Carla Jean Lauter

The Beer Babe

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Photo Gallery: Bissell Brothers New Location @ Thompson’s Point

Bissell Brothers opened their new taproom at Thompson’s Point this weekend. I stopped by to check out the new space and some beer. Enjoy!

Center map

All the news that’s fit to drink

Originally published in the June 2016 issue of The Bollard

Last fall I wrote an article for a national beer magazine that provided a detailed itinerary for craft-beer enthusiasts visiting the Portland area {Protip: Read that first!}. I wrote it thinking the guide would also be useful to beer tourists arriving this summer, but so much has already changed. For example …

  • Bissell Brothers Brewing Company has left its nest amid the cluster of brewers on Industrial Way, in the Riverton area, and moved to Thompson’s Point, in Portland’s Libbytown neighborhood.
  • The space Bissell Brothers vacated will not remain empty for long. Neighboring Foundation Brewing Company plans to expand into that area. And on the back side of the same building, Austin Street Brewery has just completed a major increase in its production capacity, so they’re no longer the little kids on the block.
  • Steps away on Industrial Way, Allagash Brewing Company has introduced, for the first time in two years, a new beer to its lineup that will be available year-round: Sixteen Counties. A nod to the growing availability of local malted grains, all the malts and grains used to brew Sixteen Counties are sourced within the state of Maine. When you see this fruity and crisp beer on tap or in the cooler, I encourage you to try it.
  • Blue Ox Malthouse recently opened in Lisbon Falls. In addition to being a large-scale malting facility preparing grains for brewers, the warehouse is roomy enough to host bluegrass hoedowns, which will take place on a semi-regular basis this summer.
  • The “yEast Bayside” community in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood continues to grow. Rising Tide Brewing Company recently redesigned and expanded their tasting room, providing more space for seating and activities. And the Rising Tide beer formerly known only as Gose now has a new name, Pisces, and (much to my delight) is more regularly available. Don’t worry, hop fans, the highly sessionable Maine Island Trail Ale remains a summer staple.
  • Just around the corner from Rising Tide, on Anderson Street, new arrival Lone Pine Brewing Company now has a tasting room and is bottling their beer. Urban Farm Fermentory, also on Anderson, just got approved to start brewing beer in their space, in addition to the ciders and kombucha UFF produces. They plan to offer gruits, which are beers brewed with herbs other than hops to bitter them. And yet another brewery in the neighborhood, a nano-size enterprise called One Eye Open, is preparing for a mid-summer debut on Fox Street.
  • Rick Binet, co-founder of The King’s Head craft-beer pub on Commercial Street, has opened a new place in the Old Port, on Wharf Street, called Portland Mash Tun. The small but cozy spot boasts a robust tap list, to which Binet plans to soon add beers from his own nano-brewery on the premises.
  • Speaking of new bars, there’s now a craft-beer gastropub inside Whole Foods! [Hannah Joyce McCain reviewed the food in this issue.] The Somerset Tap House pours 24 mostly Maine-centric selections, with a few beers from other New England states peppered in. I found it a little weird to watch people shop for groceries while I sipped beer at the bar, but appreciated that the atmosphere inside the pub was quiet enough to carry on a conversation.
  • There’s action across the harbor, as well. The new Fore River Brewing Company is South Portland’s first brewery. Located on Huntress Avenue, Fore River has a decent amount of room for groups to sit and sample their brews. It’s also one of the only tasting rooms in Maine that regularly serves at least one beer on a nitrogen-based tap. And just over the Casco Bay Bridge, in SoPo’s Knightville neighborhood, a second beer-maker, Foulmouthed Brewing, is preparing to open a brewpub on Ocean Street in the coming months.

I hope this list helps you catch up on the happenings in the local beer industry since last fall. I’m sure that by the time this issue hits the streets there’ll be more Maine brewery news to report. It’s almost impossible to keep up with all the new brewers and expansions, but that’s a great problem to have.

Announcement – The Session #112 : The Other Beer Economy

sessionlogoHello beer writers! Welcome to the Session #112. If you are unfamiliar with The Session, it is a monthly writing prompt rotated through guest hosts. The host posts the topic assignment, and responses posted in comments will be round up on the same blog. It’s a great way for us to have a virtual conversation around a single topic, no matter where we hail from. 

