Carla Jean Lauter

The Beer Babe

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Death by a Thousand Cups

A bartender’s hand slips off a freshly washed pint glass that falls to the floor with a crash. The sound of its destruction triggers cringes from patrons, some uttering small groans of disapproval. The expense of replacing a pint glass is negligible, folded into the overhead costs of running the drinking establishment. Unless an employee is exceptionally uncoordinated, such accidents don’t noticeably diminish the bar’s glassware inventory.

Across town, the employee of a small brewery takes stock before opening the tasting room to the weekend rush of beer enthusiasts and their friends. The racks of clean glasses seem sparser than they were last week. Or the week before that. Or the week before that week.

The cause here isn’t a careless bartender or busser. It is, literally, thieves.

Many operators of the small brewery tasting rooms that have popped up across Maine in the past year or two face the same questions after every busy weekend: How many tasting glasses are left, and when will we need to order more? The more popular the brewery, the more likely they are to fall victim of this type of petty crime.

The cumulative financial impact has compelled some brewers to attempt to police their tasting rooms, a task they are, understandably, reluctant to do.

“We have to spend more time than we’d like looking after taster glasses,” Jake Austin, of Austin Street Brewery, told me. “That’s time that could be spent talking to people about our beer and our brewery.”

Most of the affected breweries that have branded tasting glasses also offer those glasses for sale, often for only a few dollars. So why does this thievery continue week after week?

Maybe it’s because the glasses are tiny and pretty. Maybe the tasting room guests are trying to look cool in front of their friends by pulling off a mildly daring heist. Perhaps they’re so entitled as to believe that because they paid for a beer, the glass should be theirs when they finish it. Or maybe the small samples they’ve consumed have simply eroded their already weak impulse control.

There are actions that can be taken to make glassware less attractive to thieves, and several Maine breweries have taken those steps. Breweries can use unbranded glassware, ask patrons for a taster-glass deposit, or switch to plastic cups on busy days (please, don’t). They can invest in security cameras, post scolding signs, or spend more time monitoring patrons. But all those measures have drawbacks — they’re a hassle, an expense, or both. Switching to unbranded glassware robs breweries of opportunities to promote their brand via social media — all those photos of your pals hoisting tasters on Facebook and Instagram.

Unfortunately, glassware isn’t the only thing snatched from local tasting rooms. Posters, artwork, flight boxes, tasting paddles, and even a potted plant have all walked away from brewery tasting rooms in recent months. This indicates a more general attitude of entitlement that, as with glassware theft, ultimately leads to higher costs for everyone.

Instead of expecting our breweries to invest time, money and staff for extra security, let’s join together in an effort to raise awareness of this problem and help to self-police it. I believe we can change this culture of entitlement if we try hard enough. The pilfering of one taster glass obviously won’t be the ruin of any single brewery, but the collective kleptomania will lead to higher prices and a less convivial atmosphere for all.

Go to Austin Street Brewery and order a taster glass of Patina Pale Ale. Go to Rising Tide and get a flight of four beers served in their wooden tasting box. Go to Foundation Brewing Company and look at the little outline of the state of Maine on the back of your sample of Forge.

If, while enjoying your samples, you see someone trying to steal something, call them out on it. Maybe give them a nasty glare, or mutter a quick, disapproving “Dude” (which is also effective on women). And when you’re done, bring your tasting glass back to the employee at the taps — because it’s the right thing to do.

I’ve Got My Beer To Keep Me Warm

There will always be a place in my heart for high-strength beers and an ideal time to enjoy them: in the darkness of winter in Maine. I first discovered the warming power of alcohol when my grandmother splashed a tiny bit of whisky into a glass of tea she poured for me when I came in shivering from an afternoon spent playing in the snow. As an adult, I initially turned to fortified wines when the wind howled outside.

Then, in the early 2000s, there was a push by brewers to create “extreme” craft beers — with flavors and alcohol contents stronger than their competitors — in a frenzied attempt to keep the new and fickle beer consumers’ attention. There were a flurry of beers released whose strength exceeded wine and even some spirits (I once tried a beer that was a stunning 55% ABV, which, unfortunately, tasted like a combination of rubbing alcohol and lager). Eventually the pendulum of tastes began to swing in the other direction, and the popularity of lower-alcohol “session” ales took hold. The ABV arms race subsided, but it left a permanent niche for stronger brews.

