Carla Jean Lauter

The Beer Babe

Category: The Bollard (Page 1 of 7)

Not Your Father’s IPA

Originally published in the February 2018 issue of The Bollard

There are over a hundred distinct styles of beer, but their popularity is not evenly distributed. The vast majority of craft beer sold in the United States is either a pale ale or an India pale ale (IPA). These bitter styles dominate the market. However, when you order an IPA these days, you may need to be more specific. The style is experiencing a split that’s dividing both brewers and consumers.

To understand the future of IPA, it’s worthwhile to look at its past. Its name harkens to an age before the advent of refrigeration, when commercial brewers couldn’t ship their beer across the seas to the colonies without the equatorial warmth ruining the product. Then brewers realized that hops had the effect of countering this spoilage — the more hops packed into a beer, the better the chances it would survive the journey. The reference to India was a nod to the cross-oceanic voyages pale ales used to make.

The IPAs of that early era were fundamentally bitter, relatively mild, and usually filtered and clear. These English-style bitters and IPAs are what David Geary and Alan Pugsley brought to Maine in the 1980s. Pugsley went on to install brewing systems across New England that used this style. Through the success of Geary’s, Shipyard, and other brands that followed, the English IPA became the standard for new breweries to match.

Ten years later, brewers on the West Coast began to develop new ideas about what hoppy beer should taste like. And, coincidentally, areas of Oregon and Washington were found to be suitable, if not superior, to European hop-growing regions. These hop varieties were selected for their strong flavors, bold bitterness and pine-y characteristics. Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale disrupted the idea of mild-mannered beer, and soon beer fans were clamoring for bolder flavors. These “pale” ales were typically dark amber in color and smelled of pine, pollen, marijuana or resin.

Fast forward to the early 2000s, and the West Coast’s influence becomes obvious in the Maine beer scene. Maine Beer Company’s Lunch, Baxter Brewing’s Stowaway IPA, and Rising Tide’s Cutter bushwhacked the path around here.

Then a new cry rose up from the masses. Beers were just getting too bitter, too boozy, too harsh. Enter brewers like Trillium, Treehouse and Hill Farmstead, and suddenly there are beers on the market causing an uproar. They’re cloudy, unfiltered, strange in appearance. Because of their origins in Massachusetts and Vermont, people begin to refer to them as New England IPAs. Their aromas have left the pine forests for the orchards; craft-beer drinkers encounter scents of orange, peach, pineapple and mango.

The rapid rise of this style took some veteran brewers and beer fans by surprise. According to the technical definition of an IPA, these New England IPAs are wrong — wrong appearance, wrong taste.

In Maine, Bissell Brothers’ flagship ale, Substance, was one of the first to turn heads with its haze. Many others have followed. Lone Pine Brewing, Goodfire Brewing, and Mast Landing have endeavored to build their brands around this new style. Some brewers that made their names with the more traditional style are even adding a New England IPA to their lineup. Notably, Shipyard, which until recently has used English-style yeasts for nearly all its beer, released Finder, a solid IPA that uses a yeast more in line with the latest trend.

There have not yet been revisions to the beer-bible guidelines that would make this trend an official style, but that process can be notoriously slow compared to the market. Though purists may fuss and complain about the IPA labeling, these beers are surging in popularity.

One piece of evidence that New England IPAs are here to stay arrived while I was on a business trip to Paris. At a bar, I asked for something hoppy and received a pour of a cloudy ale from a brewery in Switzerland called White Frontier. The name of the beer? New England IPA — and it tasted just like a pour of Substance.

Best of ’17

This post was original published in the January 2018 issue of The Bollard.

Maine’s Best New Brewery

While I’ve seen small communities rally around their first craft brewery, I admit I was skeptical when I heard there’d be a new brewery in Augusta, a government town that few people visit who aren’t mandated to be there. But when Cushnoc Brewing Company (243 Water St.) opened in late fall, it was clear this brewery would be a game-changer. Cushnoc focuses on on-premise sales to accompany its delicious wood-fired pizza. They offer a very tight and well-crafted lineup of beers (my favorite thus far has been the All Souls IPA, which is tropical yet very smooth). The brew pub’s larger-than-expected interior has a variety of seating options and a comfortable atmosphere. On opening day, I watched locals stream in, seek out employees and shake their hands. “Thank you for doing this,” they said. “You have no idea how much Augusta needs a place like this.”

