Carla Jean Lauter

The Beer Babe

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The Beer Babe’s Best – 2015 (The Bollard)

“What’s your favorite beer?” is the most loaded question a beer writer can be asked. I view it as highly conditional. Do you mean the beer I most like to sit on my porch and sip? The beer I’d drink to accompany my last meal? The beer I’d drink if I could only drink one beer for the rest of my life?

I’d like to propose a compromise. I can offer my opinion on Maine’s best beers this year, but only in their own contexts. The following list showcases Maine’s best brewing talent, embraces the creativity characteristic of most Maine brewers, and features beers I’d be happy to order at any bar — or be stuck with on a desert island.

Maine’s Best New Brewery

During Portland Beer Week last month, I attended the Maine Brewers’ Guild’s “Freshman Class” event, which showcased breweries opened in the past year, and sampled beer from all five of Maine’s newest breweries: Lubec Brewing Company, Marsh Island Brewing, Orono Brewing Company, Blank Canvas Brewery, and Square Tail Brewing Co. Of those, Orono Brewing Company stood out. They technically opened on New Year’s Eve, in 2014, but that’s close enough for me. For a new brewery, their mastery of a variety of styles, from their Ozone IPA to their White Nitro Cream Ale — poured with nitrogen, instead of CO2, like a Guinness — demonstrated an impressive level of quality and creativity. They’ve recently released collaboration beers with Geaghan Brothers (of Bangor) and Banded Horn (based in Biddeford), so look for them to have a strong presence on the Maine beer scene in the upcoming year.

Best New Maine Beer

A wide array of wonderful new beers were birthed in our state over the past dozen months, but none caught my eye (and my taste buds) like Foundation Brewing Company’s Epiphany. This hoppy and balanced beer has enchanted so many locals and visitors that the Portland-based artisanal brewery must struggle to meet the demand. Visit their brewery on Industrial Way on a day a fresh batch is released and you’ll find that the wait for the four-pack of orange cans is more than worth it.

Best Maine IPA

During Portland Beer Week, The Great Lost Bear hosted a Maine IPA tap takeover that featuring nearly 20 varieties of pale ale. After sampling almost all of them side by side, I finally determined my favorite: Rising Tide’s Calcutta Cutter. Technically an Imperial (Double) IPA, this is a super-pleasing, hop-forward beer with perfect balance. At its freshest, it presents a citrus and piney taste complemented by just the right amount of bitterness. If you like hops at all, this is the best presentation of them Maine has to offer. Available a few times a year, the current batch is better than ever, so grab it if and while you can.

Best Maine Stout/Porter

IPAs tend to take center stage in the beer world. About 25 percent of beer sales were in that category this year. But stepping outside the realm of hops, there are several stand-outs in Maine for those who like to dwell on the darker, roasted end of the beer spectrum. Banded Horn’s Jolly Woodsman Coffee Stout is a blend of two different stouts (Norweald and Mountain), with the addition of wood-roasted espresso from Matt’s Coffee. The result is an intense, coffee-laden beer with some exceptionally pleasant and bitter notes. This one’s for the true lumberjacks among us, and deserves the praise.

Maine’s Most Creative Beer

Though Maine is famous for seafood, few brewers have had the courage to incorporate the ocean’s bounty into their beer — for understandable reasons. While there have been a handful of good oyster stouts, this year saw the debut of a beer featuring Maine’s iconic crustacean: the lobster. Oxbow Brewing Company’s Saison Dell’Aragosta (aragosta is Italian for lobster) was brewed with lobsters added to the boil kettle (and later reportedly consumed in a beer-soaked feast). Rather than a fishy flavor, this saison attained a lovely balance of brine and funk, surpassing expectations and receiving some worthy national press.

Best Label/Can Design

bbcansAs a graphic design enthusiast, I spend more time looking at beer labels than your typical consumer. Cans arguably provide more space for creativity, but few breweries take advantage of the whole canvas like Portland’s Bissell Brothers Brewing Company. Bissell Brothers has expanded and elaborated beyond its original black-on-sliver design for its flagship ale, The Substance, and now its line of beers is available in a variety of colorful, yet consistently branded, cans. The Bissells’ ability to push creative boundaries while maintaining brand integrity is a skill nearly as impressive as their brewing.

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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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Can Women Be Heard In a Bar?

Whenever I am asked about being a woman in the “male-dominated beer industry” I always get the sense that the person asking the question is waiting for me to respond with a story featuring an egregious act of discrimination based on my gender. And, truthfully, I feel like most of the times I leave them disappointed.

That’s not to say that serious things don’t happen – I certainly have friends that have been put in scary situations that go beyond sexism right into harassment – but I just don’t personally possess a  story that everyone can point at and get angry about (a fact for which I am personally grateful).

But what I do have are accumulated experiences that, viewed singly, are incredibly trivial.

  • I’ve walked into a beer bar with a male friend and he’s been handed the beer list, and I’ve been handed a flipped-over menu and told, “here’s the wine section!”
  • I’ve been told that beer is probably “too bitter” and I might not like what I had just ordered.
  • Every time there’s a costumed event, it is suggested that I should dress up like a “beer wench” serving brews in low-cut outfits at Oktoberfest.
  • I’ve been on the receiving end of countless eyebrow-raises from bartenders when I order something high ABV, very hoppy, super dark, or sour.
  • I’ve been assumed to be under the bar tab/bill of male friends without ever being asked (even when ordering at the bar).
  • People at beer events greet me (the beer writer who often attends events solo) with a question about where my husband is (and why he’s not with me).

There are millions of little things like that in my beer-drinking life. And at any one time it’s something that I brush off, it’s something barely worth mentioning when I’m staring at the face of a hungry interviewer prodding for more. But it can be a daily part of being a woman in the beer world.

Those accumulated incidents have been  hard for me to articulate. But the other day when I watched this, I realized I’ve never seen it expressed so simply and clearly:

I love what they’ve done here because it’s an expression of a common situation – one most don’t think twice about. There are a lot of assumptions out there about what women do and do not like – but beer doesn’t have a gender, and anyone is welcome to enjoy what they enjoy. The more we are all made aware of these biases (especially in such a simple and clear manner), the more action we can take to correct it.

However, in the YouTube comments affiliated with the video, some have accused it of being scripted, or picking just the incidents that fit their point. Others argue that it’s a pretty “stupid thing to get worked up about,” and that only terrible, distracted service staff would ever do this.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think it matters if this happened to the couples every time they ordered a drink, or it it took 5 times, or if it was in a busy bar or a slow restaurant. Stopping to examine our own assumptions is healthy and so is having empathy for those affected by the actions of those biases.

Let’s keep looking and make sure that we’re providing a welcoming environment in which to enjoy the beer that we all love.

 

 

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