Carla Jean Lauter

The Beer Babe

Category: Special/Holiday (Page 2 of 16)

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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What NOT to get a beer geek for Christmas

Warning: I know that some of you out there have probably already purchased some of the things on this list for people that you know. You might have even gotten some of these things for me. This list is for fun – but maybe it might help you out next time. 

Everyone has one person in their life that they know a minimum amount about, but have to get a holiday gift for. Susie is really into Game of Thrones, Jack likes to ski, and [Insert relative here] is really into beer.

So, you stroll into the store or browse around online and think…

“Hmmn, I should probably get something beer-y for my [insert relative here].”

But before you pull the trigger on that item that you saw in the “Gifts for Men” section, check out this list of what to avoid.

1. Big brewery memorabilia

This comes in all shapes and sizes. Bar mirrors, koozies (more on those in a minute), the warmest bathrobes, bikinis, lighters, popcorn tins… and is all really unnecessary.

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Why not: Even if it says it’s collectable, it’s not collectable. And it probably isn’t worth anything in the long term. Basically, if you can buy it in a modern store, you’re basically paying for a piece of advertisement for a brewery the beer geek probably hates with a passion. Don’t be that guy.

If you’re not sure: If you’ve seen an advertisement for this particular brand of beer on television, it is very likely not something your craft beer geek friend is drinking. Guinness, Harp, Heineken, Stella all fall into this category along with big brothers Bud, Miller and Coors.

2. Bottle Openers

I know what you’re thinking. This may seem like the “Gifts Under $20” sweet spot you’ve been searching for but it is not. Especially not the novelty ones that say things or burp when you use them, the gimmicky ones that open in odd ways but will probably break in a few days.

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Why not: Most of the time, beer geeks have more than enough ways to open beer, and they’ve found their favorite few openers and are sticking with those. I have a drawer full of openers (come to think of it, I should really thin those out…) and would not mind stopping that involuntary collection from growing.

A few exceptions: Is it made by a local craftsman or is otherwise artistically unique? Then it may be exempt and appreciated. Is it from someplace you’ve traveled that the giftee has not been to – as in, you went to Fiji and brought back a bottle opener from the amazing bar you found there? Then that’s fine, too, because it’s a lot more thought than the endcap at Kohl’s where they sell “man gifts.”

3. Beer-scented things

Beer tastes great. Breweries smell wonderful. So it follows that things that have many different flavors and scents would follow. But, it’s a trap.

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Why not: Somehow, the miracles of flavor and taste science just have not perfected that faux beer smell and unfortunately they are often based on the most generic “beery” smell possible. Especially in candles. If you don’t see actual pieces of hops and/or grains in the candle, run. If you smell it and it reminds you of your college years, the morning after a frat party, trust me – that’s not the smell we’re looking for.

A few exceptions: Kind of like the bottle opener rule – if these are made at your brewery or with actual hop oils and things and it actually smells good to you, then you’ve found the jackpot. Anything else? Imitation beer crap. Eew.

4. Coozies / Koozies

A foam thingy that keeps the beer that you’re drinking cold when you’re holding it for a long period of time in presumably hot weather. No. And no, it doesn’t matter if it says something funny on the side. The five I’m not using all have funny sayings, too.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 12.11.17 AM

Why not: First of all, it’s a “unitasker” as Alton Brown would say. And who seriously takes a beer out of the fridge, takes the time to put it in a coozie and then drinks it straight from the can? It’s not big enough for fashionable tallboy cans, and frankly, most of us are not drinking straight from cans while standing outside in our driveways for long periods of time. Also, it’s just one more drinking “accessory” that no one really needs.

Exceptions: None. No, not even the zip-up-ones for bottles. Or the ones that attach to your hands. Or whatever this is.

5. Anything bragging about being drunk

You’ve seen these probably on t-shirts in stores at the mall, or written on things like coozies or bottle openers. These posters and slogans were fun in college, when drinking alcohol was a means to the end of getting to a state of drunken stupor.

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Why not: Beer geeks are more mature than you’d think. Most craft beer geeks that I know drink a lot of beer – but they’re doing it because they genuinely like beer. Most are embarrassed to be caught drunk off their ass, and the last thing they’re going to wear or put on their fridge is something talking about how trashed they are. Plus, borderline alcoholism just stops being quite as funny after you pass 25 years old or so.

If you’re not sure: Ask yourself: is the point of this joke / slogan about getting drunk? If so, skip it. If it’s about geeky beer things, then it might slide but in general, it’s best to steer clear if you’re not sure.

6. Pint glasses

I’m talking about the ones that are just plain old regular beer glasses and usually, again, have a brewery logo (for some reason Guinness makes a MILLION different kinds of these) or say something funny.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 12.39.37 AM

Why not: Any beer geek is going to already have an unmanageable mass of these glasses. They give them out at beer releases, sometimes at festivals, and many a relative have thought that beer drinkers should like glasses to drink beer out of. But similar to the bottle opener example, seriously, we’re all set. We love beer. We’ve made sure we have vessels to drink it in. Many even buy special different glasses that are better for drinking beer out of already.

A few exceptions: If you got it on a trip to somewhere exotic, or traveled to what is actually the giftee’s favorite brewery, then you’re in the clear. But most of the time I just think about how little cabinet space I have and about how those poor glasses in the back must be so lonely.

Some general guidelines

  • Be on the lookout for tacky things
  • Steer clear of “drunk” references
  • Anything flavored or scented generically as “beer” is scary
  • Meaningful details and hand-made or well-crafted items in these categories are fine

Thankfully, many other beer writers have written great posts this year about what you *should* buy the beer geek in your life. If you have a favorite list, feel free to share it in the comments and I’ll post it in the footnote of this post.

Best of luck – cheers!

 

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