Enter the barleywines, imperial stouts and barrel-aged beers.

Imperial stouts are probably the most flavorful and booze-packed beers of the bunch, and Maine is home to several breweries producing these world-class stouts. Due to the exceptionally high cost and intense effort required to produce them, imperial stouts are usually once-a-year releases, and are rarely widely available. Thankfully, they do age well, so if you find one you like, you can squirrel some away for the following winter.

The top of my list is Sexy Chaos, from Marshall Wharf Brewing, in Belfast. Released seasonally, it’s an aged version of their Chaos Chaos (an excellent Russian imperial stout in its own right) to which they’ve added vanilla beans and toasted oak chips. This 11.2% ABV beast will warm you up on the coldest nights, and the notes of vanilla give it a decadent flavor.

Arguably harder to find than Sexy Chaos, but just as worth the search, is the Russian imperial stout from dTributary Brewing Company, in Kittery. Brewer Tod Mott’s reincarnation of his famous Portsmouth Brewery recipe, now named Mott The Lesser, has been delighting dark-beer fans since its return a few months after the new brewery opened. This incredibly complex beer offers up flavors of plums, raisins, and dark chocolate, and is divine when warmed up ever so slightly. At 10.5% ABV, its smoothness surprises me — the hidden booziness manifests as a feeling of contentment when you’re about halfway through a glass.

There are few releases I look forward to in wintertime more than Sebago Brewing Company’s barleywine. Sold this year in unique two-packs of cans sealed together with a wrap, Sebago’s Single Batch Series Barleywine stands out on the shelf. A strong and assertive barrel-aged ale, this beer is rich with notes of vanilla, oak and bourbon, and instantly warms you from the inside out. It also lacks the sticky sweetness that can be cloying in other barleywines. I believe this is the best batch of the Barleywine Sebago has made to date, and it’s also the highest in alcohol content. The 2015 batch weighs in at a hefty 11.8% ABV — you’ll definitely taste the booze. If you want it to mellow a bit, try putting it in a cellar for a few years to round it out.

My final go-to for the season is actually available year round: Allagash Curieux. Traditionally, I bring a bottle of this to New Year’s Eve celebrations. It’s a Belgian-style tripel ale that’s been aged in Jim Beam bourbon barrels for nearly two months. If you’ve not yet taken the opportunity to tour Allagash’s Portland brewery, do so and make a point of walking into the room where these barrels are kept — the sensuous aroma of vanilla, oak and sugar will stay with you for quite a long time. Coming in at 11% ABV, Curieux is great for sharing with a few friends and inspiring a reflective mood — pour it into a glass goblet and stare into the fire for awhile for best results.

So, what do we care how much it may storm? We’ve got our beer to keep us warm.

Palate Experiment: IPA-free January

Living in the land of Lunch, Calcutta CutterEpiphany, and Swish, it’s far too easy to end up drinking hoppy beers by default – and I’m beginning to worry that my hoppy “habit” is causing me to miss some of the other styles that deserve more attention.

I thought about how to remedy this, and I came up with a bit of an experiment.

For the month of January, I will ban IPAs from my beer choices.

I know that this is not as hard as giving up beer altogether. However, it does give me a guideline that will help me to make choices when at the bars, bottle shops, and breweries that I regularly visit.

This experiment isn’t really designed to determine how difficult it would be to stay away from IPAs. Instead, it’s a way for me to re-focus my beer tastings to other styles (and maybe even other breweries).

Want to join in? Here are the guidelines as I’ve set them out:

  1. Drink no IPAs or Double/Imperial IPAs.
  2. Drink no American Pale Ales (APAs) because they can be very similar to IPAs.
  3. Branch out your drinking to as many other styles possible.
  4. Discuss the results. #noIPAJan

I am leaving myself two exceptions:

 1. If I am offered a friend's homebrew. (I.e., I'm not going to let this experiment turn me into an ungrateful jerk.)
 2. If I am required to drink one because of a writing assignment.

I know that, to many of you, this sounds like a simple task. There are a wide diversity of beer styles available, and it shouldn’t be hard to find beers to fill the gap, especially in winter. But, to me it is still worth trying.

If anything, it’s an exercise in being more aware of what I’m drinking, staying outside of my comfort zone, resetting my palate, and seeing if there is anything that can be learned from the experience.

Wish me luck and let me know if you plan to participate!

Cheers!

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