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99 Bottles

Review: Winter beer with a spring feel

Gary Dzen/Globe Staff

At long last, we seem to be breaking out of our winter funk. In Boston at least, it’s warm for a good 90 minutes a day now. If you catch the sun just right you can sit on the porch and have a beverage in a light sweater. I’m down to three layers for my morning jog.

These cold jokes are tiresome but they’re also indicative of the fact that in most climates, it’s still perfectly reasonable to drink winter beer. We’re not at the point where a big, bold beer is going to weigh you down or not be refreshing. It’s still the season for sippers.

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The Maine Beer Company offers several hoppy ales meant for sipping. You may have had Zoe, Peeper, or the hard-to-find Lunch. All are delicious, so my expectations for Lil One were high. I’ve never had a bad Maine Beer Co. beer.

Lil One is the company’s winter offering. It’s classified as an American Strong Ale, but you could also call it a Double-IPA. It’s a malty one at that. Brewed once a year, this beer doesn’t fit any particular style.

Bottled on Jan. 31, my Lil One pours a dark mahogany out of a 500-ml bottle and into a tulip glass. It doesn’t look like a Maine Beer Co. beer. The color is indicative of a higher malt content, more fermentable sugar, and a higher alcohol content.

One whiff produces grapefruit, lemon, must. The smell is darker and earthier than the usual Maine Beer offerings. It takes more than one sip to get acquainted with the brew. At first go it’s a big, malty IPA that, to be honest, lacks the aromatics of the brewery’s typical offerings. Forging on, though, you remember that this is a strong ale packing 9.1 percent alcohol by volume. If you’re into strong ales and like hops, this is a good one. I get thick caramel and sticky pine. This is indeed a big beer, but it’s not overly bitter, with sweet malt wrapping itself around oily hops like you wrap a scarf around your toddler.

I’ll still contend that this is not my favorite Maine Beer beer. Weather be damned, I may sneak back to my fridge tonight and grab a more summery Peeper. Cheers.

Touring Allagash

When my wife and I were planning a weekend getaway for our anniversary two years ago, my desired destinations just happened to coincide with the list of New England’s best beer towns. By pure coincidence, and in no way related to a glut of breweries in the city and rave reviews from my friends on local beer bars, Portland, Maine, was high on the list. Bless her heart, my wife and I were off to Vacationland.

I’d gone to college some 45 minutes from Portland, so the first stop was obvious. A short trek from the Old Port to an industrial park brought us to Allagash Brewing. Their Allagash White is my wife’s favorite beer (bonus points for me — or maybe her), a smooth, spicy wheat beer that gives similar beers brewed near Brussels a run for their money. We donned safety goggles, took the tour, and brought home some samples.

Odyssey is a limited-release Allagash offering that, despite my storied Maine beer experience, I had not tried. It’s a dark wheat beer aged for 10 months in oak barrels. In theory, two years of additional bottle conditioning would smooth this beer out and reveal even more complexity.

Odyssey pours Maine-winter black with very little head. The beer is thin. You can peer down from the top and see the bottom of the glass through the murk. I smell coffee, chocolate, toffee, and musty oak. Patience is good.

The first sip is unspeakably smooth. Aspects of a traditional Belgian quad play tug-of-rope with those of a barrel-aged beer: figs, dark fruits, and chocolate are balanced by vanilla and charred oak. Nothing is too harsh, nor does any flavor underwhelm. The mouthfeel is light enough and the flavors smooth enough that it’s easy to get this beer down despite the 10.4 percent ABV.

I drink this beer with a sense of desperation. It is, quite simply, one of the best beers I’ve ever had. Young and punch-drunk on love.

Gary Dzen reached at Gdzen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globegarydzen.
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