The Session #112: The Other Beer Economy

Last year, the total economic impact of the beer brewing industry in the state of Maine was approaching the same scale as the lobster industry. Let that sink in for a second. Maine – which is arguably *best* known for lobsters  – is shifting to an economy strongly supported by brewing.

Growing alongside of the boom of breweries are many small businesses that are supporting, or supported by the craft beer industry. Maine is now home to a malt processing facility, and several hop farms. There are multiple beer tourism-focused businesses that help connect visitors to the state’s best beer offerings. There are companies that create beer-related apparel for beer fans, some that have designed unique bottle openers and manufacture them in-state.  Maine is also home to a company that manufactures and installs brewing equipment, and another whose sole mission is to clean the lines that serve up that beer to thirsty beer fans.

And what do you need for drinking beer, or most precise cold beer, yes exactly ice, so if you want to drink your beer cold anywhere you go, you’ll need an ice maker, so you should check the ice makers by Top9Rated, to found one.

Yet, we rarely give these businesses a second thought. They are the second beer economy, often operating behind-the-scenes. I think we could give them a bit more credit for keeping things growing, sharing the products of our local breweries with more people, and sometimes even literally keeping the beer flowing.

For this month’s session, let’s talk about those businesses in the beer world that aren’t breweries. What are the roles that they can play? What opportunities still exist for new niche roles to be developed? What can local/state/regional governments do to encourage this kind of diversity of businesses around an industry?

I’m excited to hear your thoughts and stories.


To participate:

  • I encourage you to leave a comment with a link (or tweet me a link @beerbabe) containing your thoughts on this topic by June 3rd 
  • I will then read through and round up the submissions in a post a few days later.



Above the Fruited Pint

Published in the May 2016 issue of The Bollard

Years ago, if you ordered a brew made with fruit, or even allowed a slice to garnish the rim of your glass, you risked being the subject of ridicule for being “girly.” There was a stigma that bordered on sexism (and homophobia) attributed to fruit beers. They were considered the alternative for people who didn’t like the taste of “real beer.”

Fast forward to 2016. I’m standing in a beer store, staring at a wall of six-packs chilling in the cooler. As I watch other beer-savvy customers make their selections, I notice a trend. You can see it right on the labels: fruit.

Most of the fruit beers popular in Maine these days are brewed in other states. Ballast Point, a brewery in San Diego that recently began distributing here, brought a portfolio of India Pale Ales flavored with pineapple, grapefruit, and even Habenero peppers. Samuel Adams, in Boston, makes a Grapefruit IPA (given the manly name Rebel), as does Vermont’s Magic Hat Brewing Co., which dubbed theirs Electric Peel. Harpoon, another famous Boston brewery, has a new mango-flavored pale ale called Camp Wannamango.

What’s behind the revival, or redemption, of fruit beers? It can be partly attributed to the popularity of more fruit-forward hops. Many of the hops used to make some of the juiciest IPAs (like the East Coast–style IPAs developing in our region) produce aromas and flavors similar to those of tropical fruits, so the addition of the same is complementary.

The obsession with hops that accompanied the IPA craze has made it possible for guys to order a pineapple-flavored beer at a crowded bar without a hint of embarrassment. And brewers of the best varieties now eschew fake flavorings in favor of fresh fruits or purées that give their beers a bright character. The improvement in taste has been dramatic.

So why aren’t more Maine breweries riding this gushing wave? Well, we aren’t exactly in the tropics, and Maine brewers love to keep it local when sourcing their ingredients, so grapefruit and pineapple are out. But Maine does have a bounty of berries, especially blackberries, raspberries and, of course, the blue ones.

The first blueberry beer in Maine was brewed in 1993 by Atlantic Brewing Company. According to legend, it was inspired by the time a farmer showed up at their Bar Harbor brew pub desperate to unload a truck full of his crop. Atlantic’s Bar Harbor Blueberry Ale, which is a little less sweet than many of its imitators, has since become a Maine staple.

More recently, local brewers have been using berries to boldly go beyond sweetness, into tart and sour territories. Liquid Riot’s Rasby Trouble is a twist on a traditionally sour Belgian style, called Oud Bruin (or Old Brown). The raspberries add a welcome tartness to what can be a slightly acidic-tasting brown ale.

