Best of ’17
Maine’s Best New Brewery
While I’ve seen small communities rally around their first craft brewery, I admit I was skeptical when I heard there’d be a new brewery in Augusta, a government town that few people visit who aren’t mandated to be there. But when Cushnoc Brewing Company (243 Water St.) opened in late fall, it was clear this brewery would be a game-changer. Cushnoc focuses on on-premise sales to accompany its delicious wood-fired pizza. They offer a very tight and well-crafted lineup of beers (my favorite thus far has been the All Souls IPA, which is tropical yet very smooth). The brew pub’s larger-than-expected interior has a variety of seating options and a comfortable atmosphere. On opening day, I watched locals stream in, seek out employees and shake their hands. “Thank you for doing this,” they said. “You have no idea how much Augusta needs a place like this.”
Best New Maine Beer
Portland’s Lone Pine Brewing Company has gone from quietly creating crave-worthy beers in tiny batches to filling shelves and fridges with their best efforts. This year they’ve pumped out several new releases, including the stellar Oh-J. This hazy, citrusy double IPA comes in at 8% ABV and is not messing around. The fruited notes in this one are fresh and clean, giving off zesty orange aromas that bring orange juice to mind, but there’s no fruit juice or puree in this ale. It’s just that juicy, and its perpetual freshness is a testament to the hard work of the brewers there.
Maine’s Most Creative Beer
Many breweries have created special editions of their signature beers by letting them age in a sweet, boozy bourbon barrel. The sugars and alcohols warm and sweeten the base beer, generally adding positive characteristics (unless you over-do it). Far fewer brewers have attempted to wrangle the flavors of peaty, smoky Scotch barrels and combine that with beer. Allagash Brewing Company decided to give Scotch a try. They brewed a Belgian-style Scotch ale (which sounds creative by itself), and then aged it in barrels that had first held port wine, then Scotch, for four months. The result is an ale any Scotch fan would enjoy, but that a beer fan would also find interesting. As it warms, the slight aroma of smoky peat begins to rise up out of the glass, making the drinker yearn to be next to a fire in a high-backed leather chair.
Best Label/Can Design
This year’s winner might surprise you — it certainly surprised me while I was shopping for beer. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a lightning bolt on a label, shining ever so slightly amid a background of black ink. When I approached I discovered this was the 16 oz. can of Rock Harbor Brewing’s Storm Surge IPA. The Rockland brewery worked with GH Design Co. on a rebranding effort in 2017, including a new logo, packaging and marketing materials. A closer look reveals subtle background elements: contours of bathymetry behind a stormy sea that also shimmers in the light. The cans have a unique satin (and nearly matte) type of ink that sets them apart from everything else on the shelf. Check out the sea-inspired labels on Storm Surge, Breakwater, and the rest of Rock Harbor’s lineup. Unlike some other super-slick-labeled products, the beer on the inside really does live up to the beautiful design on the outside.