Last year I wrote a couple posts regarding St. Patrick’s Day. I’m not a fan of this day for a few reasons that I won’t bother going into because it really doesn’t matter. This year, I’m writing to ask you to drink better beer, not only today, but everyday. Continue reading Drink Better Beer (today and everyday)
You may have noticed that there are some pumpkin beers and oktoberfests already out on the shelves of your favorite liquor store or place to buy beer. Southern Tier released their Pumking in July. I don’t know about you, but even though I’m not one to care about what kind of beer I drink in certain seasons, pumpkin beers aren’t something I want in the summer. The spices and flavors just don’t go well with 90 degree weather. I imagine I’m not the only one that feels this way. Victory just announced via Twitter that they’re Festbier will be released in a week or so. Naturally, I asked them why they’re releasing it so early. Their response was that it’s refreshing and easy drinking and this will allow it to reach more markets in time for the season. That’s a valid response. In fact, it’s pretty hard to argue with that. Victory and Southern Tier aren’t the only culprits with the seasonal creep. Boston Beer Co., brewers of the Samuel Adams line of beers, is one of the worst (though they’re hardly as bad as Southern Tier this year, maybe they’ve learned their lesson). I’ve seen their Summer Ale released in March/April. I don’t know who they’re going after, but March in New England still brings quite a bit of snow. April isn’t necessarily a whole lot warmer
What about freshness? If they’re brewing these seasonal beers early to get them to market early, what happens with the freshness of these beers? People don’t want to drink pumpkin beers and oktoberfests in the summer. At the same time, people don’t want to drink beer that’s been sitting around for 2 months either. I know the real reason these breweries are releasing their seasonals early is to make as much money off them as possible. After all, what doesn’t sell hurts their bottom line. I can’t argue with that either. I mean, breweries need to make money to stay in business. I have no problem with that. My problem is using old beer (now 2 months is hardly old, but there’s nothing like fresh beer) to do this. It creates an artificial demand for the limited seasonals. People see them on the shelves and need to buy them. The problem is, it’s August. It’s 90 degrees outside. Humidity is high. People want to go to the beach. They’re not going to be drinking a 9% ABV pumpkin beer. Most people want something lighter, something more refreshing. Granted, Victory’s Festbier fits that bill. Oktoberfests traditionally aren’t strong and don’t have big bold flavors. It’s the little nuances that give a good oktoberfest its flavor. They can be consider refreshing, and it’s a little understandable why Victory is doing this (though it’s mainly for their bottom line).
I get disappointed when some of the better summer beers are sold out long before summer’s end. I also get disappointed when October hits and all the good oktoberfests are gone (granted, Oktoberfest in Germany starts in late September). I like these types of beers to last through Thanksgiving. They make for great beers to pair with a New England Thanksgiving dinner. Summer doesn’t end until late September and Winter doesn’t start until late December. I can understand using the “Polish seasons” (as a teacher in high school used to call them) with fall starting September 1, winter starting December 1, spring starting March 1, and summer starting June 1. That’s fine with me. But hold onto those seasonals until the seasons (Polish or actual) truly start.
So what can we do to put an end to the seasonal creep? For starters, don’t fall for the hype of the seasonals hitting the shelves. Wait until you really want to be drinking that type of beer to buy them. This will cause your local liquor stores (or places that sell beer) to keep them off the shelves, or better yet, not order them from the distributor, until the season actually hits. When the distributors start seeing a buildup of the seasonals because no one wants them out of season, they’ll stop buying them from the breweries until the time is right. And you know what happens next… the breweries will stop brewing the seasonals so early.
Another thing you can do is to write to your favorite breweries. Explain to them that you want their summer beers to last through the end of summer. Tell them you want to see them on the shelves in late August so you can stock up on them for your Labor Day BBQ. Brewers tend to listen to their customers. It’s a tough business and if they lose sales, they’ll have to change their ways to keep going. I’m not telling you to threaten them with a boycott. That’s going too far. We still want them to exist. After all, we love their beer. We just want them to release their seasonal beer in a sane manner and keep it in season.