The funk masters at Allagash Brewing Company also use fruit in creative ways. Their Farm to Face ale is made with heaps of fresh peaches (three pounds per gallon) from an orchard in New Hampshire. Little Sal, a clever play on the title of the classic children’s book Blueberries for Sal, was a sour red beer made with blueberries grown in Windham. Beers in Allagash’s wild-fermented Coolship series have been flavored with cherries and raspberries.

The influx of fruited beers from away may swamp the local market this summer, but Maine brewers have the berries, the brains and the bravery necessary to battle back with homegrown varieties that are just as good and even more interesting. The smart money is still on the locals.

Tips for Tasters

If you sense that Maine is going through another brewery growth spurt, your intuition is correct. Since the beginning of this year, four new breweries have joined Maine’s ranks. That leads me to a staggering statistic: the number of breweries in our state — 73 at the time of this writing — has doubled since 2011. And there are at least 10 more slated to open before the end of 2016, seven of them by this summer.

Although this sounds like a fantastic problem to have, the profusion of breweries does make it difficult to keep up with them all and to describe their beers to visitors and friends. With each brewery making, on average, about a half dozen varieties, we’re talking about hundreds of options.

How do you know if the beer in your hand is actually a “great beer,” or if it’s just OK or has some problems? Here are a few simple guidelines. Ask yourself the following:

  1. Do you like it? (I know this sounds obvious, but stick with me here.) Does it taste good and bring a smile to your face? A beer’s color and aroma and mouthfeel are all part of the experience, but your taste buds are the most important decider. If you can’t answer this question in the affirmative, stop there. Likewise, if the style doesn’t suit you (e.g., if you don’t enjoy sour beers or particularly hoppy ones) or if you’re just not in the mood for that kind of beer that day, it’s completely fair to throw in the towel and move on. Peer pressure is a real thing in the craft beer world. I encourage you to resist it.
  1. Is the beer true to its style, or does it taste as it was described to you? Not every beer has to be a perfect archetype of its variety — brewing and tasting would be boring tasks if that were the case — and some breweries toss these guidelines out the window to come up with new, experimental combinations that defy traditional definitions. But if someone hands you a beer, tells you it’s a really hoppy IPA, and it tastes more like, say, an Allagash White (a Belgian-style wheat beer), that’s a bit of an issue.
  1. If you’ve had this particular beer before, does it taste the same as you remember it? One of the most challenging aspects of operating a successful brewery is keeping beer consistent from batch to batch. It takes more precision and attention to make the same beer twice than it does to make two different high-quality beers. I have seen many breweries in Maine struggle with this. Usually I’ll reach out to a brewer and say, “Hey, I noticed this isn’t the same as last time. What’s up?” Often those brewers tell me the recipe is changing, or say they’re still working on consistency or breaking in new equipment. I don’t give up on a beer at that point, but I will wait for a few batches to come and go before I give it another try. A little leeway is OK, but when you’re paying for a product you should expect (and demand) that it’s consistent.
  1. Is there anything “off” about it? In the beer world there are actual classes you can take on “off” flavors — their causes and the solutions to eliminate them. But some are easy to identify without any training. There are a host of problems at every step in the process — from sourcing ingredients to pouring a pint — that manifest themselves as skunky, buttery, soapy, vegetable-like, fruity, wet cardboard, metallic or medicinal flavors. If you notice any of those, bring them to the bar’s or the brewery’s attention immediately. Some “off” flavors can be caused by lack of sanitation or dirty tap lines, others by rushing a beer to market or taking other shortcuts. Though such flavors won’t hurt you, drinking “off” beers is almost the equivalent of eating spoiled food. Don’t tolerate it, especially if it happens more than once.

If you finish your pint or taster glass and its contents have passed all the tests above, then congratulations, you’ve found a great Maine beer! Tell all your friends and people “from away” to seek it out.

If the beer falls short in one of those areas, don’t be shy about sharing your thoughts with the brewer or bartender. If the beer gets better over time, you can always put it back on your list. If not, take heart that there are more choices than ever these days, so you’re bound to find a Maine beer that tastes great to you.

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