Brew Biz: Werts and All

Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for over 10 years.

Sunday River Brewing
29 Sunday River Rd.
Bethel, Maine

I’m not going to call this a “review.” That wouldn’t be fair to the pub or the brewer, Stewart Mason. That sounds bad for him, but it’s not. Actually I’m very interested in interviewing him and trying his other brews. Besides, I wasn’t there long enough to make an honest assessment, except maybe about staffing and education of said staff.

I was going to see my cousin near Bangor, Maine, coming out of Tilton, New Hampshire. Especially cutting cross country for the first time that’s a long drive. I had wanted to stop by Brays in Maine, but I was running late. I went there years ago and was quite impressed.

But when I connected with route 2 there was this grand looking place called Sunday River in Bethel, Maine.

Nice, new, building, fancy wood plank bar, beautiful deck…. promising. Knowing I couldn’t give Sunday the time Sunday deserved I decided to try a couple then head off to John’s after taking a few pictures.

Their Black Bear Porter grew on me. Must have had fertilizer on my tongue. No, I kid. At first I thought it more something between a Brown Porter and and an American Brown. Nice deep black with a pillow head, Black Bear proved more Robust as it warmed. I understand: serving it a tad too cold is a brewpub necessity sometimes, because too many drinkers out there are expecting it.

Arg, the unwashed, unfrothed, Bud/Miller masses… the kind who ask, “What’s the difference between ale and beer.” I long to give them a terse lecture about how lager yeasted beer is a latecomer to brew world, not what “all beer” is about.

Anywhosie. after letting it warm I was pleased with the coffee undertones, the deep roast, the bit more Brit approach with less hops than some newer Porter brewers slam into a brew that can be a tad hoppy but, “Not that much!” My only complaint was what seemed to be force carbonation was a tad too much and a bit too carbonic. It could also use a nitro, or handpulled/beer engine approach.

Something to consider as a special serving of the quaff.

Know what? I felt the same bloody way about the IPA. At first, “Not an IPA, more a Pale.” Too cold. As it warmed the hops unfolded nicely: a mix of Cascade-y/grapefruit-like and some slightly spicy hops. A bit Fuggle-like, for s great slight variation on an otherwise American version of the style. Light gold-ish with good clarity and a somewhat rocky head that didn’t hold, Sunday River IPA also had that sharp, over forced carbonated sense that may be because they serve all quaffers: even those who think Ultra is actually “beer” and not watered down bear urine.

Apologies to bear urine collectors everywhere. I know it’s a hard, thankless job. I put on a wreath on the memorial every year for eaten collectors, though the banner on the wreath reads: “Save a beer collector’s life: drink REAL beer.”

I do think a beer engine or hand pulled approach would make this a fascinating quaff.

The big beer mistake seemed to be what the bartender called, “A Brown.” An annoying, green rubber hose, phenolic sense was persistent. I asked him several times to expand on the beer but, “Just a Brown, no spicing or anything special.”

The problem is what would have been a defect might have gotten a better assessment if he told me, “Belgian Brown.” That’s what the list the greeter gave me as I left said.

Some phenols are appropriate in certain styles, and the Belgians are masters in farming exotic yeasties, like some brewers are masters at exotic use of hops. Some Belgian beer does have phenol characteristics that are appropriate to the style, due to wild yeast, and open: natural, fermentation.

I would have loved to have another just to reassess, after a quick look at my guidelines, but I really had to leave.

The bartender, after a few compliments, then the phenolic comment, quickly went over to a waitress and started muttering, looking at me, and muttering some more. Not my fault if he doesn’t describe the product right and seemed somewhat aloof when it came to a new, beer geek-y, customer.

Someone needs to add customer relations and a bit more information when it comes to what one is serving. Oh, and if you’re not all that beer geek friendly you might want to consider another position, or another line of work.

I would like to return, see how Sunday develops, and have more time to do a better assessment. Talking with the brewer might be interesting, the bartender a bit evasive about if he was in at all.


Maybe next year as I head into Maine?

-30-< Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing and commenting on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events. Also how society perceives all things beer. lso: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer. Essentially, all things "beer."

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