Amongst all the cargo hauled back up north the other day were more than a few 22 ouncers from Maine micros like these two from Bar Harbor Brewing Company of that sea coast town about an hour south of the US-Canadian border. Bar Harbor is a bit of a hot bed of micro-brewing, being also the home of Maine Coast Brewing as well as the Atlantic Brewing Company whose Coal Porter and Blueberry Ale I have enjoyed in the past. Pretty good for a population of about 5,000 folks. But that is not including the 476,452 tourists and 345,958 seals. I split these bottles with my kin as we watched the Braves spank the Phillies Saturday night. I received a "hmmm...pretty good" on each. High praise.
The Thunder Hole Ale is described as an english brown and I would say it is meant to be a southern english brown as opposed to the slightly tangy style of Newcastle Brown. It is a good moreish brown without the high hoppiness of many US brown ales. It is on the lighter side of browns but has a malty richness cut with layers of grain, pear and chocolate fruit and various sugars. Lighter than you would describe as dried fruit like in a Belgian brown. The hops provide structural support a bit green working with the pear, a bit twiggy and a marked astringency. All very medium which for a brown is usually a good thing. Well crafted rather than amazing as befits the style, this would make a great session ale. A long long finish. Advocates approve. I have not been able to identify the alcohol content.
Their Cadillac Mountain Stout was on my list of beers to buy as it came first in a recent All About Beer review of stouts and porters. I am starting to think that Maine is one of he hotbeds of world stout making, given the consistent excellence I have found there. This beer pours a big dark beige rocky head. It is rich and creamy, even buttery, and maybe is more smokey than dry burnt roasty. It has some of that fruitiness that Maine Coast's dry stout provides in large measure. There is some mint to the hops but also a characteristic I can only call hardwood. Notes of treacle and cocoa, too. In a way, it is more like a more complex and less sweet caribbean stout like Royal Extra from Trinidad. Certainly one of the best stouts I have ever had. Up there with Freeminer. Here is what the advocates said. Again, no info on the alcohol content.
Found at the LCBO southern Bank Street shop in Ottawa, this is truly a lovely ale from Shepherd Neame in Kent. The pale malt fruitiness you taste in crystal malt form in a beer like Bombardier is just as lushly at the forefront - but instead of a prune or raisin, it is a plum or grape...or better: apple pie of russets with a fine lard pastry. Hops play a intermeddling supporting role, almost overwhelming here and there but never getting their way. The yeast leaves a hint of cream beneath it all. This is the sort of ale that is so well made and balanced that you find yourself trying to speculate with yourself on whether you can dissect the flavour of the water out from the rest of the tapestry.
Heaven. Here's what the beer advocates say.
Update: Please read the comments to this thread which go a long way to explain the situation at Creemore. I am not, however, amending my post based on those comments as I am still not a fan personally and do still think calling a beer Ur-bock is vanity itself...
No great nashing of teeth around my house with the news the Creemore Springs [Ed.: anticipate sudden link-rot syndrome (SLS) to appear soon] is being bought by sugar water merchants Molson as I never liked the Creemore product, sourish lagers of a quasi-German style, or their incredibly unfounded vanity in relation to their "Ur-bock". Here is the news on the sale:
Molson Canada is adding small Ontario brewer Creemore Springs Brewery Ltd. to its liquor cabinet in a deal that will give it added punch in the premium "craft beer" category. The acquisition, financial details of which were not released, will see the Canadian wing of recently merged beer colossus Molson Coors Brewing Co. increase marketing for the boutique brewery and consider expanding the brand outside its home base in Ontario.There is no doubt that the "brand" will be "leveraged" which will have little to do with the quality of the fluid in the vessel. There is a risk this may be the start of a consolidation of "brands" into marco portfolios which will see fewer and fewer beers actually available to the consumer.
Interesting to note the following comments in our local paper, the Whig-Standard supporting smoking bans in pubs:
Several bar owners say business has rebounded since the cityï¿½??s smoking bylaw went into effect nearly two years ago. Their experience contrasts the findings of a study released this week that contends smoking bans cut bar sales nearly 25 per cent in the Limestone City and almost as much in three other major Ontario centres. "I chuckled when I read that [in the newspaper]," said Dan Clarke, who owns the Loyal Oarsman pub in the city's west end.
The study, conducted for the Pub and Bar Coalition (PUBCO) and the Fair Air Association of Canada, reported that local smoking bans cut bar sales by 24.3 per cent in Kingston, 23.5 per cent in Ottawa, 18.7 per cent in London and 20.4 per cent in Kitchener. Clarke said though his sales dropped about five per cent immediately after the ban went into effect May 1, 2003, business is now better than ever. "I wouldn't allow the smoking back in," he said. "I would lose business first to tell you the honest truth - We see a lot of new faces."
Clarke isn't alone. The Whig-Standard canvassed the owners of about 10 bars in the downtown core and in the city's west end. More than half of those establishments reported a rebound in business since an initial slump after the smoking ban. Bruce Clark, who owns the Toucan and Tango downtown, has watched his sales steadily climb over the past 18 months or so to the point where he does more business now than he did before the ban. "My business is up, although it is a little different - [The smokers] still come and they do spend money, though maybe not as much, and I've got a whole bunch of new customers," he said.
My sister is in Budapest with us now, so I went out and bought some German, Hungarian and Czech beers to try out. We also went out to an 'all you can eat' sushi joint on the Buda side called Wasabi (it may be part of a chain) and had some beer there. It was actually my first time eating sushi at one of these conveyor belt style places where you pick an item from the line of dishes that drift past you. Since it's all you can eat, my husband thinks it will soon go out of business. The day we were there we saw some large Hungarians leaving the place clutching their bellies in a satisfied way, so he may be right. The food was great though.
