There are a couple of factors holding back Sebago’s street cred among microbrew zealots.
I have a bone to pick with the craft beer drinkers in this state. Yeah, that’s right. Pardon the aggressive tone, but I feel that Maine microbrew disciples have gotten it wrong when it comes to their understanding of Sebago Brewing Co.
Case in point: I was recently having a brew with a kind-of-famous local beer drinker whose palate I greatly respect. When he asked me what I was drinking, I responded, “Sebago Simmer Down.”
“Sebago?” he replied. “I just think of them as a restaurant.”
“What?” I said a little too loudly. “These guys are making great beer.”
My friend ordered a Simmer Down and said, “Huh, this beer’s good.”
Yeah, I know. I’ve known for years. Before the recent influx of microbreweries, their Frye’s Leap IPA was arguably the only well-crafted American-style IPA made in the Pine Tree State.
There are a couple of factors holding back Sebago’s street cred among microbrew zealots. First, their restaurants are a bit corporate and uninviting to the local drinker. I get that. I personally don’t want to drink a Frye’s Leap next to a traveling businessman from Massachusetts who’s clacking on his laptop and yammering into his Bluetooth. It’s happened a couple of times at the Portland location, and it totally soured my experience.
The second factor tethering Sebago’s hipster appeal to the ground is something that is completely out of their control: the fact that they were founded in 1998. It breaks my beer-drinking heart to see the sloppy thinking that gets Sebago lumped in with the old guard brewing companies.
While many of last century’s breweries are resting on their laurels, Sebago is forging into the great beer future. Earlier this year, they nixed their Summer Hefeweizen and replaced it with Simmer Down, a low-alcohol session ale teeming with mango fruit aroma from cutting edge hops like the Mosaic and the El Dorado.
The latest creation keeping Sebago relevant is the annual Hop Swap IPA. They release Hop Swap once a year, keeping the grains they use in the brewing process the same each year but swapping out the hops; ergo, Hop Swap. This year, the beer is incredible. They use a tropical fruit blend of Amarillo, Citra and Belma hops, along with an experimental hop so new it goes by #05256. It’s a hop combination keeping them on par with the chic IPAs popping up all over this country.
Hop Swap is a beer made by a brewing company committed to taking chances and staying relevant in this complex beer revolution. Look for four-packs of Hop Swap in your local beverage stores while they last and on tap at Sebago pubs. And as the fall seasonals begin to hit shelves, grab a six-pack of their Bonfire Rye, a fall beer in its second year with strong malt notes and a healthy dose of citrus hops.
And the next time you think about Sebago Brewing Co., please, think beer first.
BREWED BY: Sebago Brewing Company
STYLE OF BEER: IPA
ABV: 6.7 percent
WHERE TO BUY: Bier Cellar, RSVP, Oak Hill Beverage and on tap at all Sebago Restaurants