As crisp autumn weather settles across the state, beer drinkers turn away from the wheat ales and fruity brews of summer to the more robust flavors of fall. Anyone who’s had a beer in Maine knows that there are a number of great microbreweries all over the state, and most of them brew up some sort of fall beer — whether it’s an Oktoberfest, a pumpkin beer, or a nutty, full-flavored brown ale or porter. There’s a special quality that makes up a fall beer. Not too heavy, not too light; not too malty, not too hoppy. Somewhere in between.
For beer seller Gene Beck of Swett’s Hogan Road Deli in Bangor, it’s a maltier, darker, more complex beer that is the hallmark of fall drinking. For Eric Mihan of Bangor Wine & Cheese Company, it’s the fact that less emphasis is placed on hops, and more on natural flavors and what he likes to call “comfort food for your palette.” Ryan Bates, owner of Global Beverage Warehouse in Ellsworth, likes the fact that the beer is usually darker and heavier, but still easily drinkable and full of flavor.
Should you wish to visit some of the many brewpubs and breweries around the state, the Maine Brewer’s Guild has released its recently updated Maine Beer Trail Map. All Maine microbreweries are on the list, and though not all of them are mentioned in our story, it’s worth trying any or all of them to get a clear picture of the Maine beer scene.
Regardless of your sensibilities, October is the season, and not just because of the many Okto-berfest celebrations around the state. So, raise your pint, toast to the season, and drink locally — and responsibly. Here are some suggestions to get you started — all of which are available in vari-ous retail locations, some of which are available in pubs.
Shipyard Pumpkinhead and Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin, Portland
The most popular of Maine’s fall brews, the release of Pumpkinhead late in the summer each year heralds the end of one season and beginning of another. You can drink this one with the greatest of ease — the cinnamon and nutmeg notes create a taste synonymous with Thanksgiving. That is to say, pumpkin-flavored and alcoholic. Shipyard also releases Smashed Pumpkin, a high-alcohol, high-end, higher-priced version of its signature fall brew.
Allagash Black, Portland
A big, bold Belgian dark ale that packs a big flavor wallop. Hints of roasted malt, smoky wood, chocolate and burned sugar combine to make a complex beer that, should you find it on tap, is very much worth sampling. Don’t worry, though: it does come in bottles.
Bar Harbor Brewing Company Thunder Hole Ale, Bar Harbor
With a roasty, toasty toffee taste and a pleasing amber brown color, this tried-and-true brown ale is one of the signature brews of this Mt. Desert Island beer company. Try drinking it when you’ve got a view of the Atlantic Ocean. Perfect.
Black Bear Brewery Harvest IPA, Orono
A favorite of Bangor-area drinkers, this IPA is nevertheless an odd duck: the IPAs and wheat beers of the summer usually give way to browns and porters this time of year. But, one sip of this brew proves all that wrong. It’s rich and warm, with the bite of the hops subdued for a flavorful, aromatic taste.
Marshall Wharf Brewing Company Danny McGovern’s Oatmeal Stout, Belfast
Maine’s best-kept beer secret has unveiled its fourth-ever stout just in time for fall; an oatmeal stout, creamy, filling and great for those nights when the temperature dips perilously close to freezing. Head down to Marshall Wharf headquarters on Belfast Harbor for a taste of not just this, but all 17 others currently on tap.
Sebago Brewing Midnight Porter, Portland
Big flavors of roasted coffee and dark chocolate dominate this southern Maine brew. It’s not too heavy, however, and it’s good for those who are fans of dark beers but want something they can have more than one of without feeling too full. A porter for those who want something that drinks like an ale.
Gritty’s Halloween Ale, Portland
A malty, spicy, toasty tribute to the ultimate fall holiday. Hints of allspice, ginger and caramel and a pleasing amber color make this almost scarily easy to drink. Pairs well with food, such as creamy cheeses and meat. Worth buying for the Halloween-themed label alone.
Geary’s Autumn Ale, Portland
It’s a brown ale, but don’t let that fool you: it’s got a malty, hazelnut and molasses taste, but also a subtle fruitiness, similar to apples plucked from the tree. If Shipyard Pumpkinhead is a pumpkin pie, Geary’s Autumn Ale is apple cobbler.
Peak Organic Fall Summit Ale, Portland
Hops and malt combine to make a crisp, spicy brew utilizing the famed Summit hop, a new breed of hop praised for its citrus notes. It’s a touch more summery — for those incongruously balmy days that feel more like late August than mid-October.
Maine Beer Company Zoe Amber Ale, Portland
This small, start up Maine brewery owned by two brothers is making some serious waves in the Pine Tree State beer community. Zoe, their amber ale, is hoppier than your usual fall beer, but still retains a malty flavor. It’s a gorgeous amber color, and it’s quite delicious. Zoe is named after owner David Kleban’s 6-year-old daughter.
Sea Dog Pumpkin Ale, Bangor
It’s a big blast of pumpkin, nutmeg and cinnamon, so lovers of those flavors should flock to any of the Sea Dog locations (Bangor, Topsham, South Portland) and give it a shot straight out of the tap. It’s sweet and it goes down easy, so be careful.