster roll and chowder), Gritty McDuff’s (lamb burder and cask ale), 3 Dollar Dewey’s (fish sandwich but shockingly no smoked fish chowder), baseball game hot dogs (plain please), Beale Street BBQ (bulk ribs…say that again…bulk ribs), Scratch Baking Co. (blondies and peabean coffee) and a trip to Hannaford for a side of salmon and enough scallops to stuff seven for under thirty-eight bucks.  Scratch Baking was a bit of a surprise.  Even though it is a few blocks away, I had it in my head it was pricey.  Not so.  Blondies for $1.75.  And fine beer and wine, too.  Achoffe IPA and a half Cantillon for $6.99.  Nutty.  But seeing as owner Bob co-founded Magic Hat Brewing of Burlington, VT it makes sense.  Portland is the new Burlington, you know.

Gritty McDuff’s, Portland and Freeport, Maine, USA

Gritty McDuff’s Brewpub, Portland
 

I got to visit both the Portland and Freeport locations of the oldest brewpub in Maine within 24 hours. I am glad to say the brew in each is fine even if the setting of the Freeport pub is a bit rough. It is a bit like drinking in an old storage shed though – to be very fair – it is clearly a summer spot and dropping in during a late winter snow storm did not show it to its best. I liked the food in both spots.

 

 

 

 

If I was in Freeport again I probably would stop in for a stout but if you are heading to visit just one, go to Portland. In each you can see bench seating which is fairly common in New England and Atlantic Canada but less so as you move west. Superb. Their use of rolled raw barley creates a creamy mouthfeel that out strips Guinness anyday. It is like melted ice cream…ok…it reminds me of melted ice cream with a pin-fine nitro beige head above black malt roasty double devon. It is exceptional.

 

 

 

 

I also tried the Scotch Ale in the Freeport location and was similarly impressed. I sometime wonder about the style and whether you can put anything in it you want as long as it has less hops and a black malt roughness. This offering has an orangey hue as well as that flavour in the mouth – a nod to Scotch seville marmadade? The fruitiness is counteracted with the rough black malt, subdued green hop and a slight smokey feel. With an additional tangy edge, the overall effect is slightly Belgian and slightly Scots. Very nice and at 6.3% a wee methodical ale worth deconstructing over an afternoon’s sip.

So definitely worth the visit for the ales, Portland for the ales and the location. Gritty’s also bottles its own – or at least has it contract brewed somewhere – which you can pick up pretty much anywhere in southern Maine. I think I brought a quart of Black Fly home for further study. Below are some shots from the Freeport location which you can click on for a larger view.

Stouts: Fresh Draught Stout, Maine Coast Brewing, USA

This is a smooth cream stout that goes off in a direction that I just don’t quite get. A beige ring over really dark black ale. It has chocolate, licorice and roast barley notes but also a somewhat odd Mennonite apple butter thing in the middle. Not unpleasant but really big and malty like you might expect in an imperial stout but this brew has none of the whallop one of those packs. If it was called porter I would not be surprised either but it still wouldn’t be right. Am I a stylistic prude?

Neat to see these guys brew six different stouts…but none called Fresh Draught Stout. Maybe its the Black Irish Stout as one beer advocate notes that it has an “agreeably lithe fruitiness of a vaguely pruneish nature emerges mid palate and lends a blurred bitter cocoa dusted dark fruit contrast.” Wheee-yew! And I thought I was a ripe little adjective squeezer.

From Baaah Haaabaaah, State O’Maine. Something like $5.65 US a half gallon at RSVP Liquors in Portland Maine.

Four North East IPAs

4ipa

PA’s Tröegs Hopback, southwest NY’s Southern Tier,
Ithaca’s Flower Power and Maine’s Shipyard.
Porter lost out to India Pale Ale somewhere in the mid-1800s. The style came out of the export trade to the British soldiers in the Empire – by brewing double strength and double hopped, the ale travelled better and was expected to be diluted when it got there. Plan B was rapidly brought into play. In the revival of beer making that has occurred over the last twenty years, big hops and big body have been something of a flagship for each brewer. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. These suds are all in the game. You’ve seen the Ithacan before but now it is with compadres.

