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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: May 22, 2014

Meet Bouncy House IPA, Smuttynose’s new low-alcohol beer

Written by: Tom Atwell
Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

Even though the Smuttynose Brewery is over the state line in Portsmouth, and will soon move to a new brewery in Hampton, New Hampshire, it is still much less than 100 miles away – which qualifies it for locavore status.

The brewery also has introduced a new year-round beer, Bouncy House IPA, which is a flavorful session beer at only 4.3 percent ABV.

JT Thompson, Smuttynose’s publicity director, said the beer might be part of a trend, but it is a good trend.

“I personally cut my teeth on drinking beer in the UK, and love drinking low-alcohol beer,” he said. “I like drinking beer more than tasting beer, having a couple of pints.”

I bought a Bouncy House six-pack for $8.99 at Bier Cellar on Forest Avenue and the first thing I noticed when popping the cap was that the aroma was packed with citrusy hops. The beer poured very cloudy, with some sediment, in a golden hue. The flavor was astringently bitter, but not unpleasantly so, and the finish was dry and clean.

According to the online brew sheet, the beer has 86 IBU (international bittering units), and was made with Magnum, Calypso and Saphir hops.

Bouncy House joins Smuttynose’s year-round beer lineup, which includes Shoals Pale Ale, Old Brown Dog Ale, Finestkind IPA and Robust Porter, all of which are available in local beer stores and supermarkets.

When I was at Shaw’s for grocery shopping and knew I needed beer for the weekend, I found a Smuttynose variety pack on sale for $14.99 – which is about as low as prices get for good, local beer these days. That 12-pack included Shoals, Finestkind, Brown Dog and Noonan’s Black IPA.

Smuttynose also has its Big Beer series – and I bought the Barleywine Ale and Imperial Stout, $6.49 each for 22-ounce bombers at the Bier Cellar. The Barleywine is 11.6 percent ABV, malty with a lot of fruit esters, yet still quite hoppy. The Imperial Stout is rich, big, with a lot of chocolate and malt, at 9.8 percent ABV. These both are definitely sipping beers.

When I mentioned it seemed like the Big Beers were offered according to the whim of the brewers, Thompson laughed. “It is more planned than that, but it might seem that way,” he said.

He said that because of capacity limitations at the brewery in Portsmouth, Smuttynose could release only about eight beers in the Big Beer series each year, which usually includes the Baltic Porter and Imperial Stout because they are very popular. The series has existed since 1998, and resulted in about 15 beers.

Thompson said the new brewery will be bigger and better in every way from the Portsmouth operation, and I think it might mean more of the Big Beers.

The variety pack I got included the fairly new Noonan’s Black IPA, at 6.2 ABV. This is definitely not an over-hopped IPA, but rather rich with coffee and chocolate malt, and a bit of hops aroma and bite.

The three beers I have written about before: Old Brown Dog Ale, 6.5 percent ABV, sweet and malty with a little hops bite; Finestkind IPA, 6.9 percent ABV, a good American style IPA that is hoppy but balanced, and Shoals Pale Ale, 5.4 percent ABV, is crisp and easy-drinking.

WHEN I DROPPED by the Kittery 7-Eleven on a trip to Massachusetts earlier this month the only SoMe Brewing Company beer on sale was Black the Sky Rye, which I had not tried before.

David Rowland, brewer, son and co-owner of the family brewery in York, said the 7-Eleven was one place his beers would be available. The price was a bit under $9 for a 22-ounce bomber.

When I poured the beer, I noticed a strong hops aroma, piney with a little bit of herbal in it. The beer was a deep black with a fairly small head and not overly carbonated. Despite the heavy hops aroma, the flavor was heavier on the malt – with some chocolate and roastiness from the dark malts. There was a bit of mineral flavor from the rye, but not strong.

The body was lighter than I expected from the color, but that could be SoMe’s overall style. The brewery’s Whoopie Pie Stout, one of its two year-round beers, also is thin in body. Black the Sky Rye is 7.6 percent ABV.

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