Saturday, October 17, 2009

Maine Beer Snobs Exist If You Know Where to Find Them

Columbus Day Weekend usually signals the end of many things, the end of Summer, the end of the Red Sox season and the end of half days at the golf course.  It signals many beginnings though - children's whines about when Halloween and Christmas were coming, fairs and festivals so boring that they would depress even the most optimistic person, geriatric leaf peepers enthralled by the colors orange and red, and of course, the hallmark of all child rearing experiences in New England - apple picking.

Weekends for me are usually reserved for pizza and kids parties as my significant other works on the weekends.  But the Sunday of Columbus Day weekend meant that neither one of us had to work the next day.  Coupling that with an overnight babysitter, meant that we were FREE.  What to do?  We had to drive to Maine to drop the kids off, so our immediate thoughts were to go leaf peeping and apple picking for the day.  No, just kidding.  After some deliberation, since Octoberfest was occurring in Newport the same weekend, we ultimately decided to go to Portland to drink beer, watch the Red Sox and Patriots and bar hop. 

The last time I was in Portland, we had encountered the Maine Beer Festival.  Although we were out of place with all of the crunchy, dirty do-gooders, we had a great time drinking beers with friends, making new friends and pretending that beer snobs actually exist.  Although I remember having a good time there, I didn't necessarily remember liking or disliking specific beers.  I decided that this would be my chance to review these quality beers and truly become the beer snob I pretended to be all those years ago.

We did exhaustive research on Maine brews.  We were generally familiar with the larger brands, having both lived in Maine for a period, so knowing that we only had one afternoon/night to taste test, we stuck with these larger brands:  Shipyard, Geary's, Allagash, Casco Bay and Gritty McDuffs.  The lesser known brands would have to wait until next year.  Trying 4 beers each was our goal.  Well that and not having too bad of a hangover the next day.

1pm.  We venture from our hotel room to Gritty McDuffs.  Ah, the same smells I remember from 15 years ago, the frying oil probably hasn't been changed since then either.  Undeterred, I order the homemade potato chips and the black fly stout.  MM orders the Halloween spooky beer.  The stout has good coffee and caramel overtones, but seems a little bitter for a stout.  The spooky beer as always goes down nice and easy as a nice ale should with nutmeg and cinnamon flavors dominating.  I try to decide between the Best Bitter (another beer I remember from 15 years ago) and the 21 ale.  I figure that I would order the 21 Ale and have MM order the Best Bitter.  I guess I should have done more than discuss the fact that we should order different beers, because she proceeds to order another Spooky Beer.  "I liked this one more than the Best Bitter."  But she didn't order the Best Bitter!  Anyway, the 21 Ale was rough on the lips and the throat.  The flavors were overcome by a very cereal hoppy and malty aftertaste which just didn't do it for me.  I guess I have to give them 66 snobbies out of 100.  Sorry guys; I was pulling for you.

3pm. We look around for a couple of the breweries to tour.  Not a good sign when no one we ask knows where our next destination, Shipyard Brewery, is.  Worse still, we find out that Geary's doesn't have a tour, and Casco and Allagash are both closed on weekends.  As you'll see later, I'm not even sure Casco Bay still exists.  So much for our crack research.  But the Shipyard is open for tours, so we walk in.  Now these breweries always crack me up.  Noone really cares that much how the beer is made.  Yeah we get it, barley, yeast, water and hops - blah, blah, blah.  Bring on the free tasting.  Our guide must have sensed our growing dissatisfaction with the one hour tour when the 8 year old in our group asks his Mother when they are going to the bar so he can have some more homemade soda.  But, finally, we get to the back room to taste.  The Blue Fin stout was dissappointing - it seemed like the CO2 cartridge was dislodged and had no taste.  The Pumpkinhead was tasty, I guess I'm very feminine with my affinity for nutmeg, cinnamon and pumpkin flavors.  The Chamberlain Ale was also very good, with a nice refreshing hoppy finish with believe it or not a banana bread flavor.  The Light and the Export Ale were boring lagers that had "Shipweiser" stamped on the label.  The IPA was also refreshingly hopped. 52 Snobbies out of 100.  I have to admit though that they get points for pouring a lot of free beer.

3:55pm.  We're walking to our next bar when we hear a number of groans coming from open windows on the street.  I turn on my phone and find that Paps just gave up (what would ultimately be) the winning runs in Game 3 of the ALDS.  But they were winning 5-1 when we left the first place, no?  We head over to another corner bar to forget that the Red Sox suck.  This is where we will have to get our Geary's fill, since they are so SECRETIVE about their brewing process (or maybe they actually don't brew beer in Maine?) that they don't provide tours.  The bartender loves it when I order a sampler.  "F-ing tourist leaf peeping crap eating wharthog"  I'm sure she's thinking to herself as she throws the Autumn Ale, Hampshire Special Ale, London Porter, and regular Geary's Ale at me.  I liked the Autumn, London Porter and the HSA.  The Regular IPA was just ho-hum - almost a true banquet beer.  75 Snobbies out of 100.

5pm.  After a brief sojourn to Bryan Boru's so MM could have a car bomb in an Irish Pub (interesting irony) we could watch the Patriots game, and I could talk to a Cincinnati Reds fan about the 1975 World Series, even though I was only a toddler at the time, we head back to Bar X to try the Allagash.  We have had several beers at this point so I'm thankful to hear that the only Allagash that they had was the White Ale.  Two sentences sum up my tasting notes for the White Ale:

 "Allagash White is as bad as the popcorn.  Bitter and not in a good way." 

I don't remember my exact beef with the popcorn at this bar, but I do remember that I didn't want to finish the beer, it was that bad.  0 Snobbies out of 100.  That score was at least better than Casco Bay Brewing Company, who could only muster an "Incomplete."  Did they close? 

Congratulations Geary's.  The 2009 Snobby Beer Award goes to you.  Ultimately, MM and I had a good time tasting beer and acting like we were from the Beer Advocate.  Now back to reality.  Maybe we can do this again during the next long weekend.  When's Veterans Day this year?

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