Carla Jean Lauter

The Beer Babe

Category: The Bollard (Page 1 of 9)

Bring it On Home

Finding local craft beer to take home in Portland seems simple — just go to one of the bottle shops that carry Maine micros. Bier Cellar (299 Forest Ave.) has a highly knowledgeable staff who’ll help you navigate their curated selection and will provide recommendations. RSVP Discount Beverage (887 Forest Ave.) is a big store that also stocks liquor and wine. A bit further down the avenue, at 1037 Forest, Friendly Discount Beverage has a big beer cave. And in the Old Port, Craft Beer Cellar recently reopened in a new location, 320 Fore St.

Here’s the problem, though. Only a fraction of Maine breweries have packaged products that reliably make it to retail, and it seems like they all do it differently.

For the smallest breweries, it can be logistically impossible to brew enough beer to make it worth the cost of packaging it. Many use growlers to fill the need for take-home beer in the interim. For example, in South Portland, newly opened Island Dog Brewing does not currently offer packaged beer. You can go to the tasting room on John Roberts Road to sample beer or have a growler filled, but I don’t expect you’ll be sipping Island Dog from a bottle or can until they grow.

Third-party packagers, including mobile canning companies that bring their equipment to breweries, can help crafters get some of their product to the masses on the go. This saves new breweries from having to invest in expensive, permanent canning or bottling lines, but it can be cumbersome to do this regularly, so many brewers save the mobile operations for special releases.

Fore River Brewing, on Huntress Avenue in South Portland, has offered bottles of a barrel-aged version of their stout and other special beers, but they’ve yet to put their flagship brews into take-home packages. Foulmouthed Brewing, a brewery and brewpub that’s also in South Portland, does occasional large-format bottle releases, but I recommend a visit for samples rather than waiting for a release – there’s too much good food and beer available now to wait.

When in doubt as to whether a favorite beer is available for retail sale, your best bet is to go straight to the source. Lone Pine (in East Bayside) and Battery Steele (on Industrial Way) are beginning to flesh out their packaging schedules, and though both make it into bottle shops, it may be easier to find on premises.

Austin Street Brewery (also on Industrial Way) just installed their own canning equipment. They’re now releasing Patina Pale Ale in cans on a semi-regular basis, much to my delight. Breweries’ websites and social media pages are generally the best sources to track releases. Bier Cellar’s Twitter account and e-mail notifications keep you informed when new batches of popular local beers arrive, like Bissell Brothers’ hazy and hoppy cans, but you still have to hustle — they don’t last long there, either.

Larger breweries whose year-round lineup of beers is reliably available in stores also offer smaller batches of specialty releases on a catch-as-catch-can basis. For example, some of Allagash Brewing Company’s rarest seasonal or specialty releases are available for take-home sale only in their tasting room on Industrial Way.

Foundation Brewing Company (Industrial Way) and Rising Tide Brewing Company (on Fox Street in East Bayside) have worked out a nice balance between beers available exclusively in their tasting rooms, those with retail distribution, and the handling of special releases. They both pilot varieties in the tasting room which can then, as interest or demand dictates, graduate to become beers brewed in larger batches and packaged.

I’ve also been seeing more beer from Portland’s Liquid Riot (250 Commercial St.) and Bunker Brewing Company (17 Westfield St.) make it into distribution lately, but special releases are still best acquired at their respective locations. In Westbrook, Mast Landing Brewing Company has been ramping up their can releases via their tasting room on Main Street and through limited retail distribution. (Their Facebook page is the best source for the skinny on new releases.)

Breweries that consistently produce enough product to be available in craft beer shops, supermarkets and convenience or neighborhood grocery stores are in a final category. The three founding breweries in Portland — D.L. Geary Brewing Company, Gritty McDuff’s and Shipyard Brewing Company — are well distributed throughout the state, and Sebago Brewing Company’s beers are also more widely available these days. I love that even in a pinch I can pick up a six-pack of Sebago’s Simmer Down summer session ale or a 12-pack of Geary’s HSA – two great beers to drink with friends at a cookout.

Ain’t No Party Like a Craft Beer Party

Originally published in the May 2017 issue of The Bollard


You’ve dragged your patio furniture out of the shed, dusted off the umbrella, and now you want to throw a party. Maybe it’s a barbeque. Maybe it’s tacos and a rousing round of Cards Against Humanity. Craft beer is a must, but what do you pick to serve your friends?

Something hoppy is mandatory. Thankfully, the Maine beer world is inundated with excellent IPAs and double IPAs. If you don’t have the time to wait in line or search for some of the rarer choices, go for some of the hopped-up brews that are widely available, like Rising Tide Zephyr, Baxter Stowaway, or Maine Beer Company Peeper.

Breadth of style is also important, though. To be inclusive and cover your bases, pick something light but decidedly not hoppy — Allagash White is a great choice for this — and then something with a maltier body, like a Geary’s HSA.

If you’re in a rush, there’s a new option that many breweries are offering these days: the mixed 12-pack. Twelve-packs of cans have gotten a bad reputation. They remind some of us of picking up the cheapest beer possible from the corner store by the college and drinking it as quickly as possible. But times have changed. Craft companies are including three or four different kinds of beer in the same 12-pack box. Sebago Brewing Company and Baxter Brewing Company regularly produce mixed 12-packs of cans that are great for gatherings of friends with diverse tastes.

In addition to the crowd-pleasers, I like to serve at least one oddball beer for people to discuss, like Banded Horn’s Samoan Drop. “Have you had this one?” I’ll ask. “They brewed this porter with Girl Scout Cookies!” Serving an unconventional or limited-release beer is a good way to display your craft beer fandom without being snobbish about it. Find something that piques your curiosity and take a risk.

