7.2% 500 mL bottled
I’ve been so busy with other projects I’ve had little time lately to review beer. Which means, if and when I do write a review, one of two things has occurred: I got free beer from a brewery and felt obligated to glowingly write about it in order to keep the gratis schwag flowing OR I just had my mind blown. In the case of Maine Beer Company’s Zoe, the latter is true, but perhaps my effusive praise will soon lead to the former being true as well!
I’m surely one of the best “forced” travelers around as there’s no location I’m fully upset to have to visit–all due to this pesky beer obsession. So when I was “forced” to head up to the great city of Portland, Maine this weekend for a wedding, even though I wasn’t in much of a traveling mood during these dog days of summer, I was still buoyed by the chance that I might get to try some beers from the upstart nanobrewery newish to town.
My man Sam had tipped me off that the best beer bar in Portland is now Novare Res and he was so very right. Accessed by a bit of an alley off a main Old Port street, the bar was a site to behold. An enormous “Best of Portland” award-winning outdoor patio deck, but nuts to that as I like to drink in the cool dark and the inside of Novare has that in spades*. A slightly below ground cellarish feel, warm and cozy with a large segmented two cornered bar buttressed by some classy brick columns. Unfortunately, the mediocre to so-so Rogue Brewery (from nearby the “other” Portland) had monopolized all 25 taps for an event. That was shockingly fine since Novare has a most prodigious list of bottles stocked in a cellar room just peekaboo visible behind the bar. It was an amazing list full of semi-rarities like Cantillon Cuvee des Champions and Drie Fonteinen Schaerbeekse Kriek but my goal was to drink local. Unfortunately, Zoe didn’t appear anywhere on the reference book sized menu. As I scanned it, slightly disappointed, looking for something else, I heard a woman whisper to the bartender, “Another Zoe,” as if divulging a secret password.
When the bartender returned to me I curiously inquired, “You got Zoe?” Indeed they did have the sexy thing in the thin and sultry needle-nosed bottles I’d heretofore only seen Pliny the Elder employ. The pour was darker than expected, more deep purple than amber but the smell was all fresh and bitter grapefruity hops. The taste was even better. A bitter explosion in the mouth, perfectly carbonated and tingly, tastes of tropical fruits yet still balanced perfectly with a strong malt backbone. Simply put, it’s the best amber out there now, even better than the quintessential one Nugget Nectar. If I lived in Maine, I’d be drinking Zoe weekly. (Which actually might be harder to do than you think, even if you do live in Maine!)
Afterward, I was lucky enough to meet the progenitor of “Zoe” and the progenitors of Zoe–Maine Beer Company co-brewmaster David Kleban and his wife whose daughter the beer is named after–who coincidentally happened to be drinking at the bar. While David’s wife cutely and ironically informed me that she typically imbibes “girlie” cocktail drinks, David told me that Portland gets a mere 144 bottles a week of Zoe–all he and his co-brewmaster brother Dan are able to make–and it goes fast. Heckuva nice couple and helluva great beer. I implore you to do whatever you can to find this stuff.
I also tried David’s Peeper Ale. A no-frills quotidian pale ale that was nonetheless quite delicious. Citrusy and yeasty, a perfectly delightful session beer. Unfortunately, I drank it after Zoe which I was still drooling over.
According to Beer Advocate, the Maine Beer boys have one other beer I’d sure kill to get my hands on, a draft only stout called Mean Old Time, which sounds like a perfect way to complete this exciting new brewery’s tasting trifecta.
*Novare Res instantly makes my top 10 beer bars (east coast) list and might be #1 overall in my ambience rankings.