Editor’s note: Jim Patrick, a beer enthusiast and the social media editor for the Portland Press Herald, is filling in this week as a guest writer for the Beer Muse column.
When you write about beer, you get a lot of press releases.
The vast majority of them are useless. There was one last year for a functional baseball bat that doubles as a beer bong. That sentence is its own punchline.
But most of the pitches pertain to new beer, and this time of year, it’s session beer email season.
Not everybody is excited about session beers. If we’re being honest, they don’t stand up to our favorites because they’re lower alcohol – generally less than 5 percent – lighter tasting and tend to be too hop-forward or unbalanced for most palates. Of the top 250 beers rated on Beer Advocate, none have less than 5 percent alcohol.
Jonathan Leach from Augusta was sipping on a double IPA at Fore River Brewing when he called it “watered-down beer.”
“When I hear the phrase ‘session beer,’ all it means is lower alcohol content, which just means you can drink more beer. It has nothing to do with the quality of the beer or the type of beer that it is,” Leach said.
Fore River co-founder John Legassey almost rolls his eyes at the word “session.” While he’s keen to note that Maine-based brewers make good beer across the board, he cited large national craft brewers like Founders (which makes All Day IPA) for promoting session beers.
Legassey is skeptical because, he said, there’s a huge profit to be made from session beers. Session beers use fewer ingredients, so they cost less money to make. And they still cost a lot more than Bud Light. Not to mention that the idea behind session beers is people can drink a lot more of them, which means the breweries sell a lot more beer.
“Maybe the real designers of session beers are accountants in really large breweries,” Legassey said. “Because there’s money to be made there.”
Best advice: Be skeptical.
Shipyard has always been local. Now the brewery is making an effort to further connect with its Maine roots by using ingredients grown in state in its beers.
What amounts to some relatively small tweaks for Shipyard translates to a big boon to Maine’s economy.
For its flagship Export ale, 10 percent of the grain comes from Maine Malt House and was grown in The County. Shipyard President Bruce Forsley said the company pays a premium for the local malt, but it saves money on shipping costs.
And a partnership with Adventurous Joe coffee yielded some interesting results last fall. The Coffee Porter, which ranks among Shipyard’s top-rated mass-produced beers on various ratings websites, proved popular enough that it will be released in six-packs this fall.
Forsley said Shipyard wants quality ingredients but also wants the marketing benefits of being from Maine.
“There’s a perception of Maine that we have clean water, hard work, craftsmanship, so I think those qualities are what we want to represent,” Forsley said. “There’s something romantic about Maine. When we go to Florida or California, I hear over and over that people would love to visit.”
My wife has authorized this statement: Aug. 1, 2014, was the greatest day of my adult life.
That was the date of the first and only Sierra Nevada Beer Camp in Portland.
It’s where I and five friends ran past the New England brewers to get to the Bell’s and Cigar City taps. Then we returned to the locals and discovered new brewers like Barreled Souls (and a brewery in Connecticut that makes a Snickers-infused brown ale).
And it’s coming back Saturday evening at Thompson’s Point. Don’t be surprised if you see a guy in a reporter’s fedora sprinting toward Tree House Brewing when the gates open. Old habits die hard.