The scattered warm days in Maine have kicked a lot of us into summer mode. Summer fun like barbecuing, beach trips and hiking are, for some people, better with a cold beer in hand.
It’s tempting to switch to umbrella’d cocktails and fruity mixed drinks when the temperature creeps upwards, but a good summer beer is tough to beat. They travel well in a cooler, and you don’t have to that a miniature umbrella will stab you in the eye when you down your drink.
Peter Cullen, a fellow beer expert and former USM student, and myself sacrificed a Saturday to sample some Maine brewery’s summer ales.
The results were mixed, with a couple of clear favorites, one solid choice and a couple brews you should avoid at all costs —unless your only other option has an umbrella. In that case, down it quickly and get back to that volleyball game. Just make sure you enjoy your summer responsibly. Cheers!
Peak Organic Brewing Company Summer Session Ale, 5.0% ABV, $9.29/six pack
This is what a summer beer is supposed to taste like: clean and refreshing with citrus flavors. This session ale — an informal brewing term for ales that you can drink several of in one sitting — is nicely balanced with a wheat base and pleasant bitterness from the West Coast hops. The lemon came through surprisingly powerful and very natural tasting without the dish soap aroma of Gritty’s. Along with the Celsius, this could handle itself among year-round beers from other craft breweries. Although the most expensive, it’s worth the extra buck and should be one of your first choices for a refreshing beverage on warm summer days.
Baxter Brewing Company Celsius Summer Ale, 4.7% ABV, $8.99/six pack
This beer has an inherent advantage compared to the others — it’s in a can. The practicality of cans is apparent when you’re enjoying brews on the beach or a Wiffle ball diamond. The only unfiltered beer of our selection had a light, slightly hazy color and is brewed with lemon and lime peel, Kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass. The lemon flavor didn’t come through as well as it does in the Peak, but the brew crew have tinkered with the formula for the first round of canning. (The brewery sent us a sample of the first batch that won’t be canned.) The aroma was subtle but pleasant. Overall, it’s a good summer beer that should taste even better next time.
D.L Geary Brewing Company Summer Ale, 6.0% ABV, $7.99/six pack
This is a very generic summer ale. The Geary’s tasted like, well, a Geary’s — nothing too impressive in terms of taste but a decent decision. It’s considered a variation on a Kölsch – a light-colored beer with a bit of bitterness originally from Germany. With air blowing in from a window in front of us, we immediately noticed its appealing aroma. It poured fairly dark in color for a summer ale. Overall, there wasn’t anything too interesting going on in terms of flavor but nothing offensive either. It’s a solid choice for a summer ale. As Peter said, “I’ll drink it at a barbecue, but I’m not going to buy it.”
The ‘only if it’s free’:
Gritty McDuff’s Brewing Company Vacationland Ale, 4.9% ABV, $8.29/six pack
I’ll get to the point quickly on this one — don’t bother. Our conversation began with their silly-looking labels of lighthearted cartoon scenes — a 2010 move the brewery made when they forgot they were selling beer, not juice boxes. We agreed the labels don’t match the Portland brewpub’s atmosphere. “When I go, there isn’t stupid s— on the wall,” Peter eloquently stated. “It’s not a cartoon place.” The beer itself has an artificial-lemon aroma, similar to my dish soap. The taste didn’t last long, finishing with some unpleasant bitterness. If you don’t like beer, you might like Gritty’s Vacationland Ale.
Shipyard Brewing Company Summer Ale, 5.1% ABV, $8.49/six pack
With possibly the most bizarre label — an apparently already dead lobster sunbathing and wearing sailor’s hat — Shipyard’s effort is sub-par on all fronts. Shipyard, Geary’s and Gritty’s all have a similar, buttery taste as a result of all using the same brewing techniques used by Shipyard head brewer Sam Pugsley and the same yeast — Ringwood. The buttery taste doesn’t do the beer any favors when the point of summer ales is to be refreshing. It’s fairly bland and should only be consumed when offered by your out-of-state relatives who think Shipyard Brewery labels accurately represent Maine.