July 28, 2016 by Cody
Beer in Maine is better than an other state. Yes, I know, I live here so I might be a little biased, but we don’t have beer tourists coming in droves for no reason. West coast be damned, screw North Carolina and Florida, and the Midwest…don’t make me laugh (none of this is true, I’d love to visit each of these places, but roll with me here), New England is the hop capital of America, and Maine is it’s Emperor extraordinaire! I wanted to take some vacation time to explore, in depth, my state’s diverse line up of breweries, some open for only a few months, to eventually experience each and every one of them.
Before I can venture into the wilderness of breweries throughout Maine though, I had to start with the monolith, the elephant in the room, Shipyard Brewing. Founded in 1992 as Federal Jacks Brewpub in Kennebunk, Shipyard has steadily become the largest brewery in Maine, and one of the largest in New England. Over the years though, Shipyard has experienced a reputation of declining quality, and a lack of originality among local craft beer drinkers. I’ll admit that I’ve held this opinion to a certain degree. I had once been a huge fan of Export, but haven’t tasted it in years after what I perceived to be a compromise in quality. Pumpkinhead was once a go to as a fall beverage for me, but now I can barely stomach it, or any of it’s cousins for that matter (Melonhead, Applehead, and all the other Heads). What happened? Did the beer change, or did my and many others’ taste buds just become more mature and sophisticated (aka, elitist assholes)? I decided I should put this to the test. With an expanded tasting room that just opened in May, it seemed only appropriate that I give Maine’s largest, and one of it’s oldest breweries another shot.
I arrived at Shipyard early Monday afternoon, to kick off my grand week of beer. With a little extra pizzazz in my step, I stepped into the familiar store area, and through the swinging doors to the new tasting room, like a cowboy with tassels entering a saloon looking for hard liquor, whores, and trouble (not necessarily in that order). I stepped up to the bar, spoke to the saloon bar kee….I mean, tasting room pouring attendant and customer service attaché. The friendly attaché loaded up the first of my many tasters onto the flight paddle, and I took my seat to dive in.
Fireberry Tea Beer, Infused Wheat Ale, 4.5%
Both the aroma and first initial taste is overwhelmingly tea and wheat forward, to the point of almost being off-putting. Any subtlety that may have been expected from this brew, is immediately lost. As you drink more though, the flavors mellow, and a refreshing quality breaks through. This light beer turns into a very sessionable experience. For those who are taken a back by the initial few sips, finish your glass before making up your mind. Recommended
Island Time Session IPA 4.5%
A very light bodied, but hop forward IPA, with a legit sessionable quality. While this does not have the same bite as Rising Tide’s Maine Island Trail Ale, it is more palatable than other (more craftier?) session IPA’s from the area. 2 for 2 thus far for beers I’d drink again from Shipyard! Recommended
Brewer’s Brown English Style Brown Ale
Here we go, a classic English styled recipe with no fussing about! This is what Shipyard does best. I understand the need to try and expand into the East and West coast styles of IPA’s, but don’t forget your roots Shipyard! Brewer’s Brown is nice and malty but with a great sour mash assemblage at the back, to balance out the sweetness. This brown is also quite mild, not smacking you over the face with bittering hops. This is how I prefer my brown ales, three cheers to Shipyard on this one. Recommended
Brewer’s Choice Coffee Porter
Alright, three for three is great. but I was brought back down to Earth with this watery, banal coffee porter. It’s too drinkable! I don’t want my porters to be light and accessible, I want it to be thick, laden with coffee, cigarette smoke, and regret! Shipyard hath gone too far with the sessions, I can’t follow through with my support for this one. I need some Turkish coffee to wash this beer out of my soul. Not Recommended
My Shipyard experience has made me realize that they are not necessarily a compromised brewery, they have just chosen their path to fill the bellies of the masses with palatable, passable beer. While other purveyors in the area have chosen the path of elitism, with brewery only releases in fancy bottles, Shipyard has tossed that notion out of the window, realizing that the average Mainer just wants a tasty beverage after work, or to help settle them into their weekend. My opinion on many of the flagship brews released from Shipyard has not changed, but these guys still make good beer if you are willing to seek them out. Perhaps most importantly though, Shipyard brings beverages to the masses that are NOT the big BMC. This is Maine made beer for Mainers, and I respect that, just don’t expect me to pick up a 12 rack of Export any time soon.