If you want to know what beers Portland locals are bringing home to drink, you don’t have to go any further than to ask Greg Norton, owner of Bier Cellar in Portland.
Earlier this week, Bier Cellar owner Greg Norton tweeted the top five beers of 2014 – from sales numbers from his Forest Avenue store and the results got me thinking.
If you haven’t heard about The Substance, then you’ve been living under some kind of rock, I think. This beer is a hoppy, yet thirst-quenching and easy-drinking brew that just seems well suited for almost anything. In fact, it’s so popular that it’s often hard to get a hold of – so its place on the top of this list is even more impressive, considering that there is even more pent up demand for this beer each time it is released. Fun fact: It’s now my mom’s favorite beer, and she picks it up every time she visits me from New York.
Greg says: “We knew Substance would be a monster with the quality of that beer.”
When the return of Maine Island Trail Ale was announced I got so incredibly happy. The light, and low ABV hoppy brew was a highlight of the summer for me last year, but was only around in large format bottles. It is also a crowd pleaser – it’s easy to give to someone who hasn’t had it before because it would take a lot not to like it.
Greg says: “We loved MITA last fall when it was in bottles and were super excited when Heather and Nathan [Sanborn] decided to go with cans, because we knew what it would do for getting people to try that beer.”
Marshall Wharf Brewing Company of Belfast doesn’t can everything that they make, but they do trickle down some very tasty beers. Both Cant Dog and Ace Hole are on the hoppy side of the spectrum, and are often very fresh and delicious. Their offerings seem to fill a void I didn’t know was there until their cans rolled into town.
A new year-round from Allagash, the Saison was released earlier this year and has found a home on the maltier side of the spectrum. This no-nonsense saison hasn’t been messed with. It’s not a hoppy saison, a dark saison, an imperial saison, a saison + fruit, it just is what it is – a classic Belgian style beer. And, because of its availability in 4 packs – easy to share or have just one at a time with dinner.
I would have been shocked if Lunch didn’t make the list somewhere. The hoppiest Maine Beer Company beer, this one is the one that I continually get asked about whenever I’m out of state. “Can you get me some Lunch?” “When is Lunch coming to [insert my state here]?” While this frustrates me – especially because I hope that Maine beer as a whole is represented by more than any one beer in particular – it is an extremely well executed beer and, when fresh, is a hop fan’s dream.
When I look at this list, the very first thing that pops out to me is that this list includes three breweries that are canning in the larger, 16 oz. cans, and that the three canned options are dominating the first three spots. Canning beer has been surging in recent years, and Maine is no exception to that trend. The combination of its coolness, ease of getting cold, and portability (allowed in some places that glass can’t go), these cans have been a hit all over town, with many beer lovers even choosing to drink directly from the can.
Also, with the exception of the Allagash Saision, these are all what Greg calls, “delicious, but vastly different takes on the IPA style.” And I’d argue that this is reflecting our national trend towards enjoying hops in many different ways – from light to in-your-face, from fruity to piney and everything in between.
Though Bier Cellar carries beer from all over the U.S. and a significant portion of the store is allocated to imported beer from places like Belgium and Germany, the list is all American. In addition, it’s all Maine-brewed.
“It helps that they are made locally,” Greg shared with me, “Meaning we typically see them on the shelf a day or two after packaging, which preserves the hop character and allows Mainers to buy local, which we find is very important.”
While the locals are buying local, the Maine-centric list can also be attributed to those from away, and Greg added that, “Several of them are only available in Maine, which makes them more desirable to the tourist traffic we see.”
So it looks like the locals and the tourists might agree on something after all – especially when it comes to beer.
“It makes us incredibly proud of our part in getting these beers out to people and telling the brewery’s stories,” he added.