Carla Jean Lauter

The Beer Babe


Finding great fall beer — without the P-word

How do you mark the change of seasons into fall? Do you order pumpkin-spiced lattés and put your favorite sweater back on? Or do you curse every time you see a new pumpkin-flavored product cross your path?

Many of my beer-drinking friends grumble about this time of year because the choices tend to be dominated by artificially flavored ales. But I embrace autumn as a time to discover new beers and styles that complement the season. There are plenty of entry points that don’t involve pumpkins or spices at all.

The advent of autumn typically heralds the arrival of more malt-forward beers, those with notes of caramel, biscuit and hearty breads. Sometimes these beers are spiced, but many of the original styles brewed for fall eschew any added ingredients — a throwback to an old German law that prohibited the addition of adjuncts in beer for the sake of purity. Modern American craft brewers, however, often take full advantage of the freedom and creativity available to them, and have come up with their own special brews to meet the tastes of this time of year.

For those reluctant to give up their summer obsession with hops, it’s possible to ease into the transition with Sebago Brewing Company’s Bonfire Rye. This rye-based brew has a notable hop presence on top of an earthy, malted backbone and a crisp finish. The rye also gives it a slightly more substantial mouth feel, which can be missing in similar seasonals. Bonfire Rye avoids becoming too sweet or too malty, yet still reminds you that the days are shortening and the leaves are changing colors. This year marks its debut in cans, and Bonfire Rye is now widely available in Maine.

If you’re into the Belgian styles or got hooked on saisons in the spring, seek out one of Rising Tide’s seasonal Entrepôt saisons. The one for autumn, named “d’automne,” deftly merges style and seasonality. This dark orange beer has an aroma that reminds me of pepper, oranges and grains, like a subtle fall potpourri. The taste is slightly fruity, with some peppery saison bites coming in at the end of each sip.

For those who are more in the traditionalist camp, looking for a true Oktoberfest (Märzen) lager, you could track down the imports or you could check out Sierra Nevada’s Oktoberfest, which is new this year. As part of an annual effort to collaborate with German brewers, Sierra Nevada’s team worked with brewers from Brauhaus Riegele to make as authentic an Oktoberfest as possible. It hits all the right notes, and blows most of the domestically brewed Oktoberfests out of the water. (Apparently I’m not alone in this opinion; Sierra’s Oktoberfest is currently the top-rated Märzen on the beer-rating website Beer Advocate.)

Another worthy fall beer from out of state (New Hampshire, in this case) is Henniker Brewing Company’s Hometown Double Brown. Henniker started distributing in Maine earlier this year, and their high-quality beers have been catching my attention. This one is a special release, and is without exaggeration one of the best brown ales I’ve ever had. It somehow manages to taste robust without being heavy, and has a slightly sweet but well balanced flavor. Look for it in 22 oz. bottles featuring a picture of a covered bridge and fall foliage. My only regret about this beer is that it doesn’t come in smaller bottles; otherwise it would have a place among my regular refrigerator stock.

Fall also marks the return of Bissell Brothers’ Bucolia, which is slightly different than last year’s version due to a change-up in the yeast. Bucolia is billed as an amber ale, but its color is closer to brown and its taste is hard to categorize. The aroma is all hops, and really a delight to experience. The taste, like most Bissell Brothers beers, is very hop-forward, but this one’s grain bill beefs up the back end with some malts. It tastes stronger than its ABV, which is under 6 percent.

Amber ales, brown ales, Märzen, rye beer, porters and German altbier can all be a good fit for fall. When in doubt this time of year, I just order something that matches the color of the leaves.



The Session #104 – Don’t Stop The Music


session_logo_no_friday_text_inside_200I’m starting with a plea: Please, if it doesn’t have to end, don’t stop The Session. 

The Session has been in existence as long as I’ve been a beer blogger, and has provided me with points of view and access to the minds of other writers and bloggers for years. You (collectively) have provided examples of thought-provoking and interesting writing when it used to be so much more difficult to connect to – and continue to be a place to find new perspectives when the general social media world is becoming saturated with fluff. Though I’m not what you would call a regular contributor (though I have hosted a few), I do read, share and comment – and the posts and collaborations and thinking involved in their execution gives me inspiration to reflect on my own writing.

I think gathering a community to discuss common topics in writing is still essential in any niche. There are so many bad pieces of writing out there about beer that it is still refreshing to find a chunk of dedicated bloggers actually talking about things beyond the clickbait and the listicles.

Maybe in our increasingly fractioned lives we need to just find another way to be reminded – or a swift kick in the ass to remember why we are all doing what we’re doing. Perhaps it’s a simple an email list? Perhaps a little more encouragement from colleagues and hosts reaching out to those who should contribute? I know this places more of the work on the host, but I think a small amount of effort there could make significant gains.

I admit I hadn’t paid attention to the slow decline of people willing to host – and I’d like to volunteer right here and now to host a future session. Sign me up.

If I do know one thing – if it must end, let’s end on a high note. Go out with a bang instead of a whimper. Let’s set a number – getting to the end of 2015 perhaps? Or hitting a convenient (albeit meaningless) round number of total posts (110? 125?).

The rationale behind this type of exit would be to announce it – promote it – and reap that last sentimental groundswell of effort.

Has anyone ever quantified it? How many posts? How many words? How many different writers {Yes, Alan, I’m calling them writers} have contributed?  If it must end, let’s end with a triumph and a swell to celebrate the original purpose and the work put in by all.

