1. Maine Beer Company- I am pretty certain that this is by design as they appear to be a very principled company. Maine Beer is big on sustainability and green initiatives in their manufacturing process and we applaud their commitment to principles. However their packaging is so spartan and simple that it looks like home brew and gets lost on the shelf with some of the other eye candy. Move beyond that dry outside and you will experience fantastically simple, fresh and balanced beer enjoyment. We don't get a lot of their offerings here but I can vouch for the three that I have had. Mean Old Tom is a light, drinkable vanilla stout that does not hit you over the head with crazy flavors or booziness. What you get is a silky, easy drinking beer that does not have any artificial qualities in it's flavor. The King Titus porter is a standard porter with roasted coffee malt tastes and fresh hop flavors. Being a New England brewer, they obviously have IPA's. I was treated to this last week when my wife surprised me by bringing home a growler of their "Lunch" beer from a local place called Brewville. Eager to try this one, we opened the bottle and each had a taste as I have been drinking a lot of IPA's trying to come to a "greatest hits" list. This did not disappoint and their description from the website pretty much sums it up. "Intense hop flavors and tropical, citrus fruit and pine aromas dominate the flavor profile, balanced by subtle malt sweetness."
2. Schafly Beer- This is another beer that is relatively new to our area and one that I wish I had tried more of earlier. Recently I did a pumpkin blitz at the beer store and picked up their pumpkin beer having heard good things fromChurchkey's Greg Engert. In case you are wondering I heard it over the radio, and am not on a first name basis with Greg. The pumpkin reminded me of a Sam's Octoberfest mixed with delicious pumpkin and spices. It was not until later when an employee at another beer store talked me into the Tasmanian IPA that I became a Schafly convert.
3. Waterfront Brewing- Waterfront is brewed by Shipyard and appears to be a brand they market to grocery stores. I was originally drawn in by the reasonable price of 7.99 a six pack after many times glossing over them in the store. Finally I settled on the IPA which is sort of my beer barometer for a new brewery. I can't say it rocked my world, but for the price it is an excellent go to beer to keep in the fridge. Their packaging is bland and generic with only a logo on the front that kept me from thinking it may be a grocery store brand of beer. Given my positive experience on the IPA, I doubled down and tried their spiced pumpkin. What I found was a beer that seemed like a low price point version of the delicious Smashed Pumpkin from shipyard. Ditto on the blueberry porter. For 7.99 to get a flavored porter with that much body and smoothness I felt like I was stealing.
4. Legend Brewing- I cannot leave out the locals here in my packaging critique. This brewery is a local institution and I can say that I have been drinking their beers happily for almost twenty years. Unless the changes were subtle, it seems to me they have been using the same label for twenty years as well. For a town with such a thriving art scene and college, one would think that they could get a student to build them some labels. The building itself has not changed either in twenty years, but that is a good thing as brewers may come and go but their spot still remains classically rustic.
5. Green Flash- This soon to be local brewer is opening a brewery and tasting room in Virginia Beach and frankly I cannot wait to go there. Most of the beers they have here are West Coast IPA's but I have heard good things about their other styles and cannot wait to try some. This one was definitely a struggle on my list as I vacillated back and forth between Green Flash and my honorable mention. It's not so much that their labels are bad, it's just that they are all the same except for their background color. Now for the good news. I am a huge fan of their soul style IPA if you like a beer with a tropical, hop profile. This is truly a great example of a west coast beer and has a mango pineapple finish that is like drinking candy. For a more powerful alternative you cannot beat Le Freak. This is a Belgian style IPA that sports a hefty 9.2% ABV with a smooth sweet malt backbone.
Honorable Mention- Bell's Brewery. The reason this one did not make the cut is that not all of their packaging is bland and lifeless. One of the craft beer "graybeards", Bell's is located in Michigan and we do not get all of their offerings. Bell's also has a strong commitment to environmental causes and social integrity so that may be part of the no frills packaging. However this is another beer that I often have to remind myself to grab some or choose it over the more flashy packages. Hop Slam is a legendary IPA that comes out in a limited release, but you also cannot go wrong with the Bell's Brown Ale and the Two-Hearted Ale. Maybe I am the sucker that marketers are aiming for, but this is one brewer that is very underrepresented in my beer arsenal for lack of standing out.
Hope this is helpful and we encourage you to give some of these beers a try. We would love to hear your tasting notes and experiences with them.