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.

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.

 

 

Maine. Yes, Beer’s Good Here.

Portland Beer Week, happening Nov. 1-7, is a celebration of the state’s beer scene, a collection of events designed to showcase the best brews, encourage experimentation and collaboration, and rekindle the camaraderie local craft brewers famously share. There are opportunities to try beers that will never be made again, or sample a new brewery’s beer for the first time. Portland Beer Week is also a good time to reflect on the industry’s previous year and look ahead to where the scene is going.

There are now over 4,000 breweries operating in the United States, which is just shy of the historical peak of 4,131 breweries that were open in 1873. Based on the current rate of openings, it’s predicted that we’ll exceed that previous high in early 2016. Maybe one of Maine’s breweries-in-waiting will end up being number 4,132. Depending how you count, there are over 60 breweries in the Pine Tree State, with several in the planning stage that should come online next spring and summer. The pace of openings has slowed a little, but the rate of expansions has not. It seems that nearly every month, one of our favorite locals has a flatbed truck with a bigger fermentation tank strapped on it pulling up to its front door.

Last month, Budweiser’s corporate parent, AB InBev, the world’s largest beer company, announced its intention to merge/take over the second-largest beer manufacturer in the world, SABMiller (maker of Coors, Miller, and dozens of other brands). The resulting conglomerate would be so large that three out of every 10 beers brewed on the planet would come from that one mega-brewer. It would be bigger than Coke buying Pepsi.

I mention this not because it is going to drastically change the way Mainers drink beer, but to point out that we are entering a new phase of the craft beer business. Many are concerned this merger will make it harder for local breweries to get their beer distributed, because both companies have their hands in distribution networks across the world. Others say it could encourage the new beer behemoth to include more “craft” beers in its portfolio, but with the unfair advantage of being able to produce and distribute these faux-micros on a massive scale. Nationally, numerous smaller brands have been sold off to larger entities in the past few months, angering fans who accuse them of “selling out.”

During the past decade of craft beer expansion, Maine has been largely insulated from the Wall Street world of mergers, takeovers and buyouts. Though there is contract brewing here (by which a brewer contracts to use a larger company’s facilities to produce and/or distribute their product), we haven’t had to face the disappointing news that one of our own has relinquished its independence.

Why not Maine? For one thing, most of our breweries have limited distribution (many don’t even cross a state line), so they’re not tempting targets for Big Beer to acquire. I think there’s also a stubbornness and an independent streak characteristic of Mainers that can make such deals a tough sell. Tough, but not impossible, however.

Rather than trying to hide from the changes to come, I suggest we revel in our good fortunes right now. Maine beer lovers are in the midst of a golden age of growth, independence, collaboration and creativity.

To help guide this revelry, I’ve made a “bucket list” for this year’s Beer Week events…

  • Try a few different local IPAs and actually decide which is your favorite.
  • Reap the benefits of collaboration: find a beer created by at least two brewers.
  • Ask a brewer how they realized they wanted to make beer, and what a typical day on the job is like for them.
  • Pair food from a restaurant, food truck or farmers’ market with your beer.
  • Bring a can of beer to a place you couldn’t bring a bottle.
  • Try beer from a brewery you’ve never heard of before.
  • Try a style of beer you haven’t had before.
  • Go to a bar or tasting room you’ve never been to before.
  • Try a Maine beer that’s brewed over 50 miles from where you live.

After making this list, I realized our beer scene is so strong that one could do all these things during any week of the year.

Now, that’s the way life should be.

 

 

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.

 

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