Cheers -Carla


As the Crow Flies

Mama’s CrowBar, a popular watering hole on Portland’s Munjoy Hill, will serve its last beer this Labor Day. Owner Tricia Pryce Henley will be hitting the road this fall in a refurbished camper, nicknamed “Honey,” leaving her beloved city of Portland to visit friends, family and fellow poets while figuring out what’s next.

It might be easy to let a bar in a city full of them close without much acknowledgement, shrugging and muttering something like, “Oh well, guess that’s how business goes these days.” But Mama’s was not just a bar. This place had a significant impact on its rapidly changing neighborhood, on the landscape of craft beer on the peninsula, and on the community that gathered around its taps. And the CrowBar isn’t simply going out of business. Its closure is the culmination of a long and tangled legal battle between Henley and the building’s owners — which is a particularly painful way for a well-loved establishment to meet its demise.

Though its story is unique, the closing of the CrowBar seems symptomatic of the development pressures affecting the now-trendy Munjoy Hill neighborhood, as well as working–class enclaves facing gentrification in other cities. “I think what’s happening to this bar is happening to little huts and taverns all over the place,” Tricia said when I paid her a visit at Mama’s last month.

This 10-stool Congress Street bar, formerly George’s Tavern, had been sold and was operating as Awful Annie’s Irish Saloon for several years before Tricia took it over in 2009 and made it Mama’s. She arrived with a mission. When she first sat down with the beer distributors to place orders, eyebrows raised over her refusal to serve Pabst Blue Ribbon (on grounds that it contains corn syrup). People told her she couldn’t run a bar in this town without carrying PBR. Tricia raised more eyebrows when she insisted on making Allagash Black (her favorite beer) a flagship of the bar, instead of the much more popular White. Her opening tap lineup consisted of Allagash Black, Allagash Curieux (a bourbon-barrel-aged tripel), Brooklyn Lager and Sebago’s Frye’s Leap IPA. The draft list made some people think she was crazy.

Allagash Black has remained a fixture at Mama’s. I’ve yet to find another bar (or even brewery) that features a Belgian-style stout atop its offerings. Mama’s CrowBar has also been a supportive home for new breweries. “I met Nathan Sanborn [co-owner of Rising Tide] right here, sitting at the end of the bar with an unlabeled beer in his hand,” Tricia recalled. “Oxbow delivered their first keg for the bar on a skateboard.” Not one can of PBR has been served.

As we sat and talked, Tricia checked in with everyone coming and going. She made sure her customers had what they needed, even if all they needed was to sit at the end of the bar and read a book. As one of the relatively few female bar owners in Portland, Tricia has been an outspoken advocate for women in a male-dominated environment where bars are often considered places for men to either pick up or get away from members of the opposite sex. She established the CrowBar as a “safe space” where harassment of any type — hate speech or degradation of anyone based on their beliefs, race or sexual orientation — was not tolerated. As patrons witnessed Tricia and her staff make good on their promise to intervene when harassment took place, the number of female customers grew along with the overall diversity of the clientele.

Any new bar on the Hill will have a hard time replacing or replicating the ethos Mama’s established — assuming its owners even care to do. “New businesses in Portland are disconnected from the people in Portland,” Tricia said. “The people of Portland do care how their actions affect other people, and then these businesses roll up and they open and they don’t [care]. They don’t think about their neighborhood.”

It would be naïve to believe our favorite neighborhoods and taverns will never change. My hope for Portland is not that everything remains the same. I hope that throughout the inevitable changes, bar owners and brewers and proprietors of small businesses of all kinds will have the courage to defy conventional wisdom and stand up for the people and the values of their neighborhoods. If the story of Mama’s CrowBar can teach us anything, let it be that.


Note: This column is published in the September issue of The Bollard. When the online issue of The Bollard is put up, this article will link to the version on that page. 

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There Gose The Neighborhood

There’s really only one beer style I describe to beer lovers that makes them question my sanity every time I explain it: Gose. [Read more…]


Dirigo Brewing Announced, former Bull Jagger brewer Tom Bull at the helm

dirigo1If you are a fan of local beer and traditional, clean beers (including stellar lagers), the unfortunate loss of Bull Jagger brewing from the Maine beer scene in 2013 hit particularly hard. One of my favorite lagers (and one of the only lagers being brewed at the time) – Portland Lager (helles) – faded from the market as the brewing partners parted ways. While some of us pined for these beers fondly, few of us knew if we’d ever see them again.

But today, Tom Bull (ex brewer/owner of Bull Jagger) announced on a Facebook page that his beers were coming back – under the name Dirigo Brewing Company. Bull and partner Mark Paulin (owner of Paulin’s Tire and Auto Care) signed a lease to reside in the Riverdam Millyard in Biddeford, ME and plan to continue to brew traditional styles of ales and lagers. The name and packaging, are inspired by from the Maine motto (which means “I lead” or “I direct”) and  will reflect the star motif found in the Maine State flag.

Bull expressed that he is “psyched and honored, with a healthy dose of nerves” about the return. As for Portland Lager – Bull says it’ll be back, but with a different name under the Dirigo brand.

The Facebook page puts the target opening date towards the end of 2015. “Good beer takes time,” said Bull. I think I can speak for some beer fans when I say that we’re willing to wait a little longer.


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