Carla Jean Lauter

The Beer Babe

Category: Beer Reviews (Page 1 of 92)

2017: In like a lion, out like a… lambic?

One of the benefits of having nearly 90 breweries in Maine is that you can, at least in theory, satisfy a craving for any beer style without leaving the state. This maturing, critical mass of breweries is also large enough to begin reflecting the trends in style and technique happening nationally. Here are the four major trends I see on the horizon for this year.

1. Let’s get spontaneous

Wheplace-allagash01n Allagash installed a little shed behind its brewery, poured freshly brewed beer into an open, stainless-steel “coolship” vessel inside the shed and left it there overnight, with the windows open, some of us thought they were a little weird. But this traditional method allows natural yeast to settle on the sugar-rich wort and brings forth a bouquet of microorganisms, each imparting their own funky flavors. The technique is catching on. Oxbow Brewing Company and, more recently, Rising Tide Brewing have secured similar vessels and are experimenting with their own expressions of funkiness. The result will be a new class of hyper-local and wholly unique beers entering the Maine market, with flavors characteristic of the individual breweries’ airborne terroir. Allagash’s Coolship beers are released periodically and only available locally, so keep your eyes open. My favorite is Allagash Coolship Resurgam, a blend of old and new versions of a spontaneous beer, named after the motto of the City of Portland: “I shall rise again.”

2. Sessions are here to stay

In the early 2000s I spent time at beer bars trying to find lower-alcohol options, scanning menus that were full of 9, 10 and 11% ABV offerings, and lamenting the lack of brews that pack less of a boozy punch. But the trend of session beers – so named because you can have several in a single “session” – is here, partly in reaction to the high-ABV trend that preceded it. On a particularly cold day this winter, I was in the mood for a beer with a warming amount of booze in it, and was alternately pleased and disappointed to find that nearly everything on the menu was under 7%. In 2017, expect that local brewers of many styles (not just hoppy ones) will continue to dial the alcohol content down a little bit (and not just in the summertime). Try Dirigo Brewing Company’s Schöps for an example of a flavorful style (chocolate wheat beer) that is under 6% ABV.

3. Beer & liquor become better friends

The trend of aging beer in vessels formerly occupied by liquors is in full swing. Some Maine brewers are finding it difficult to source enough booze-soaked barrels to satisfy the demand. Yet this is only the most basic way that liquor can play with craft beer. Another trend, cocktails that blend spirits and beer, offers limitless variations.

Since swooning in Colorado over a creative cocktail consisting of gin and IPA, I’ve been on the lookout for local bartenders who’ve realized the potential of pairing the bold flavors and aromatics of beer and spirits. Steve Corman of Vena’s Fizz House, in Portland, has four Maine craft beer cocktails on the menu. Foulmouthed Brewing, in South Portland, also serves several such concoctions. The D.T.F. cocktail at Foulmouthed has whiskey, house-made grenadine syrup, lemon-and-honey syrup, and Dig the Fig, a Belgian-style amber ale they brew with figs and peppercorns.

4. Grown-up seasonals

The idea of seasonality – that you may want to drink something different in the depths of February than you do at the height of July – is not new in the beer world. Some of the first regional craft breweries of the current renaissance, like Magic Hat and Harpoon, were making seasonal beers in the early 1990s, but the concept seemed shallow. Summer? Add some blueberry to a wheat beer. Winter? Add some coriander or nutmeg to a brown ale. Over time, these “easy” seasonals have begun to lose their popularity, and more mature seasonal varieties are being offered. Look for more breweries to get into the rhythm of the seasons in subtle and interesting ways. Bunker Brewing’s Dark Wave is a satisfying seasonal – a well-balanced porter perfect for winter, no spices necessary.

Rolling on the River

Published in the March 2016 issue of The Bollard


The inspiration to build a brewery commonly strikes while people are drinking beer. In the case of Dirigo Brewing Company, the seeds of partnership and possibility presented themselves during an appointment for a new set of tires.

Last year, Mark Paulin, owner of Paulin’s Tire & Auto Care, struck up a conversation with a customer at his Forest Avenue location. Her name is Molly Bull, and when Paulin learned that her husband, Tom Bull, was the former brewer and co-owner of Bull Jagger Brewing Company, his interest was piqued.

Tom Bull started homebrewing with his father at age 19. His brewing career technically began when he got a job as a bouncer at Gritty’s, eventually landing a position in the brewpub’s brewery. Stints at the now long-shuttered Stone Coast Brewing Co. and at Casco Bay Brewing Co. (before it was acquired by Shipyard) followed. In 2011, Bull launched Bull Jagger Brewing Company with business partner Allan Jagger.

Bull Jagger was the first and only Maine brewery to exclusively brew lagers. The flagship beer was Portland Lager, a fruity and crisp brew made in the Helles style. It soon attracted a sizeable local following. Unfortunately, that business partnership didn’t last long, and the 7.5 barrel brewery closed in early 2013. Not long afterward, however, state laws governing the operation of brewery tasting rooms were loosened, giving rise to Maine’s thriving tasting-room scene.

Mark Paulin and Tom Bull, with the help of their significant others, plan to make Dirigo Brewing Company a big addition to that scene this spring. Their 15 barrel brewhouse, with over 100 barrels of fermentation capacity, is taking shape inside an old mill in Biddeford. Dirigo will join a small cluster of breweries in the Biddeford-Saco area, which includes Banded Horn, Barreled Souls, and the Run of the Mill brewpub.