In the same vein, there are a lot of interesting fermentables that double as great conversation-starters. Maine Mead Works has a series of “session” meads called Ram Island. The meads in this series are really palate friendly, not overly sweet, limited to 6.9% ABV, and come in a variety of flavors, including an Iced Tea Mead, Lavender Lemonade, and Ginger. These meads are much more satisfying than the so-called “malternatives” (malt alternatives) that include artificial flavorings.

Don’t be afraid to stray from local beer. There are some excellent out-of-state breweries that have recently begun distributing in Maine. Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing Company has finally crossed the heartland to bring their Fat Tire amber ale to our backyards. It has a different hop profile than what we’ve grown to love here in New England, and the departure is a welcome one. From across the pond, the makers of Guinness have released a beer in the U.S. that they had been brewing specifically for the Belgian market for years. The Antwerpen Stout is nothing like a regular Guinness. It has its own distinct body and some really fine, dark flavors.

Lastly, it is wise to consider the macro drinkers. Despite the growing popularity of craft beer, the macro brands (those owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller) still dominate the market, though they’re losing share every year. The gracious thing to do is to try to accommodate these drinkers, but rather than running out to grab a rack of Bud Light, find a locally made pilsner that won’t turn them off and may turn them on to the wonders of the micro world. I’d grab a six-pack of Bunker Brewing Company Cypher, Banded Horn Pepperell Pils, or Peak Organic Brewing Happy Hour. Dirigo Brewing Company will begin canning their flagship Dirigo Lager this month, which is another good option. These flavorful, lighter-bodied beers will be familiar enough for non-craft drinkers, and you won’t be stuck with beer you won’t drink if there are still some cans floating in the cooler the next day.

The Good, The Bad, and The Buttery

Originally published in the April edition of The Bollard.


As we begin the annual ramp-up toward the busy summer season in Maine, there are a few issues on the tasting-room table that warrant some attention…

The Good

This summer will bring more people to Maine for beer than ever before. A recent report by the University of Maine School of Economics and the Maine Brewers’ Guild determined that Maine beer and breweries brought nearly $228 million into our economy last year, a growth that is forecast to continue. Beer has become a significant part of our state’s draw for tourism, and the beer industry is one that our state lawmakers would be wise to support.

Last month, brewers and other workers in the industry testified in favor of bills aimed at making some behind-the-scenes logistics of brewing and selling beer more straightforward in Maine. One key measure would clarify laws regulating the transfer of packaged beer from one brewery location to another; a second would give retailers more freedom to host tastings and provide free samples. Though these are not high-visibility issues, they are important to ensure that the growth Maine’s beer sector is experiencing can continue. So if you really like beer, you should totally come to Maine, and you can try the best beer there is around, you can even bring your own mug, and if you don’t have one you just need to visit the Top 9 Best Copper Moscow Mule Mugs 2017 – Top9Rated.

In January, Bissell Brothers announced tentative plans to start brewing and selling their beer in the founders’ hometown of Milo, located in Piscataquis County. Without the ability to legally sell beer produced and packaged in Portland at this second location (and vice versa), the brothers’ dream may not become a reality, and Piscataquis could remain the only county in Maine without a brewery.

The Bad

During my visits to Portland breweries over the winter months, I was pleasantly surprised to find most of the tasting rooms full of enthusiastic patrons. But some brewery owners I spoke with expressed unease about the high numbers of customers coming in during what’s normally a slow season. A few admitted they were nervous about their capacity — not just from a production standpoint (can they brew enough beer to meet demand?), but as a matter of crowd management. Many tasting rooms have a modest amount of space for seating and standing, and a small staff whose primary job is to serve beer, not manage crowds.

With more people come more potential problems. In addition to the issue of glassware theft that I’ve raised before, it’s prudent for everyone who supports the industry to be aware of other inappropriate behavior happening at tasting rooms and to do what we can to intervene. If you see patrons drinking beer in the parking lot, acting intoxicated or vandalizing property, let a staff member know. Even one serious or dangerous incident at a brewery tasting room could ruin the relatively generous amount of freedom these establishments have enjoyed, and no one wants that to happen.

The Buttery

It’s disheartening to order a favorite beer only to find it doesn’t taste like it should. Or worse, to take a chance on buying a bottle or a six-pack and get a slick, buttery feeling on your tongue when you drink it. I’ve had both experiences in the past few months, and I’m putting my foot down: We should not tolerate this.

The culprit for these flavors is diacetyl. Pronounced either dye-ass-uh-tull or die-a-seat-ill, this byproduct of fermentation produces flavors reminiscent of buttered popcorn or butterscotch. In most beers, the amount of this chemical that’s present is small enough not to be noticed, or it’s entirely absent. In some English styles, a hint of diacetyl is desired and is produced naturally by some of the yeasts. But you should still be able to taste the beer beneath that slight buttery flavor.

Brewers can rid their beer of diacetyl by adding a few days of “rest” to the fermentation process, giving the yeast a few days to re-absorb the compound so it doesn’t show up in the finished beer. Beer that is rushed to market can often suffer from this unfortunate flavor. Infections from dirty tap lines can reintroduce diacetyl to a beer, as well, which makes it difficult to determine if the brewer or the bar manager is at fault.

In any case, it’s important to recognize this flavor and bring it to the brewer’s or bartender’s attention so they can correct the flaw. I’d rather that we give that $228 million to the breweries and bars that are doing it right, wouldn’t you?

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