I understand that oktoberfests are a tough one. They have the shortest season. People tend not to want to buy oktoberfests after Halloween. Pumpkin beers have a little longer season, assuming breweries don’t name them after holidays (I know Gritty’s Halloween Ale is an ESB, not a pumpkin beer, but it’s tied to a single holiday) or use holiday-specific artwork (I’m looking at you Shipyard Pumpkinhead). If they changed the way they market these beers or even the branding of them, the beers will sell through November. Pumpkin pie is a staple dessert for Thanksgiving. It’s funny because pumpkin beers tend to taste like pumpkin pie.
So to all your brewers out there… Please stop releasing your seasonals earlier and earlier. I don’t want to start seeing summer beer released in February or pumpkin beers released in May.
No vacation would be worthwhile without beer involved. So, since we had 4 beer geeks in the car, there were a few stops.
Gritty McDuff’s Brewpub, Freeport, ME
On our ride up to Sunday River, we stopped in Freeport to visit the flagship LL Bean retail store(s). Since it was lunchtime, we decided to stop into Gritty’s Brewpub just down the street. The place is big and pretty open. There are 2 halves, one with a bigger bar than the other (it’s got the casks). The side we sat in had the smaller bar with just some taps and regular drinks. The tables were mostly picnic style tables, kind of like a German bar. The food was excellent. I had a burger that was fantastic. The others in our group also really enjoyed their food. They had their IPA and Scottish Ale on cask. I got the IPA, Susan got the Scottish. The IPA was awesome, but the Scottish was way off. They also had the Black Fly Stout on nitro, which was also excellent. We stopped by the gift shop, picked up a mini-keg of the stout and got some t-shirts.
Sunday River Brewing Co., Bethel, ME
At the end (or beginning, depending on which way you’re going) of Sunday River Rd. is the Sunday River Brewing Co. This brewpub used to be owned by Stone Coast, before they went out of business. It’s now the only place you can still get fresh Stone Coast beer, and what good beer it is. I had the Alt and the IPA (still the good old 420 IPA). Others in the group got the Red, which was also very good. Their food is excellent. They do a great BBQ and their house-made pastrami is awesome. It’s also really cheap. Pints are normally $3.50, but on Wednesdays from 3-7, they’re just $1.50. If you’re in the area, SRBC is a “don’t miss”.
Shipyard Brewhaus, Whitecap Lodge, Sunday River Resort, Newry, ME
While this isn’t an actual brewpub or brewery, Shipyard has a bar at the Sunday River resort. It serves beers other than Shipyard. It’s a little on the pricey side with regards to the food, which is pretty good, but nothing special. However, they have pretty much every Shipyard beer available (with the exception of the Pugsley’s Signature Series). The beer is good, and pretty cheap. Pitchers were just $15. They had the Brown Ale, which is a special one, and it’s a good one. They also had their Bluefin Stout, which was also excellent. If you’re at Sunday River, you should stop by the Shipyard Brewhaus at Whitecap Lodge for some beer (though you can skip the food here).
And now… last but most certainly not least… (in fact, I saved the best for last)…
Ebenezer’s Pub, Lovell, ME
Note: I’m going to include a review of an inn here as well, because it’s necessary to spend a night if you plan on visiting Ebenezer’s.
The last night of our trip, we stayed at the Olde Saco Inn in Fryeburg, ME. The inn is off Rt. 5, but way back in the woods. In fact, the street wasn’t found on my GPS, probably because it’s really just a driveway for the inn. The inn is gorgeous and the innkeepers are super nice and friendly. They were very welcoming and accommodating. The rooms were nice. There was a huge fireplace in the middle of the first floor, which kept the whole place nice and warm and smelled fantastic. They were baking cookies when we arrived. The morning after, we woke up to the great smell of maple and bacon. Since breakfast was included, we also got a huge meal. It was well worth the cost. It should also be noted that they run a shuttle service in conjunction with Ebenezer’s. You drive to Ebenezer’s, drink a lot of great beer, someone from Ebenezer’s will drive you back to the inn, the next morning, the innkeeper will bring you back to get your car.
Now onto the stuff you wanted to know… Ebenezer’s!