Best New Maine Beer

Portland’s Lone Pine Brewing Company has gone from quietly creating crave-worthy beers in tiny batches to filling shelves and fridges with their best efforts. This year they’ve pumped out several new releases, including the stellar Oh-J. This hazy, citrusy double IPA comes in at 8% ABV and is not messing around. The fruited notes in this one are fresh and clean, giving off zesty orange aromas that bring orange juice to mind, but there’s no fruit juice or puree in this ale. It’s just that juicy, and its perpetual freshness is a testament to the hard work of the brewers there.

Maine’s Most Creative Beer

Many breweries have created special editions of their signature beers by letting them age in a sweet, boozy bourbon barrel. The sugars and alcohols warm and sweeten the base beer, generally adding positive characteristics (unless you over-do it). Far fewer brewers have attempted to wrangle the flavors of peaty, smoky Scotch barrels and combine that with beer. Allagash Brewing Company decided to give Scotch a try. They brewed a Belgian-style Scotch ale (which sounds creative by itself), and then aged it in barrels that had first held port wine, then Scotch, for four months. The result is an ale any Scotch fan would enjoy, but that a beer fan would also find interesting. As it warms, the slight aroma of smoky peat begins to rise up out of the glass, making the drinker yearn to be next to a fire in a high-backed leather chair.

Best Label/Can Design

This year’s winner might surprise you — it certainly surprised me while I was shopping for beer. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a lightning bolt on a label, shining ever so slightly amid a background of black ink. When I approached I discovered this was the 16 oz. can of Rock Harbor Brewing’s Storm Surge IPA. The Rockland brewery worked with GH Design Co. on a rebranding effort in 2017, including a new logo, packaging and marketing materials. A closer look reveals subtle background elements: contours of bathymetry behind a stormy sea that also shimmers in the light. The cans have a unique satin (and nearly matte) type of ink that sets them apart from everything else on the shelf. Check out the sea-inspired labels on Storm Surge, Breakwater, and the rest of Rock Harbor’s lineup. Unlike some other super-slick-labeled products, the beer on the inside really does live up to the beautiful design on the outside.

’Scuse Me While I Kiss the Rye

Of the four primary ingredients in beer — malt, hops, yeast and water — the selection of malts is probably the least understood by beer drinkers. It’s relatively easy to distinguish the effects of various hop varieties in juicy IPAs, but more difficult to discern, or even learn more about, the malts. Take, for example, beers in which rye is used as one of the malts, in addition to the more traditional barley.

Rye is a type of grass that was once considered a weed among the fields of barley and wheat, but has long since been used as a grain for breads, cereals and animal feed. It’s also very popular for making whiskey, and it produces a spicier finished product than the sweeter corn-based mash used to make bourbon. In beer, rye is a versatile, albeit somewhat unruly, ingredient that adds complexity and additional flavors.

The flavor I’ve always associated with rye, being born in New York, is that of rye bread. But the rye bread of home is loaded with caraway seeds, which impart a bitter, almost licorice-like flavor to the bread, and that is not what rye tastes like. When I began tasting beers containing rye, I errantly found myself searching for more of that distinctly licorice-like flavor in each sip. The taste of rye is slightly nutty, peppery and crisp — closer to the flavors of pumpernickel bread.

When used in beer, rye imparts a subtle spiciness. I often detect its presence as an “earthy” note. Depending how much rye is used — brewers typically use between 10 and 30 percent rye among the malt, and 50 percent or more in some traditional German beer styles — its flavor may be distinct or just a twinge of taste among others. Because this grain can provide a foundation for the rest of the brew, rye can be added to almost any style of beer.

Rye lovers may wonder why brewers don’t brew entirely with rye as the malt. The problem is the lack of husks. Without husks to move around in the mash, it becomes nearly impossible to sparge (the process of spraying water on the spent grain), and the mash becomes a thick, concrete-like porridge. Brewers who put large quantities of rye in a beer need to be prepared to lose a few wooden mash paddles in the process.

Rye beers are not uncommon in Maine, and the more you search for them, the more you’ll find. Rising Tide’s session rye, Daymark, is a year-round offering that’s my go-to beer when I don’t know what to bring to a house party. Its ABV is a manageable 5.5%, it has a nice earthy note to complement its bright lemony hops, and it’s interesting enough to stir some conversation.

Bissell Brothers’ LUX is a bit harder to get — it’s released in cans on a rotating schedule. LUX earned the number three spot on Beer Advocate’s list of Best Rye Beers (among hundreds of user-submitted reviews). Its flavors are punchier than Daymark’s – a tropical explosion of hops layered atop the rye-malt base.

