The World Atlas of Beer

Maintaining a beer blog – even a casual one like this – occassionally has its perks. Recently I was contacted by a PR rep regarding a new book from Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont. A fan of their work, I jumped on this opportunity to receive a copy of The World Atlas of Beer: The Essential Guide to the Beers of the World.

Both Webb and Beaumont are accomplished beer writers. Beaumont is known for his prolifc nature across various publications such as Wine Enthusaist, The Celebrator, Whisky Advocate, The Globe and many others. Currently, World of Beer is the best place to get his latest updates. Tim Webb has written a number of highly regarded books about beer and travel – including my favorite companion to my Belgium trip, Good Beer Guide Belgium. He also spent six years on the board of CAMRA and co-authored the well-received Brew like a Monk. This new book – now available – show us what happens when two fantastic writers team up to celebrate a topic they are respectively quite passionate about, and the final product could not have turned out better.  Continue reading

The State of the Union of Beer

I often get press releases and announcements sent my way from marketers, various organizations, and even occassionally brewers. Sometimes I feel I’m remiss in not turning these back around for the readers of this site – but in this case, I wanted to speak up and get this one out to you all.

I’m a huge fan of the Brewers Association – Charlie Papazian’s non-profit trade org – and they recently posted the Top 50 Breweries of 2011. The list is based on sales volume from small and craft US breweries. An interesting note from the read:

In the last 15 years, craft brewing has gone from one percent of the overall beer market to almost six percent in 2011,” said Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association. “We attribute a large part of that growth to the many talented brewers who are providing beer lovers with more beer style and flavor choices than ever before.

It’s interesting to look at this and see that Boston Beer Co (Sam Adams) makes the top of the list, as well as top five for overall breweries. Other beer afficianados may snub their nose at Sam Adams, but I try not to forget that Boston Beer Co more or less sparked the US craft beer revolution. I often consider Sam Adams a gateway beer to the craft beer world – it is safe, approachable, but often more flavorful and different than the 3 or 4 fizzy yellow products on tap; and of course they were one of the first in the early 80′s to stray from the light lager trends. Plus, Sam Adams has their periodic special releases that are often quite good. So I raise a glass to Boston Beer Company and take this moment to recognize their well-earned spot as the #1 American craft brewery.

Only in the past few years has the US surpassed the number of active breweries in the country since the prohibition dropoff, but we have a long way to go to hit our pre-Civil War brewery numbers! Check out this history of the US brewering industry that shows there were as many as 3,286 breweries active in the United States in 1870 — that’s a strong showing compared to our 2011 numbers, totaling 1,989 (infographic alert!), but the trends are upward and the craft beer startups are increasing. Boston Beer Co and others to thank, the US is surely a booming contender, if not front-runner, in the craft beer market.

Remember, even though we find our US taps littered with Bud, Miller, and Coors – none of these are American companies, at least not anymore. Anheuser was taken over by Belgian conglomerate InBev to form AB InBev. Miller is owned by SAB Miller (Originally South African Breweries, now headquartered in London), and Coors is owned by Molson – our friends to the North. While I pass no judgement on to those who prefer these products, I often make an effort (though try not to limit myself) to support smaller or domestic breweries.

Now, 6% of the market may not sound like a lot – but let’s consider that in 2011 the overall beer market was down more than 1%. The LA Times pointed out that beer sales were at their lowest level since 2003 mostly due to lower sales from the larger breweries. However, American craft beer exports increased 86% in 2011 over the previous year, and volume of craft beer sales was up 13% (11.5 million barrels versus 10.1 million in 2010). The upshot? People may be buying less beer, but they are buying more craft beer! That’s great news for good beer lovers, and even better news for craft breweries. And guess what? The big boys are taking notice.