Ebenezer’s Pub is a small restaurant and bar also set back in the woods (apparently, it’s on a golf course, but in the middle of the winter, you can’t see anything but white). A lot of their business was snowmobilers, for whom they kept the heat down (my only complaint as it was quite chilly in there). It was packed when we arrived, so we ordered some beer and waited for a table (Susan wasn’t able to sit at a bar height table because of her knee). The tap list looks like you’re at a bar in Belgium that also serves a few American craft beers. It ranged from the common Stella Artois (which I doubt he carries often) to the rare Black Albert and Cantillon St. Lamvinus. In fact, the only non-craft beer on the list was Stella. He did have bottles of Bud and Corona, probably to keep him in business. Most of the people in there were drinking something other than the great draft beers they had. After we ordered food, one of the waitresses started talking to us and bringing us samples of some of the great beers on tap, including Black Albert and a couple Cantillon lambics. We drank a lot of beer, more from samples than actual orders. They had Samichlaus Helles on draft as well as a 2004 Stone Old Guardian Barleywine. Both were excellent. The 4 Cantillons I had (2006 Framboise, 2006 Kriek, Rose Gambrinus, and St. Lamvinus) were excellent, though not quite as sour as they are from the bottle. The Black Albert was simply amazing. It was a little light in body, but the flavor was awesome. The bartender had also brought us a bunch of samples. The staff couldn’t have been better.
Ebenezer’s is a must visit for anyone who loves beer. While they may not have the most taps or the biggest bottle list, they make up for it 10 times over with their staff. We didn’t even get to meet the owner, Chris.
This doesn’t include all the beer we drank at the condo (Shipyard Export Ale, Geary’s Pale Ale, Geary’s HSA, Sebago Frye’s Leap IPA, Schlafly Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout, and more…). It also doesn’t include the stop we made for lunch at the Portsmouth Brewery on our drive home. I’ll write more about that next as it’ll include a bit more than just that lunch stop.
I finally made it to my first real beer festival (though I suppose it’d be the second after Julio’s Springfest, which was free and had limited sampling). I finally had a GIBF I could attend without something else coming up and getting in the way. I only attended the first session. We started our day later than we had planned, but had a good sized breakfast and then headed downtown. We got in line right around 11:45 and met up with a couple friends in line. Because we were there over an hour before the start, we spent a lot of time sitting there, but it was worth it. There were a ton of people buying tickets at the ticket booth before getting in line. I had my tickets waiting at the will call booth, which had no line. Within the next half hour after arriving, the line filled up pretty quickly. Being near the front, we were able to avoid lines at several tables after they let us in, but that didn’t last long.
The beer fest is setup kind of odd with breweries and other vendors mixed in with each other. I would have preferred to have seen all the breweries together and the random other vendors in their own section. I’ll go into the other vendors after I get through the beer.
To make the beer a bit easier, here’s the breweries we hit and what we drank (in no particular order, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten some).
- Trinity Brewhouse – Imperial Brown Ale, Scotch Ale
- Blackstone Valley Brewing Supplies (a homebrew shop serving homebrews) – Barrel Aged Scottish Ale (cask), Porter (cask), ESB (cask), Irish Stout, English IPA, Altbier
- St. John’s Brewers – Virgin Islands Mango Pale Ale
- Gardner Ale House – Oktoberfest, Chocolate Porter
- Milly’s Tavern – Porter, Pumpkin Ale
- Woodchuck – Oak Aged Cider, Dark and Dry Cider
- Harpoon – 100 Barrel Series Rauchfetzen
- Saranac – Imperial Stout, Imperial IPA, Root Beer (non-alcoholic)
- Paper City – Batch 108 Coffee Stout, Cabot Street Wheat
- Watch City – Beejesus BPA, Bombed Blondeshelle Tripel, Kingpin Imperial Stout
- Brooklyn Brewery – Local 1, Black Chocolate Stout
- Newport Storm – Rum Barrel Oktoberfest
- Offshore Ales – Nutbrown Ale, Hop Goddess
- Pennichuck – The Big O Oktoberfest, Wassail Lager (cask)
- Woodstock Inn & Brewery – Autumn Brew, Pemi Pale Ale
- Shipyard – Barleywine
- Olde Burnside – Ten Penny Ale, Dirty Penny Ale
- Otter Creek – Wolavers IPA, Winter Ale
- Haverhill Brewery – HaverAle, Eve’s Apple Ale
- Rapscallion – Blessing, Honey
- Sierra Nevada – Anniversary Ale
- Spaten – Optimator
- Berkshire Brewing – Cabin Fever
- B&C Liquors (a store I believe) – Belhaven Scottish Ale
Most of those beers represent beers I have never tried. My goal was to drink lots of beer that I’ve never had before (or can’t get). I accomplished that, though I did have some beers I’ve had in the past. The standout breweries were Watch City, Paper City, Gardner Ale House, and, even though it’s technically not a brewery, Blackstone Valley. My favorite beers of the night were Cabin Fever, Gardner’s Chocolate Porter, everything I tried from Watch City, Shipyard’s Barleywine, and pretty much everything from Blackstone Valley. Of course, I passed on some favorites while going booth to booth, but I was trying to avoid getting too drunk (and in that case, I was successful as I was not drunk). The only brewery I had wanted to hit, but missed because we never walked by them in our 3.5 hours there, was Buzzard’s Bay. I’ll have to plan a brewery trip some weekend.
