Tim Adams was eating lobster rolls at Portland’s Eventide restaurant one night a few years ago when an Italian brewer who was in town for a collaboration had a suggestion.
“We had this concept going that we’re going to do this salted, funky-tart saison,” says Adams, head brewer at Oxbow Brewing Co. “And Giovanni [Campari, brewmaster at Birrificio del Ducato] turns to us and says, ‘Oh, man, we’ve gotta put some lobsters in this beer.’ ”
For promotion’s sake alone, it seems inevitable a Maine brewer would eventually make a lobster beer. But Adams is not a kitschy brewer, and Oxbow’s beers — as nuanced and refined as any in New England — aren’t gimmicks. So while Adams wanted to appease his Italian guest’s ingredient request, he wanted to do it right.
“We get pretty wild at Oxbow when it comes to fermentation and aging and barrels,” says Adams. “But we don’t even spice our beers at all. So the idea of doing something so wild and unconventional, we were taken aback a little bit.”
The Oxbow team decided to go ahead with the mixed fermentation gose — a take on a German beer brewed with salt and coriander — and add a lobster twist.
“I think as long as we were light-handed with the lobster it could add a fun, seaside, sort of maritime funk to the beer,” says Adams.
On brew day, the team mashed in the grain — the start of the brewing process — then drove 10 minutes to a lobster pound, where they picked up a dozen lobsters, snipped off the rubber bands, and added them — alive and secured in a mesh bag — to the boiling kettle.
“Twelve minutes and they were red,” says Adams, “We sat down and feasted . . . it’s the tastiest lobster meat you’ve ever had.”
The brewers used the shells during other parts of the brewing process, absorbing every bit of flavor they could through two fermentations. Oxbow has brewed Saison Dell’Aragosta the same way for each of the last three years.
Saison Dell’Aragosta shows some serious effervescence in the glass, with hundreds of tiny bubbles racing to form a sea-foamy head. Adams uses words like “floral,” “fruity,” “citrusy” to describe how the beer smells. It tastes salty and tart — like squirting a lemon onto your oysters — albeit with less briny character. At 4.5 percent ABV, it’s unequivocally refreshing.
“There’s a little bit of sweetness from the lobster that provides a nice balance,” says Adams. “But when you pour yourself a glass of this beer, you’d never say, ‘Oh my God this tastes like lobster.’ It is really more of a background note, which is probably a good thing.”