Thursday, September 9, 2010

Maine beer, interrupted

My parents go to Maine every year for two weeks to visit my mother's family. If you've never been to Maine, put it on your list of "Beautiful places in the United States I Should See Before Spending Tons of Cash on Europe." In my humble opinion, it's the most beautiful place in the world--in the summertime*.

I've been hinting to my husband that we need to go to Maine, but he's not really good at picking up hints of things he's not particularly interested in (strange, what husband doesn't want to be trapped in the boonies with in-laws he's never met?). So when my parents told me they were heading up, I got a wild hair and booked a flight. Just me, a couple of days, during the week, Sky-Mile-ing-it.

I would be at the mercy of my parents, so I didn't have much choice on activities. I had but one request: on the day we headed back to Portland for my flight out, I wanted to stop by the Allagash Brewery. I've been hearing awesome stuff about their beer for some time, and have been wanting to try it, even before I realized it was brewed in Maine. It's Belgian style! It's bottled conditioned! What's that, you ask?

Bottle conditioning involves adding yeasts to the beer once it's bottled, sometimes with added sugars for the yeast to feed on. It's not filtered or pasteurized, like most mass-produced beer. This is "living beer," and it actually allows the beer to last longer than filtered/pasteurized beer. In fact, some bottle-conditioned beers are meant to age for a while, allowing the yeasts to change the character of the beer. It also adds natural carbonation to beer. There's a good article on Tastings, the web site of the Beverage Tasting Institute.

So excited was I! And my parents were intrigued (they drink a beer here and there, especially while on vacation). Little did I know that a storm was brewing--literally. Hurricane Earl was threatening the East Coast and many projected paths had it hitting Maine on Friday. The day I was scheduled to fly out. Portland (and thus its airport) is right on the coast. Delta was offering travelers the chance to reschedule flights free of charge. Reluctantly, I rescheduled to fly out a day early--squashing any plans of brewery tours or tastings. Of course, as we know now, Earl petered out and became a tropical storm, dumping rain and churning up the sea, but nothing worse. Figures.

So I had just one full day in Maine. We went to Camden, a lovely coastal town, and hung out with Jim (one of my three uncles) and his girlfriend. If you only have one day to do Maine, this wouldn't be a bad way to spend it - lobster roll and beer at Bayview Lobster Company on the wharf, perfect view of Camden Harbor, strolling around the quaint shopping district, another beer at Camden Deli on their rooftop deck - another fantastic view.

It was at the Camden Deli that I had my one local brew: Geary's Summer Ale. Geary's is also based in Portland. Here's their description: "full bodied with a spicy hop tang and a rich, crystal clear golden color." This reddish-blond ale was definitely full bodied--a little more than I'd care for in the crazy, unseasonably hot weather Maine was experiencing (in the upper 90s!). Maybe a little too spicy? Perhaps it's my Florida summer palate, but this struck me as a beer to be savored in slightly cooler weather. Then again, who in Maine would make beer for 90-degree heat?

Geary's calls their Summer Ale a kolsch-style. Kolsch (there should be two dots over the "o" there) is an ancient German style of brewing. In fact, only beer of this style brewed in Cologne, Germany is allowed to be called Kolsch (the name of the town is actually Koln, again with the two dots over the "o" - Cologne is the Anglicized way of saying it). I'd never really heard of this style before. It's made with all barley (no wheat), and is very light in color and flavor. Unlike the ubiquitous lagers, there should be a subtle fruity or tangy aftertaste. The German Beer Institute website has an excellent entry on Kolsch, and Carolyn Smagalski at Bella Online has a great article, "The Seductive Style of Kolsch" that includes a list of American kolsch-style beers, including Geary's Summer Ale.

The Beer Advocate folks don't think Geary's Summer Ale adheres to the Kolsch style very well; I'd have to agree. It's more amber than gold in color and a little too full bodied. Not that that's a bad thing. It's a tasty beer.

Interesting label note: Geary's asks Maine College of Art students to submit entries for each year's summer ale marketing and awards the winner a scholarship. That's pretty cool, even if I wasn't too impressed with this year's effort. (The photo on Beer Advocate is of a different year - cuter, in my opinion).

* That last part is very important, especially for Southerners. I spent much of my childhood summers in Maine--my mom, little brother, and I would spend three months with my grandparents in BFE, Maine, whilst my poor father toiled away in the sweltering heat of Florida. Hey, somebody's got to work! Anyway, Maine is fan-freakin-tastic in the summertime - warm during the day, cool at night, dry. It's covered in nature, from the rocky coast to the gorgeous forests. HOWEVER. It is cold as hell frozen over any time not called "summer." I went up in March/April a couple years ago for my grandmother's funeral--may she rest in peace--and it was FRIGID. I was MISERABLE. ALL CAPS MISERABLE. I went again a few years later for my sainted grandfather's funeral in October - guess what? FRIGID.

Posted via email from Scurrilous Tosh

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