In the course of the afternoon, we stopped by some other booths. The Cabot Creamery booth was a nice break from beer and I love their cheese. A company called Gerb’s Pumpkin Seeds had some good pumpkin seeds (I liked the roasted red pepper ones). We got some food from Jersey Mike’s and Pizza Pie-er with a donation to the RI Food Bank (or something like that). And we spent a lot of time (and money) at the Yankee Brew News table, mainly because we knew the people there (and bought 2 shirts a piece).
What I didn’t like… intermingled with the beer tables were Skoal, Gina’s Cigars, Port-o-pong (beer pong stuff), some random beer-related tshirt booths, the food I mentioned before, Capitol Billiards, HJY radio, and a basement finishing company (that was the only real oddball). While I can understand having some of these places there (especially the food), I feel like they should have been place elsewhere in their own area. Keep all the breweries together, put all the beer-related stuff nearby (Ale Street News and Yankee Brew News, for example), but put everything else somewhere else. It was a distraction from the beer, which is what this show should have been about.
I also didn’t like the fact that there was a lot of empty space. This could be a real first class beer event in our little state. There was a row of port-o-johns on one wall, but no beer tables facing them even though there was a ton of space. There were also some rows of booths that could have been extended. This could have been done if more breweries were present. I was disappointed that Mayflower Brewing wasn’t present, even though they were listed on the website. The other disappointment is that breweries can enter their beers in the competition without actually being present at the show. It would have been nice to try the beers that were announced as winners, but some of them weren’t there. There were also a lot of “macros” present… Coors, Miller, Corona, Presidente, Diageo (Guinness)… and they all had some crazy games, causing the frat-ish boys to all yell, causing everyone else to yell. That was a bit obnoxious. Finally, the lines were all 20-30 people deep at the height of the show. More breweries means shorter lines. Shorter lines means easier access to the beer.
Overall, I enjoyed myself. I got to try a lot of beer that I wouldn’t normally be able to try. I was able to try a bunch of beer that I will likely now look for in my local liquor stores. Finally, I got to hang out with a bunch of friends and chat beer with the reps and brewers. It was a fun day, though we were exhausted and felt like it was much later when we got home. Next year, I’m going to see if I can be a judge. It’ll require me taking a day off from work, but I’d get into the fest for free and take a more active part in the beer world.
Tonight’s beer was the first of the autumn beers for me, Gritty’s Halloween Ale. I don’t have a whole lot to say about it. I initially thought it was this beer I had last year that had a nice pumpkin spice flavor to it, but I’m thinking otherwise now after having looked at the style (ESB). It’s definitely a good beer. It’s nothing super special, but it’s a nice solid fall brew. It hits you with some up front bitterness, but that mellows out and turns into a nice roasted flavor and then as the taste lingers in your mouth, the bitterness comes back. As the beer warms up a bit, some of that bitterness dies and more of the roasted malt flavors come out, but that spicy bitterness still hangs around a bit. All in all, it’s a good solid beer and makes for a nice session beer. I can see myself spending all night drinking only these.
Now I just need to figure out which was the nice pumpkin beer I had. I’m hoping it’s the Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale (though it could’ve been from the Shipyard or Sea Dog, 2 beers which I did not buy this time around, but there’s always Friday).