We had the German and Czech beers (a Bitburger and a Staropramen) at home. The Staropramen (which means "old source" according to the Oxford bottled beer database) was a light coloured lager. As I drank the Staropramen, I tried to find a little background information online. I read that Staropramen makes a light Pilsner that is every bit as good as Urquell, but cheaper. When I poured it out it had a froth that lasted about two minutes. It had a dry aftertaste or finish. It grew on me. It was more complicated than I had at first thought, but I also thought that I preferred the Pilsner Urquell that I had tasted at a restaurant a few weeks ago. I decided to go out and buy two more bottles so that I could compare the Urquell with the Staropramen. I poured both into glasses and put them side by side. They looked very similar.
which is which?
Actually they also tasted somewhat similar. But I still preferred the Urquell. And, especially when recalling how I had felt when I first drank these beers separately they had in fact seemed quite different. Maybe there are better and worse times to drink beer. The Urquell may have made a better impression because I had had it with food at the Gundel. And anyway in social situations beer often seems better. In any case, my impression was confirmed when I tried them out together but they are definitely not that different.
The German pilsner is billed as the number one draft beer in a can from Germany . It's slogan is Bitte ein Bit or "a Bitburger please". It's a golden coloured beer. It has a crisp dry flavour, but doesn't leave a lasting impression. Maybe I prefer darker beers. It's alcohol level is 4.8 percent. It's sold in Quebec (this I know, because it has instructions concerning the return of used cans in Quebec).
At the Sushi restaurant, we had an Amstel Bock which is a rich sweet beer with no bitterness. It pours out frothy. The head lasts for about a minute. It went well with the Teriyaki chicken. We had the Dreher Bak later (it was my sister's choice). It's a different beer than the Amstel. It has a rich molasses taste which is strangely (because I did say molasses) not as sweet as the Amstel. It has a nuttiness and a slightly bitter finish. I think I preferred it to the other bak.
Note the Goat - the universal symbol for bock
You will see below that Knut has posted about seagull eggs and beer in Norway but I just realized he has his own beer blog. It is in English and looks quite snazzy.
Gritty McDuff's Brewpub, Portland
I got to visit both the Portland and Freeport locations of the oldest brewpub in Maine within 24 hours. I am glad to say the brew in each is fine even if the setting of the Freeport pub is a bit rough. It is a bit like drinking in an old storage shed though - to be very fair - it is clearly a summer spot and dropping in during a late winter snow storm did not show it to its best. I liked the food in both spots. If I was in Freeport again I probably would stop in for a stout but if you are heading to visit just one, go to Portland. In each you can see bench seating which is fairly common in New England and Atlantic Canada but less so as you move west.
So definitely worth the visit for the ales, Portland for the ales and the location. Gritty's also bottles its own - or at least has it contract brewed somewhere - which you can pick up pretty much anywhere in southern Maine. I think I brought a quart of Black Fly home for further study. Below are some shots from the Freeport location which you can click on for a larger view.
Spring has come to the Northern hemisphere - it is even approaching the Arctic coast of Northern Norway. This means it is almost time for a seasonal delicacy in these parts: beer and seagull's eggs. The eggs are gathered in late April/ early May, and are mostly eaten by the locals; though it is available is shops and restaurants in the region and in Oslo, too, if you know where to look. The eggs have a strong flavour, and are best eaten hard boiled with a pinch of salt or maybe a slice of smoked salmon.
The traditional beer to drink with this delicacy is a pilsner from Mack's, an old family brewery located in TromsÃ¶. They claim to be the northernmost brewery in the world, and who am I to dispute this? Their main product is their Mack pils, which I feel is a bit too malty for my taste, but the eggs have a quite strong flavour in themselves, so this is not the time for a more sophisticated beer anyway. Mack brew several other pilsner type beers as well, and additionally have some seasonal beers, of which the Christmas beer is the most interesting.
If you want to taste this combination of beer and eggs, you should hurry up. The Norwegian government have issued warnings about the consumption of seagull's eggs, as they are contaminated by PCB and dioxins. Children and pregnant women should avoid them completely; others should limit their consumption to a few eggs during the season. Even the fish in these waters, far away from the industrialized areas on the European continent, have enough poison to seriously affect the seagulls and their eggs. This does not mean much to an occasional visitor, but for the locals, who have used these eggs both as a staple food and as a nice way of earning an extra income; it is the end of a way of life.
This is a smooth cream stout that goes off in a direction that I just don't quite get. A beige ring over really dark black ale. It has chocolate, licorice and roast barley notes but also a somewhat odd Mennonite apple butter thing in the middle. Not unpleasant but really big and malty like you might expect in an imperial stout but this brew has none of the whallop one of those packs. If it was called porter I would not be surprised either but it still wouldn't be right. Am I a stylistic prude?
Neat to see these guys brew six different stouts...but none called Fresh Draught Stout. Maybe its the Black Irish Stout as one beer advocate notes that it has an "agreeably lithe fruitiness of a vaguely pruneish nature emerges mid palate and lends a blurred bitter cocoa dusted dark fruit contrast." Wheee-yew! And I thought I was a ripe little adjective squeezer.
From Baaah Haaabaaah, State O'Maine. Something like $5.65 US a half gallon at RSVP Liquors in Portland Maine.