Sunday, November 01, 2009

Down West

This is the unofficial third part of the brief "Unemployed in Vacationland" series of posts. If you haven't already, please go back and check out Part 1 and Part 2.

I had originally intended to write "Unemployed in Vacationland, Part 3," but since a few weeks have passed since part two, and since I'm no longer unemployed, I didn't think it would be an appropriate title. So, instead I'm going to do a post on a few beers from western Maine I had while there and those I brought home with me.

The first of these is Old Thumper Extra Special Ale. Created by British Brewer, Peter Austin, founder of Ringwood Brewery and mentor to Shipyard Brewing Company's master brewer Alan Pugsley, Old Thumper is a non-traditional English bitter. It has a nice, rich malty aroma. In fact, an under-the-weather KJ commented on this while she sat next to me on the couch playing Bejeweled on my iPod. It has a buttery, creamy mouthfeel and a mildly bitter finish. Grade: B

I'm not a big fan of Shipyard, so the fact that I give a rating that high to a brew even indirectly associated with them comes as a bit of a surprise. When I first came to Boston in 1997, el-squared turned me on to the locally brewed Tremont Ale. It was our beer of choice for quite a few years, and could usually be found on draft at most of our local hangouts. Then, in 2001, Tremont shut down their Charlestown brewery and contracted with Utica, New York's F.X. Matt Brewing Company, but eventually sold the brand name to Shipyard. It hasn't been the same since.

Shipyard's Export Ale and Chamberlain Pale Ale did a fine job of reinforcing my opinion about the brewery. Export Ale is their signature brand, which is hard to believe, as it has almost no redeeming qualities. On their web site, they describe it as a Canadian golden ale, and this is probably enough of an explanation. Why any microbrewery would want to emulate this style is beyond me. If I set out on a quest to discover the best Canadian beer, this would be a much more fruitless endeavor than seeking out really good Oktoberfests. [More on that one at a later date.] I've definitely had Export Ale before, and I don't know exactly how to describe it, but it always seems to have this not fresh taste to it. It finishes smooth—not that that's a raving endorsement—but, to be brutally honest, I'm really not sure if I would choose it over a Molson. Grade: D

Chamberlain Pale Ale is certainly better than Export Ale, but it's nothing to write home about either. So, I hope my dad is not reading this, otherwise that's exactly what I'd be doing. It's really just a mediocre pale ale, mildy hoppy but a little bland tasting. Grade: C

The India Pale Ale style is so named because the British discovered that hops are a natural preservative, so they added more to their standard pale ales so that they would survive long journeys to India, back in their imperialist days. In order to offset the increased bitterness this created, they also brewed them maltier and, therefore, stronger in alcoholic content. So, basically an IPA is a pale ale with extra hops and malt. An Imperial IPA is to an IPA what an IPA is to a pale ale. Geary's Imperial IPA is a good representative of the style. There's not much more to say about it, except that it's exactly what you'd expect. That is, very strong and very bitter, and very difficult to drink more than one or two of. Grade: B

There was also one beer from eastern Maine that I had with my lunch at a little place in Seal Harbor, on the southern end of Mount Desert Island. I never wrote about it, because I'd never heard of it, and was unsuccessful finding any information on the internet. So, for all I knew, the waitress had misidentified it as Black Bear Pale Ale, because all I could find was a British Columbia-brewed beer. Then, I persisted and discovered that Black Bear Brewery in Orono, Maine calls this offering Black Bear Pail Ale. It really is a nice hoppy ale with light citrus notes, so I didn't want to forget about it, but I would have to consider the alternate spelling to be a marketing no-no for an unknown microbrewery. Grade: B

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