Dirigo’s tasting room will be over 2,000 square feet, with big windows that provide stunning views of the Saco River and historic mill buildings nearby. Tasters and growler-fills will be available on premise, and draughts will be distributed across the state.

Paulin wants the tasting room to appeal to all types of people. “If you’re a business person and you want to go talk over a deal, I want this to be the kind of place where someone says, ‘You know Dirigo? It’s got a cool vibe, let’s go talk down there.’ But I also want the hard-hat guy to come in and say, ‘This is my kind of place.’”

The new brewery’s line-up will be lager-centric, but not exclusively so. Bull said he plans to bring back some of the beers he brewed at Bull Jagger, in addition to other styles, including a few ales.

What’s the difference between brewing an ale and a lager? Bull has a one-word answer: “Patience.”

Lagers, which are fermented at colder temperatures, take significantly longer to make. Ales can be brewed in as little as two weeks, whereas lagers can take up to two months before they’re ready. That’s why Dirigo has so much fermentation capacity — to ensure they have the space (and the time) for the lagers to fully develop.

The spectrum of lagers goes far beyond the pilsners and Budweiser-style brews most folks know. “There’s a whole world beyond the pale yellow, fizzy lager that we all think of,” said Bull. “It stretches the gamut of colors, tastes, flavors and textures.” Dirigo Brewing Company’s offerings will include a familiar Helles lager, but also a Martzen, a crimson-colored festbier, and a Baltic Porter.

The options for good, locally produced lagers have grown in the three years since Bull Jagger closed, but there’s still plenty of room (and demand) in the market for variations on the style. Bull, who drove a cab for a while after Bull Jagger’s demise, always knew he’d get back in the brewing business. “Once it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood,” he said.

Ale-Soaked Apple Pie

Ale-Soaked Apple Pie

It took me far too long to combine two of my favorite culinary loves: beer and pie – but now that I have, I wanted to share this recipe with you. This recipe – modified from my personal regular apple pie recipe – features apples that are pre-soaked in beer. I chose a holiday ale, but anything with a bit of malty backbone and/or some spices (even a saison, wheat beer or barrel aged beer would work) will compliment the apples nicely. One word of advice: avoid using IPAs – food cooked with hoppy beers can turn unpleasantly bitter.

Quantities below will yield one pie. But who ever makes just one pie? Adjust quantities as needed. 

IMAG0478Apples:
  • ~6 Cortland Apples
  • ~6 Macintosh Apples*
  • ~2 Yellow Delicious Apples

*Macintosh Apples (“Macs” for short) are a very soft apple, and make a soft pie. The Cortlands add stability without a “hard” texture, and they cook evenly with the Macs. The Yellow Delicious add some additional flavor complexity. If you are limited in your apple selection, avoid using all Macs. The Macs are too “wet” to be the entire makeup of the pie. 

Crust:

I’ll leave you to your favorite crust recipe – or feel free to use the refrigerated pie crusts. In my opinion, they work just fine for this recipe, because the apples are definitely the stars of the show here.

Additional ingredients:
  • 3/4 Cup of Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Flour
  • 3/4 Teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1-3 Tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 1 bottle of beer (brown, spiced ale, holiday beer)*

*The beer you use here is up to you – I recommend a spiced beer, a saison, a brown ale or something with some body and distinct flavor. 

Procedure:
  1. Core, peel and slice all the apples and place them into a bowl large enough so that the apples do not rise above the sides of the bowl.
  2. IMAG0482Pour a single 12-oz bottle of beer and the lemon juice into the bowl with the apples. The beer should, ideally cover all the apples, so if you need to add more of the same beer to cover them, then do that.
  3. Leave the apples in your fridge to soak for at least an hour. I did it for two hours just to make sure it got good and soaked.
  4. Retrieve your beer-soaked apples from the fridge, and gently pour off the liquid. You might want to use a pasta strainer, or you can just use a pot lid to hold back the apples in the bowl while you pour out the liquid.
  5. Pre-heat the oven for 425 F.
  6. Put the apples into another (clean) bowl and add the sugar, spices and flour, tossing with your hands – making sure that the apples get good coverage.
  7. Do a little taste testing. Ideally, you want sweetness and a little bit of tartness (it’s OK to add some more lemon juice at this point if it is too sweet, or add some nutmeg to give it a little bit of a kick.) Test, and get the spices to where you like them.
  8. Roll out the bottom pie crust and lay it into an un-greased glass or ceramic pie pan. I prefer using a 9″ deep pie pan because that way each slice contains more apples.
  9. Add apples to the pie pan. You’ll want to over-pack this pie, so it’s okay if there’s a heap in the middle, but try to make sure that the apples fill to the edges of the pan.IMAG0486
  10. Add the top crust – either with a lattice or by draping the top crust and fluting the edges together. Because this pie is fairly wet, a good seal between the two crusts is important. Stick a few vent holes in the top.
  11. IMAG0488Bake the pie(s) for 40-45 minutes until the crust is golden brown and is firm on top.
  12. Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.

I hope you enjoy this recipe – if you make it let me know what beer you used and how it came out. Happy holidays – cheers!

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