Originally published in the May 2017 issue of The Bollard
You’ve dragged your patio furniture out of the shed, dusted off the umbrella, and now you want to throw a party. Maybe it’s a barbeque. Maybe it’s tacos and a rousing round of Cards Against Humanity. Craft beer is a must, but what do you pick to serve your friends?
Something hoppy is mandatory. Thankfully, the Maine beer world is inundated with excellent IPAs and double IPAs. If you don’t have the time to wait in line or search for some of the rarer choices, go for some of the hopped-up brews that are widely available, like Rising Tide Zephyr, Baxter Stowaway, or Maine Beer Company Peeper.
Breadth of style is also important, though. To be inclusive and cover your bases, pick something light but decidedly not hoppy — Allagash White is a great choice for this — and then something with a maltier body, like a Geary’s HSA.
If you’re in a rush, there’s a new option that many breweries are offering these days: the mixed 12-pack. Twelve-packs of cans have gotten a bad reputation. They remind some of us of picking up the cheapest beer possible from the corner store by the college and drinking it as quickly as possible. But times have changed. Craft companies are including three or four different kinds of beer in the same 12-pack box. Sebago Brewing Company and Baxter Brewing Company regularly produce mixed 12-packs of cans that are great for gatherings of friends with diverse tastes.
In addition to the crowd-pleasers, I like to serve at least one oddball beer for people to discuss, like Banded Horn’s Samoan Drop. “Have you had this one?” I’ll ask. “They brewed this porter with Girl Scout Cookies!” Serving an unconventional or limited-release beer is a good way to display your craft beer fandom without being snobbish about it. Find something that piques your curiosity and take a risk.
In the same vein, there are a lot of interesting fermentables that double as great conversation-starters. Maine Mead Works has a series of “session” meads called Ram Island. The meads in this series are really palate friendly, not overly sweet, limited to 6.9% ABV, and come in a variety of flavors, including an Iced Tea Mead, Lavender Lemonade, and Ginger. These meads are much more satisfying than the so-called “malternatives” (malt alternatives) that include artificial flavorings.
Don’t be afraid to stray from local beer. There are some excellent out-of-state breweries that have recently begun distributing in Maine. Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing Company has finally crossed the heartland to bring their Fat Tire amber ale to our backyards. It has a different hop profile than what we’ve grown to love here in New England, and the departure is a welcome one. From across the pond, the makers of Guinness have released a beer in the U.S. that they had been brewing specifically for the Belgian market for years. The Antwerpen Stout is nothing like a regular Guinness. It has its own distinct body and some really fine, dark flavors.
Lastly, it is wise to consider the macro drinkers. Despite the growing popularity of craft beer, the macro brands (those owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller) still dominate the market, though they’re losing share every year. The gracious thing to do is to try to accommodate these drinkers, but rather than running out to grab a rack of Bud Light, find a locally made pilsner that won’t turn them off and may turn them on to the wonders of the micro world. I’d grab a six-pack of Bunker Brewing Company Cypher, Banded Horn Pepperell Pils, or Peak Organic Brewing Happy Hour. Dirigo Brewing Company will begin canning their flagship Dirigo Lager this month, which is another good option. These flavorful, lighter-bodied beers will be familiar enough for non-craft drinkers, and you won’t be stuck with beer you won’t drink if there are still some cans floating in the cooler the next day.