I am continually surprised when I look at the growing list of brands under the AB InBev name. This includes such beers as Leffe, Hoegaarden, Spaten, Rolling Rock, Bass, Shock Top, and even Goose Island. Michelob (also AB InBev) periodically releases holiday “sampler pack” beers that include their “craft emulations”. Blue Moon is owned by a subsidiary of a Miller and Coors JV (aptly named MillerCoors), and I can’t help but think the reason why these folks are finally moving toward more interesting products is because of the growing interest in flavorful beer.

So as not to obscure the numbers, and accurately track the sales dollars/volume of craft breweries, the Brewers Assocation defines craft brewers as “small, independent and traditional”.

Small: Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less. Beer production is attributed to a brewer according to the rules of alternating proprietorships. Flavored malt beverages are not considered beer for purposes of this definition.

Independent: Less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.

Traditional: A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewers brands) or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.

Also of note, the Brewers Association operates craftbeer.com – a great resource for the industry and the beer-loving public. I thank BA for all their relentless number-crunching that helped me put this article together, and I implore you to check out the Top 50 Breweries list, and then stck around and sniff out their other publishings.

52Brews in Maine


View 52Brews in Maine in a larger map

Summer is long gone, but my memories of Maine could never fade as fast. As August came to close, my wife and I embarked on an epic journey across the great Pine Tree State – from Newry and Lovell to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, to Bangor, then south through Portland and on to Boston (yes I know Boston’s not in Maine) – never did the great state disappoint.

Hailing from the metro-sprawl of New York, inundated by the modern “conveniences” of fast-paced, over-saturated living, I too-often take for granted the value of simplicity. Small business, sustainability, neighborly ways, and plain ol’ peace & quiet go a long way in many of the towns we visited.

Now… before I get too warm & fuzzy on you, keep one thing in mind: many of these same values contribute to one of my favorite things about Maine: tons of local beer. It seems everywhere we went I had no problem finding something local or pseudo-local on tap. Better yet, when I wasn’t drinking local beer, I was drinking great beer.

The map above helps outline the trip a bit – where these places are located, where our journey took us. Use the map to find links and locations for each of the below.

Newry/Bethel

Sunday River Brewing

Sampler:

  • Blonde
  • Alt
  • IPA
  • Porter
  • Wheat (seasonal)
  • Stout (seasonal) STRONG

Sunday River Brewing is actually in no way affiliated with the Sunday River resort at which we stayed. Apparently these guys moved in some time later and are simply ‘borrowing’ the name. Food and drink was …just OK. 

Pat’s Pizza

  • Shipyard Brown

Local pizza chain, had a drink while waiting for a to-go order. This was the only local beer on tap, but the fact they had one at all made me happy. 

Suds Pub

  • Gritty’s Black Fly
  • Bar Harbor Cole Porter

This place is probably where the younger locals hang out. Feels like drinking in your friend’s basement… if your friend happens to have a dozen or more very decent taps… and doesn’t clean very often. I didn’t mind it here, but it had somewhat of a ‘let’s throw down some bleach to cover up the smell of last night’s frat party’ aroma going on. Awesome beer, decent eats. I liked both of these beers – the Black Fly more than the Cole Porter. I’m not writing home on either, but I’d go back and I’d have another pint of each. 

Legends at Sunday River

  • Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin

This was the restaurant at our hotel — we were the only patrons on the particular night we went (that’ll show us for vacationing at a ski resort during the summer). The bartender and the chef were awesome, the food was OK – one of the meals was great, the other was not. The bartender recommended this beer – an imperial pumpkin. I don’t like pumpkin beer, but as it goes it was fine – somewhat too sweet and spicy (nutmeg, allspice) for my tastes. 

Jolly Drayman

  • Gritty’s best bitter (cask)
  • Allagash Black

See my previous post: Creepy Cermaic Heads. ’nuff said… OK, I’d go back. This place was fantastic – top-notch service, food, and beer — in that order. 