On tap at Flight Deck Brewing, on Brunswick Landing (where the Naval Air Station used to be), are two rye beers of completely different styles. The Wright Stuff (named for the Wright Brothers) is a pale, crisp beer that pulls back the hops a bit to let the rye do its thing. Slightly cloudy, this beer stands out among traditional pale ales, and at 4.5% ABV, it remains very drinkable. If you prefer the darker side, Rye Wing features chocolate malt in addition to the rye. The rye imparts a roasted, spicy flavor, but doesn’t contribute to the heaviness of the beer, thus providing the best of dark-beer flavors in a lighter package (and also a reasonable 6.2% ABV).

If you’re crazy for rye, the traditional German Roggenbier is for you. Made with more than 50 percent rye, this style makes the grass the star of the show. Gneiss Brewing Company, in Limerick, brews a Roggenbier each spring called Stryeation. They use 70 percent rye and 30 percent wheat, then finish it with a little bit of German Noble hops. The result of this difficult process is a smooth, dark, spicy beauty.

As brewers continue to seek ways to innovate, varying specialty malts is one way they can “spice up” their recipes without going completely non-traditional. We’ve already seen the trends of adding additional flavors or ingredients (like fruits, etc.). Using rye is a more technical way for brewers to create unique beers, and well worth taking some time to explore.

Originally published in the December 2017 issue of The Bollard

The Freshmen Thirteen

Augusta. Kittery. Bridgton. Ellsworth. Machias. These places have something in common: their first brewery recently opened. In fact, over a dozen breweries have opened in Maine since last November, and only one (Ebenezer’s Brewpub, in Brunswick) has closed. This rate of growth is impressive, but it’s as much a story about neighborhood gathering places as it is about the demand for craft beer.

When Flight Deck Brewing opened its brewery and tasting room in Brunswick at the end of 2016, they were initially overwhelmed by customers. They hadn’t expected how strong the demand would be. The community of people who’ve since become regulars there seemed to be craving a place to just exist – especially with kids and dogs in tow. Every time I’ve visited, I’ve heard someone remark to the staff, “Oh, I’m just so glad that you’re here!”

At Cushnoc Brewing Company, in Augusta, I sat at the bar a few days before their grand opening and listened to locals thanking the owners for opening the brewery. One after the other, they said the city, or the neighborhood, or the street just “needed a place like this.”

As we approach 100 breweries in Maine, the question of how many the state can ultimately support looms large. There is intense competition for tap lines and shelf space, but if you look at it from a geographic angle, there seems to be plenty of room for communities to get a brewery of their own. If brewpubs can thrive in small communities like Norway, Liberty and Lyman, why not South Berwick, Richmond, or Gray?


Portland Beer Week (Nov. 5-12) is a time to rediscover beers we’ve forgotten, taste some one-off creations from brewers who want to stretch their craft, and see what’s on the horizon. The events are Portland-based, but breweries from all over the state participate in this annual celebration, and I encourage you to give a little love to some of the pioneers making a go of it in areas that were previously left out of the craft-beer scene.

Your best chance to taste beers from some of the newest breweries (some of which are opening in the coming weeks) is to grab a ticket to the Maine Brewers’ Guild’s “Freshmen Class” event (Nov. 12, at Bayside Bowl, from 3 to 5 p.m.). The event exclusively showcases beers by the baker’s dozen of breweries that have opened since last November.

Some freshmen to watch:

Lake St. George Brewery (Liberty) is new, but it’s being led by old-school talent. Head brewer and owner Danny McGovern has worked his way through the Maine beer scene since the mid 1990s, starting with the short-lived, but pioneering, original Lake St. George brewery, then to Belfast Bay Brewing (home of the original McGovern’s Oatmeal Stout), Marshall Wharf Brewing (where he’s responsible for the hoppy and delicious Cant Dog), and Monhegan Brewing. Lake St. George’s new offerings include the bright and modern Pinnacle IPA and a very well-executed Helles lager named Millstone. Their cans are available at an increasing number of stores and are well worth bringing home.

Cushnoc Brewing Company (Augusta) is located on Water Street, in a surprisingly large space. The modern layout includes a gigantic family-style table running down the center of the room, as well as a bar and booths. A sip of their juicy and perfectly bitter All Souls IPA got my attention, and I found myself already making plans to return to Augusta (who’d have thought?).

