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Tom Atwell

Tom Atwell is a lifelong Mainer who retired after 37 years at the Portland Press Herald. He kept the fun parts of his job, writing columns about gardening and beer. He has been drinking beer for about 50 years, and was always looking for unusual beers even in the 1960s – when they were hard to find. For the past four years he has been writing What Ales You during a time when the beer scene in Maine has been booming. He does not, however, take all the credit for that.​

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Posted: July 9, 2014

A fond farewell with a toast to readers and brewers

Written by: Tom Atwell

For the rest of this year, I am going to drink my favorite beers – mostly from Maine breweries, but some from other New England states.

Geary’s Pale Ale, Maine’s first craft beer since Prohibition, is my base-line beer. Before Geary’s came out I was drinking a lot of English beers like John Courage and Bass. After it came out, it and Sam Adams Boston Lager were the beers I bought every week with the groceries. Geary’s Pale Ale is perfectly balanced between malt and hops. I like Geary’s Hampshire Special Ale, as well, but still think of it as a winter seasonal.

We will drink Sam Adams, including every new beer they create. Wife Nancy and I own stock in the company, and we have to make sure they are meeting our expectations as owners.

I will drink a lot of beer from Gritty McDuff’s, including Pub Style in the summer because I like it better than their summer seasonal, Vacationland. In fall and early winter I will go with the seasonals, Halloween Ale and Christmas Ale. They are both Extra Special Bitters, or ESBs, long my favorite style of beer, with a rich yet dry maltiness and a hoppy aftertaste. I will purchase the 22-ounce bottles brewed at Freeport rather than the 12-ounce bottles brewed at Shipyard because the ones from Freeport are unfiltered and taste more like the beers on tap.

I will drink a lot more Old Thumper from Shipyard, one of the first beers the 20-year old brewery offered, malt heavy and with a kick. I also will drink a lot of their Black IPA, which is new, not overly hopped and, despite the color, tastes like an old-fashioned India Pale Ale.

From Sebago, I will get Local Harvest Ale every fall. Nancy and I lean locavore, and I like drinking a beer made from all-Maine ingredients. My favorite year-round beer from Sebago is Runabout Red, but Kai Adams really hit the mark with his three new seasonals: Simmer Down for summer, Bonfire Rye for fall, and Bump for mud season to go along with the old favorite Slick Nick.

I will continue drinking Allagash Black, a tremendous Belgian stout with coffee and chocolate malt flavors. But I also will splurge on a case of their House Beer, sold only at the brewery and in a wooden case, for which you pay a deposit. It is simply clean, crisp and refreshing, and I will fill up the case about once every two months.

In summer I will drink Rising Tide’s Maine Island Trail Ale, because it is crisp, hoppy and refreshing and they have brought in Iron Heart Canning Company to put it in cans. My favorite year-round Rising Tide beer remains Daymark, not too hoppy, with Maine-grown rye adding some complexity to an American pale ale.

Although Maine Beer Company is known for its hoppy ales, with Lunch and Dinner especially gaining cult followings, my favorites are Mean Old Tom and King Titus, rich malt-driven dark beers that deserve to be sipped and savored.

Luke Livingston has exceeded his expectations with the growth of Baxter Brewing Company in Lewiston, and the easy-drinking Pamola Pale Ale is my favorite, but Tarnation, a wonderfully smooth lager in the California Common tradition, could take its place.

I will drink beer from the rash of breweries that have opened in the past year and a half – some, such as Bissell Brothers, Funky Bow and Banded Horn, are off to tremendous starts, but they have not been around long enough to become old favorites.

How am I going to spend all this time drinking old beers and keep up with the column? The answer is, I won’t. This is my last What Ales You column. The four years I have written the column have been wonderful. Maine Beer Co. had just opened when I started, and Rising Tide and Baxter opened shortly after that. Since then there has been a surge of new breweries, and I had the privilege of writing about all of them.

I thank all of the brewers and assistants who shared their st ories and beer with me, even when I called while the brewer was alone in the middle of a boil.


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