Phoenix House

  • Shipyard Export
  • Shipyard Fuggles IPA

Meh… I think if I just came in from skiing in the dead of winter, this would be a great place to grab a drink. But I didn’t… and it wasn’t… so it was just OK. This had a sort-of ski lodge vibe going on – some pizza and sandwiches avail, nothing extraordinary. 

Lovell

Ebenezer’s Pub

  • De Struise Black Albert (cask conditioned)
  • Bockor Cuvee Des Jacobins Rouge

What can I say about this place that hasn’t already been said? Beer Advocate rates Ebenezer’s one of the best beer bars in the world… and I haven’t the depth of knowledge nor worldly experience to refute that statement. We drove an hour out of our way to come here, and didn’t think twice about it. I can say this was probably the best meal we had in Maine — lobster rolls (surprise), although this place is nowhere near the water. The Black Albert beer was created for them by the Belgian brewery De Struise and is truly world class. The afternoon we were there they were setting up for their annual Belgian beer festival — I can’t say we had the pleasure of attending, but they seem to know their Belgian food and drink and the setup was promising. 

Bar Harbor

Rupununi

  • Bar Harbor Blueberry Ale
  • Atlantic Brewing New Guy IPA

Rupununi is more or less a touristy bar and grill. I was in Bar Harbor, I had to drink a blueberry beer… I didn’t want to, I didn’t enjoy it, but I did it anyway. I guess fruit beer isn’t my thing – but hey, to each their own. That New Guy IPA was pretty good though — solid dose of hops on the nose. 

Bangor

Nocturnem Draft Haus

  • SN/DFH Life & Limb
  • Dogfish Olde School Barleywine

Wow – what a find this place was– this one makes the “best of” album. We were in Bangor just for the night, and it was late on a Monday. Most of the nearby restaurants were closed, so this was our mirage in an otherwise-grim situation. Simple, elegant food with truly outstanding beer. 14 taps and a cask, all carefully chosen. This is a beer-lover’s bar that just happens to serve good food. Awesome vibe, outstanding overall. Reminded me a bit of The Porter bar in Atlanta

Portland

DiMillo’s on the Water

  • Allagash White

We wanted to eat lobster by the water… and I wanted a light, refreshing, summery beer. Mission accomplished. 

Duckfat

  • Maine Brewing Peeper Ale

Here’s one you should NOT miss if you’re in Portland — granted you should probably like good beer… and, well, duck fat. Certainly not everything is made with duck fat, but the fries are cooked in it, and by golly it’s glorious. If that doesn’t sound good to you, at least do yourself a favor and check out the menu before you pass it over. One word: Poutine. Oh yeah… that beer was pretty darn good as well. 

Boston: Honorable Mention

Fat Cat

  • Wormtown Be Hoppy
  • Mayflower Pale Ale

Our trip took us just outside Boston, so I took us to find more good beer. We couldn’t find parking, the place was packed, we waited a solid 45 minutes to be seated… and Hurricane Irene was barrelling toward us, only hours away from striking. And it was worth it (mostly… except when we got home and our basement was flooded. That part was not worth it). Very good food and drink – recommended. 

Take Homes (from Maine)

  • Bar Harbor Thunder Hole Ale

Sorry to say, this beer was not particularly memorable… but I definitely remember drinking it.  

  • Otter Creek Black IPA

Picked up a six-pack from a local convenience store. I still have 1 or 2 left — so what does that say? Well, it’s really not bad, just not great. I’d consider this a middle-of-the-road IPA, and the fact that it’s dark? Of little significance.

  • Gritty McDuff’s Variety 12-pack

Ya know… when in Rome. I think this had their Pub-style, an IPA, and something else. The IPA was the least hoppy, strangely… I wish that Black Fly was in here. (Sigh…)

That about wraps it up – awesome trip, hope I get to go back someday. Thank you, Maine – to me you shall always be known as the “Great Poutine State”. Curious to know if anyone out there has been to any of these places. As always, leave your thoughts!