Woodland Farms Brewery (Kittery) is a lager-forward brewery that has some great straightforward styles, as well as some funky ones. Not in a traditional “main street” setting, their tasting room is tucked in with a Weathervane restaurant across from the outlet malls. A visit to try their interesting and refreshing beers could be your refuge from holiday shopping this season.

Yes Brewing (Westbrook) puts the fun back into brewing. While they make some seriously good beer, you can tell that they do so with a playful attitude. Their brightly lit tasting room, ’80s aesthetic and creativity inside the glass and out will put a smile on your face. Their peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwich beer, named No Crust, is a must-try. It’s one of the very few novelty brews that I’ve relished drinking an entire pour of.

This content was originally published in the November 2017 issue of The Bollard.

Into The Woods

Walk into a modern American or European brewery for a tour and you’ll most likely encounter towering steel tanks and a maze of shiny pipes glistening with condensation. For most commercial brewers, the brewing process begins and ends in these metal chambers, which are designed to be sterile vessels that leave the developing beer unperturbed while it undergoes its transformation. But some breweries have a corner, or a room, or an entire building that’s devoted to a very different approach, an organic process that involves a key element typically left off the list of ingredients: wood.

Compared to steel tanks, wood barrels are a whole new (or, really, much older) ballgame. Wood is porous and, as a result, it’s nearly impossible to keep its interior completely sterile. Thus, brewers aging their beer in wood may inadvertently introduce native yeasts, bacteria and other bugs that can change the flavor. The brew may also pick up traits from the wood itself, depending on the type of tree. Done correctly, or when adjusted by blending multiple batches together, you get beer that’s entirely new, fresh and unique, and the drawback of wood becomes a benefit.

Brewers have been barrel-aging beer for centuries — mostly out of necessity, before the advent of modern industrial production. In the early years of the new millennium, as craft beer got more popular and the first mainstream barrel-aged varieties, such as Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout, hit the market, a new era of experimentation began and attempts to create the most robustly wood-flavored beers reached a fever pitch.

Perhaps as a consequence of palate fatigue, the barrel-aged craze slowed for a while, but lately it’s been making a comeback in more subtle and refined ways. Instead of smothering a stout with boozy bourbon, brewers are creating new mash-ups that result in remarkably creative and complex craft beers unlike anything you’ve tasted before.

As I noted, the characteristics of the wood can be imparted to the beer. Oak barrels, for example, can give beer a vanilla-like taste without the introduction of a single vanilla bean. The previous contents of the barrel can also infuse flavors into beer, as happens when brewers use barrels (or chips of barrels) that were once used to age bourbon, rum, tequila or other spirits.

Some brewers have found creative uses for cast-off wine barrels, making beverages that begin to blur the line between beer and wine. Fruit and other natural additives can also be introduced into the barrels to give the beer more depth and nuance of flavor. The barrel-aging process — which can last for weeks, months, or even years — can completely change the character of the beer that’s initially poured inside.

The creativity of craft brewers, combined with the increasing availability of local ingredients and of barrels from small-scale distillers, has introduced a wide variety of new styles to a sub-market that was previously dominated by heavy, booze-steeped stouts. There’s a golden opportunity to sample the new diversity of wood-kissed brews this month. On Sept. 23, at the Portland Company Complex on Munjoy Hill, the folks from BeerAdvocate, a magazine and online forum based in Boston, are teaming up with Allagash Brewing Company to host a festival called Beer Meets Wood. The event boasts the largest selection of wood-barrel-aged beers on the East Coast. Over 200 varieties are slated to be poured, including brews made in the United States and in Belgium, where the practice of barrel-aging has been steadily developing for hundreds of years.

Maine has a number of breweries that excel at this tricky art. Barrel-aged beers that would be rare in other places are almost commonplace around here, like the infallible Allagash Curieux, a tripel aged in bourbon barrels that was first brewed in 2004. The aptly named Barreled Souls, in Saco, has had great success experimenting with their small batches. The tequila-barrel-aged version of their tart, limey Space Gose tastes just like a margarita. Oxbow recently released a barrel-aged version of their flagship Farmhouse Pale Ale that resists definition. The wood adds a slightly funky character to the refined base beer, teasing out just a hint of vanilla from the French oak barrels in which it was aged.

The sterile predictability of steel has its function, for sure, but what better time and place than autumn in Maine to get lost in the woods?

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