As an aside, this is something that has not taken off in Canada in the same way. If there is a great hopped ale it is more in the English style like the excellent Propeller ESB out of Halifax. The micro-micro brewery at Rogue’s Roost also in Halifax made small batches of wonderful IPAs but they were not a hit with the crowd and ended up dry-hopped in corny kegs (ie soda pop canisters) for the select crowd of Lorne’s pals. I have not had a micro in Ontario that went anywhere near where either Nova Scotian went – even they are “IPA lite” compared to any number of available brews from below the border. Can enyone suggest a rival for these four?

Southern Tier IPA:This beer is not so complex as either the Ithaca or Tröegs examples but that is not necessarily a bad thing. At the end there is a bit of alcohol heat which is expected at 6.5%. Woodsy hopping feels more like Fuggles than Goldings but there is a bit of the orange peel of the latter as well. Not real green or minty, either. Spicy, however, and with the extra body it is not unlike or perhaps a good compliment to a Sussex Golden Ginger Ale. A bit heavy to be a session beer. The Beer Advocate reviews are positive and I will buy biscuity but I am not finding the hops grapefruity. That all does go to the problem of describing taste as no one is really wrong to a certain point. Located at the very south western corner of New York, the Southern Tier Brewery is a worthy new find for me.

Ithaca Flower Power IPA: I wrote about this one before but it is good to be a standard. In fact, of the ales tested, Ithaca Flower Power IPA and Brooklyn Brown are real winners so far. This time I am impressed by the balance of the Flower Power without recourse to a particularly heavy or heady body. The brewery tells us:

Available April 1 – September 31. Elegantly traditional and rich in its hop character, this India Pale Ale is thirst-quenching and soul-satisfying. Each sip delivers a bounty of herbal and floral hop character, balanced by the fruity signature of our house yeast. Cheers! This seasonal product is available only on draft, 1/4 bbl keg, or 1/2 bbl keg.

The website is a bit behind as I am clearly drinking a bottle. The lads at the Beer Advocate think it may be a session beer but that would be like eating arugula all evening instead of dill pickle chips. I like this opinion:

It kind of sneaks up on you, through the easy going, crunchy, jam band listening feel. The oak is very distinct, meeting a walnut yeast flavor and balancing biscuity grain. A lingering woody hop flavor, with a bit of grainy malt sticking to the back of the tongue. Medium bodied, with soft but steady carbonation. A bit of a rough-hewn mouthfeel, with all the earth, wood and grain going on.

I like it. A very earthy, natural feel. The graininess is somewhat like an organic ale, and the oak flavor really conjures up a cask feel. It’s a nice enough IPA, but perhaps a little more bite would make it better. Some of that herbal, piney oiliness. Regardless, I like the woody, earthy feel, it creates character and makes the brew distinct.That is it! Arugula. The beer has that bit of black pepper zing with vegetative green in the hops that is like the green aka roquette. Damn good beer.

Tröegs Hopback Amber Ale: far left, this beer is pretty fine, a notch above medium body, a fresh hops profile, fairly sweet from crystal malts with a light citrus edge through it. The brewer says:

Tröegs HopBack Amber gets its unique name and taste from the HopBack Vessel in our brewhouse. Packed full of whole flavor hops, each batch circulates through the vessel, creating a fresh hoppy aroma, spicy taste and rich caramel note that defines this signature amber ale.

It is rich, mellow, satisfying and quite morish and the Beer advoates approve. It is not as molar janglingly hopped as other pale ales or IPAs US brewers will throw at you but sometimes the hopping can go too far if you are looking for something to have more than one bottle of. At 6% it is not a session beer but you could fool yourself despite the warming. Like the other ales I have been happy with, the challenge they place on the Canadian bigotry against US brews is definitely on.

Shipyard IPA: I have a sectret that is no secret and that is I love Shipyard’s ales. I have crawled all over the brewery on a ad hoc tour by the brew master one Saturday with portland at Portland. I have t-shirts and a ball cap. I have (briefly) abandoned my family on visits immediately upon dropping them off at the home being visited to rush to DiPietro’s around the corner – the great pizza maker, beer and wine store, corner grocery of South Portland – to pick up a captain’s case, the variety packs US micro-brewers put out of three bottles of four styles that make such sense. It sums up much of what is great about Maine – quality, tradition and independence. (In fact, the current polling in Maine giving Bush the lead give me the expectation that Kerry will win nationally…they go their own way to that degree.)

