I talk about how impressive beer brewed in Maine is all the time – whether I’m in the state or outside of it. Sometimes, I get the sense that people don’t necessarily believe me. They look at me and nod, saying “Oh, yeah, I’m sure you’ve got some good beer going on way up there.” Every once in a while, though, I get a little external validation to brag about.
RateBeer.com is a beer rating website where thousands (actually, hundreds of thousands) of users post descriptions and, well, ratings of beer. I’m not a beer rater myself – I always had trouble thinking of things as subjective as taste in terms of a number scale – but the sheer size of the database of ratings impresses me. I go crazy for that kind of data. Every year for the last 12 years, RateBeer has posted lists of “Top Beers” and “Top Brewers” for fans to brag or argue about. Though their methodology for picking the winners is complicated – some categories are weighted by style (so that the most extreme or rare beers are not unfairly rated) – I’ve still found this combination better than most of the other “Best Of” anything lists out there because it is based on data.
The reason I’m even mentioning this is that this year has a lot of Maine and New England representation – which is saying a lot in an industry that gets most of the attention out West.
Let’s talk about this for a second. I love Lunch as much as the next hop fan (though, if you ask me, I think MO is the best kept secret in Maine beer) and these lists tend to be a little biased towards hoppy brews, so I expected this. What did surprise me a little was that there’s nothing listed for “Top New Brewer.” I wonder if this is because a) most of the new breweries in the state have opened in the last 6 months, and haven’t had a lot of time to get their beer out there or b) because so many are distributing only locally, there may not have been enough critical mass to get behind one particular stellar new brewery. It is probably a little of both, and I’m eager to see who ends up on that list next year (especially with all of these yummy projects in planning).
The Restaurant and Bar winners here are no-brainers – Novare Res is one of my favorite places on the planet to have a beer, and Ebeneezer’s (though I have not yet visited) has such a strong reputation that people will drive hundreds of miles to make the pilgrimage. Ebeneezer’s owner, Chris Lively also owns The Lion’s Pride in Brunswick, which will also soon be home to a brewery – but more news on that when I get it. Interestingly, the Brewpub winner – In’finiti – is also under the same ownership as Novare Res, which is evidence to me that they have really figured out how to make beer geeks happy. Keep it up. In terms of the retailer, I’m a big fan of Tully’s when I used to live in Southern Maine, but I have to throw in my vote for Bier Cellar on Forest Ave as well. The service there is amazing, and so are their recommendations.
Wow, that is a lot of Maine representation – but all from one brewery – Maine Beer Company! Congratulations to Maine Beer Company for these, they are all delicious beers and great representations of the style. I am seriously surprised not to see Allagash on here, especially with the level of quality and interesting styles that they have been putting out lately.
While this list doesn’t rank all of the winners, it does indicate the first five spots – which this year went to AleSmith Brewery (CA), Hill Farmstead (VT), Three Floyds Brewing (IN), Russian River Brewing (CA) – makers of the infamous extremely hoppy Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger – and in fifth place Bell’s Brewery (MI). Despite not getting any one beer in the individual beer categories, Allagash makes an appearance on this list, meaning that two of the 100 best breweries in the world are located in Maine. I think that’s amazing – and should continue to give people additional reasons to visit the state. So, the next time people ask you what’s going on with beer in Maine, here’s a few data points for you to brag about.