When people find out I write about beer, they have two questions:
1. Do you get free beer?
2. How many breweries can open in Maine before the craft beer bubble bursts?
The first question is easy. Yes, I do sometimes get free beer. And free beer is awesome.
The second question is a little trickier.
These days the internet is always roaring that the bottom is falling out of craft beer. But I’m not so convinced. I’ve covered the opening of five new breweries in Maine already this year and expect to cover at least that many more before the end of the year. Not only are brewers willing to enter a saturated Maine beer scene, but banks are still approving loans to fund this growth.
The latest brewery to open in Maine makes this question of growth limits even trickier. It’s actually not technically an opening; it’s a reopening. Lake St. George Brewing, which originally went defunct in 1994, is brewing beer again in Liberty.
That’s right, not only are breweries not closing their doors, but the thriving beer scene has resuscitated a brand that disappeared during Bill Clinton’s first term.
But Lake St. George Brewing has a secret weapon. At the helm of the new (or should I say old) brewery is Danny McGovern, the man with the magic mash paddle.
If there was a Mount Rushmore of Maine brewers, I’d argue that McGovern deserves a spot between the rocky visages of David Geary and Rob Tod.
When I made statements like this to McGovern recently in his gorgeous new post-and-beam tasting room in Liberty, he became visibly uncomfortable. His Midwestern humility is impressive in the face of his body of work.
McGovern opened the first incarnation of Lake St. George out of his home in 1992. Unable to keep up with the demands of the brewery, it was closed in 1994. Shortly after, he became head brewer at Belfast Bay Brewing where he made waves with McGovern’s Oatmeal Stout. After leaving Belfast Bay, McGovern became the first brewmaster at Marshall Wharf Brewing, where he concocted a number of recipes, including the delicious, if not diabolical, Cant Dog Double IPA. Following his tenure at Marshall Wharf, McGovern opened Monhegan Brewing with his daughter and son-in-law, Mary and Matt Weber.
As I sipped Kerplunk, a kettle-soured blueberry ale, the 64-year-old McGovern explained that the impetus to reopen Lake St. George Brewing came two years ago when he was sitting around with his two daughters and their respective husbands. McGovern taught his daughter Mary Weber how to brew at Monhegan Brewing, where she is now the head brewer. They began musing about reopening Lake St. George Brewing while his daughter Elizabeth Johnston would apprentice under him, eventually taking over as head brewer.
Two years, a brewery build-out in a 100-year-old barn and a new 15-barrel brewing system later, and Lake St. George Brewing is back.
“I feel confident in the new brewery, but it’s not a slam dunk. We’ll have to work our (butts) off. We’re definitely taking a risk,” McGovern said.
The hyper-competitive nature of craft beer in this state is not lost on McGovern or Johnston. When Lake St. George first opened in 1992, they were issued brewing license No. 6 from the state, while the new brewery was recently issued brewing license No. 96.
Craft beer fans can expect the beer at Lake St. George to have the signature balanced flavors indicative of McGovern’s distinctive brewing voice — a voice that takes the best aspects of old-school brewing and adds flourishes of what’s hot in modern beer.
On my visit to the taproom, I sampled #96, an IPA with tropical fruit notes and a sturdy pine underbelly; Diver, a clean English ale (no Ringwood yeast here); and the aforementioned Kerplunk, made with local blueberries.
Here’s the deal: If Danny McGovern is brewing it, I’m drinking it — even if it means driving an hour and a half from Portland.
While questions about the growth potential of Maine brewing still loom, the reopening of Lake St. George Brewing can only be taken as a sign that, for now at least, the beer scene remains in fighting shape.
IF YOU GO
WHO: Lake St. George Brewing Co.
WHERE: 4 Marshall Shore Road, Liberty
TASTING ROOM HOURS: 0 3 to 8 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, noon to 8 p.m. Thursday to Sunday
ON DRAFT: #96, an IPA brewed with Citra hops; Diver, an English ale; Kerplunk, a kettle-soured blueberry ale; coming soon, an oatmeal stout and a double IPA
AVAILABILITY: Purchase on draft and in growlers at the brewery, a line of cans is forthcoming this fall
UPCOMING EVENT: Grand opening Aug. 18 and 19
MORE INFO: facebook.com/LakeSt.GeorgeBrewing
MAINE BEER HAPPENINGS
Rising Tide releases Dieu-le-Veut, a Flemish red ale
Tasting room-only release, noon Thursday, 103 Fox St., Portland.
As Rising Tide Brewing continues to expand its operation in East Bayside, the brewery has increased its barrel-aging program. What this means for beer drinkers is a wealth of well-crafted barrel-aged beers coming out of the tasting room. The latest of these beers is Dieu-le-Veut. This Flemish red ale was fermented in red wine oak barrels using a blend of yeast and acid-producing bacteria. The brewery explains that Dieu-le-Veut has notes of burnt sienna, cherries, honey and oak. Expect lots of complexity from this beer and be on the look out for future releases of barrel-aged beers from Rising Tide.