At the brewery I was stunned to find open top modern square fermenters, like found at the excellent Samuel Smith’s brewery of Yorkshire, England. Ale fans and even Ale-fan will know that the open square is a form of fermentation that requires the yeast head to effectively seal the fluid forming in to beer below it. No gauges and pipes up top, just a burbling crops of foam. That foam replicates itself when the bottle purs into a big rocky head that leaves a venerous lightly beiged lace on the glass as it settles. It is very mich alive. It also, again like sherry, arguably allows for a certain respiration, which when your Brewery is by the seashore in Casco Bay, can be argued to add a sea saltiness aspect to the brew – sort of like certain Islay malts.

The brew itself [Ed.: click on IPA on the java-ed frame] is fruity and fuggley which makes it fairly close to the orange juice of ales. The beer used to be called Fuggles IPA according to one of my t-shirts and is fairly brave in its selection of a single hop. Fuggles is the oldest variety of hops still used and has a twiggy edge not present in the more noble hops like Goldings with its fine candy cane, citrus characteristics. The website uses the word spicy but that is a little general in the sense that I like to use that word for either Christmas pudding flavours you can get in darks or peppery nutmegy clovey flavours you can get in hefeweissens. At 5.8%, there is a little bit of heat to Shipyard IPA there but it is well-framed in the hops and medium bodied malt. The beer advocatonians are mixed on this brew, 13% giving it a thumbs down for the properties that the square fermenation and use of Fuggles actually intends. They are not a mistakes so much as decisions. I also have noted that Shipyard’s flagship Export had been described as a Canadian ale in some quarters. The grainy roughness of the brews certainly is familiar to me in that regard. Consider this review:

Certainly bitter, though so many IPAs are made with one of the hops that starts with a “C” that this one seems unique despite its blandness. Well carbonated and lively, it’s certainly refreshing. Bits of lemon and berry tart drizzled in caramel. But then it’s really just hops. You get the hint of complexity, but dry, grainy, hop oily intensity takes over. Hops is the word of the day. They’re all over the backend of this beer. No harshness or alcohol to slow consumption. Goes down well.

In a sense this beer is a pinnacle of former glory Maritime brewing style which I grew up with out of the Olands and Moosehead breweries. It is like the beer Oland’s Export might be were it brewed as a real ale rather than a beer replicant containing mainly corn sugar and irish moss. If I were Mike in Halifax, I would load up a rental van with non-drinkers, drive the eight hours to the brewery, buy their share of the border crossing allowance with taxes paid and have a very happy winter.

There you have it. All my USA summer brews are extinguished, supped, downed and the reviews are complete. Good thing I have a week off after Canadian Thanksgiving and am planning a day trip two hours south to the Galeville Grocery and even perhaps the Party Source in Syracuse.

Local TV Dies A Little More

It had been getting a bit crappier than I was comfortable with lately due to cuts but Clear Channel affiliate WWTI ABC announced today that it was cutting its 6 pm and 11 pm news broadcasts to focus on hourly updates and weather…oh, and the internet. [I think they will be investing in the use of technology – wizards!]   Just a year and a bit ago, they had an hour and a half of local Watertown, NY news and sports every evening at 6 pm and more at 11 pm with a special Friday night high school sportscast called the Sportsblitz…or rather the Sportsblitz.

Now, the best source of corny local sports is gone. How will I know how Lafargeville or Pulaski do in high school lacrosse next spring?  How will I follow Sackets in the Class K, Division XXIV NY state boys basketball regionals?   Why do I care? Through my life, local TV news has going the way of other slowly dying things. In the good old days, CBC Halifax TV in the ’70’s had the resources to do news broadcasts from Tomaso’s pizza and other wacky places and WLBZ Bangor brought Dick Stacey’s Country Jamboree to the Maritimes via cable TV (blogged about here…it even made The Christian Science Monitor), Wingham Ontario’s CKNX-TV in the 1980’s did a feature on my brother in law and his chicken that would ride on his bike handlebars, Pembroke CHRO-TV in the ’90’s, now an Ottawa station, covered the local court scene I was working in. It is not entirely over as Kingston still has an hour of local CKWS news at 6 pm and another half hour at 11 pm and Watertown NY still has one local TV newscast on WWNY-TV but they are affiliates using a lot of national feeds and the local hokey sportscasts are the first to go.

Sad.  We’ll all eat the same cheese from squeeze tubes by the time I am 83.