Category Archives: Brewery Visits

Bottle Releases & Craft Beer Pricing

There is no question I buy a lot of beer and attend a lot of bottle releases. Just take a look at the list of beer currently waiting to be consumed (link here) and you will get an idea of the depth of my beer buying problem.

AnnThis morning I awoke and checked in with Facebook and Twitter as I do most mornings. There were several posts with lots of comments about the lottery style release of Ann a barrel aged saison from Hill Farmstead. I have been waiting for months to learn the details of this release as it is one of the few Hill Farmstead beers I have never tried. I believe the first and only release of Ann was in 2012 and somewhere around 180 bottles were released making this more rare than even Double Barrel Damon.

The details of the release can be found on Hill Farmstead’s website (link here) basically you register in a lottery, if your name is drawn you get to purchase a bottle for that given day. You can register once for each day of the release and the total cost is around $55 between the bottle, tax and fee for the lottery site. If you do not win you pay nothing, the small fee for entering is returned to you.

If you have ever been to Hill Farmstead, especially one of their bottle releases like the release of Damon, Double Barrel Damon, Flora and Flora Satsuma on 9/26/2013 you know how crowded it can get and the crazy lines that form. My post of that release can be seen here. In an effort not to replicate the crazy lines of that day Shaun decided to do the lottery style release for Ann which I think is great even at $50+ per bottle and here is why.

My time is worth something. I have a very busy job, three kids, a wife and all the duties that come with homeownership. If I can enter into a lottery style event, be chosen for a bottle and know that on February 4th I can show up at 11:00, grab my bottle and leave that is a much better solution than driving to Vermont to arrive at 9:00 or earlier and stand in line for many hours for the chance of getting a bottle. I am sure there were many in September that waited for many hours to have the final bottles sold to the people in front of them.

GashDon’t get me wrong I have waited in line for beer and I will again. Each brewery has its own style and bottle/can releases are no different. Allagash has an event coming up that I will go to, wait in line to get in and then wait again to grab a couple bottles of their new release Emotional Honey and bottles of some older beers that are making another appearance; Old HLT, FV13 and Tiarna.

Allagash does a tremendous job with their bottle releases with lots of games, food and samples. Combine this with lots of friendly craft beer drinkers and you have the makings of a nice Saturday morning. The difference is Allagash has the space to accommodate hundreds of people and while parking is not the best between the parking lot and on road parking everyone will have a safe place to park. Allagash also has many more employees to handle the crowds and make sure everything goes off without a hitch. Hill Farmstead does not have the space or parking for such an event and  when they do have an event they rely heavily on volunteers. Coordinating all of this for a weekday bottle release would be nearly impossible.

AlchemistThen there is The Alchemist and their truck load sales. Similar to Hill Farmstead they do not have a space to accommodate a large scale release so they do it in a public space in Waterbury. I have only been to one but it was lots of fun and you can read more about the trip here. I was in line at 6:40 for a sale that started at 9:00. There was a food truck, a band and again lots of great craft beer drinkers to chat with and pass the time.

There is no perfect way to release a beer. You have the retail version with the Bourbon County craziness on Black Friday, the draft only version with Pliny the Younger at Russian River and select bars, the brewfest version that almost ended in a riot at Cigar City’s Hunahpu Day in Florda and countless other beer events across the country with demand that far outweighs the availability of the beer.

In the end breweries have to do what works best for them. For Hill Farmstead, at least with Ann, that is a lottery system and for others it means lines of craft beer fans waiting and hoping the beer lasts long enough for them to score a bottle.

If the beer is good than I want to try it. If the beer has taken years to craft; brewed, aged, blended, bottled, aged again than I will pay more for it. I have yet to be disappointed by a beer from Hill Farmstead or Allagash or The Alchemist and when you have a reputation of creating exceptional beer the beer buying public will pay. I don’t think any of these breweries are pricing their beer artificially high or limiting production to increase profits. Space and time are expensive which causes beer to be expensive. Yes there are plenty of great craft beverages out there that are less expensive but you are not going to be drinking $50 bottles of Ann or $15 – 375 ml bottles of Allagash’s Coolship beers everyday. It is a luxury item, a special treat and one that I am happy to pay for.

Is the beer worth $50+, I don’t know but I hope to find out. I will be submitting a lottery pick for each day, if I am chosen for a bottle then I will gladly pay the $50+ drive to Vermont and pick up my bottle of Ann. If the planets, stars and cosmos align and I am lucky enough to have my name drawn for more than one day than I will make multiple trips and tuck one away in the cellar for a special occasion. I will also be at the Allagash Wild Beer Round Up waiting in line on a cold January morning in Maine and if my schedule and time allows I will attend future truck load sales at The Alchemist. Chances are better that you will find me at one of the many other breweries that are making exceptional beer in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont or Massachusetts.

Cheers to all and feel free to share your comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

Hill Farmstead Bottle Release 9/26

On September 26th Hill Farmstead had a bottle release including 4 beers; Damon, Double Barrel Damon, Flora and Flora Satsuma Mandarin. I decided to take the day off work and make the trip to Vermont. I took two friends with me and we planned to make a day of it. The bottle release was to start at 11:00 and bottles were limited to 300 of each for everything but Double Barrel Damon which had approximately 190 bottles total. Hoping to get bottles of each we met in Fryeburg Maine at 7:30 and planned to arrive at Hill Farmstead a full hour before the release started at 11:00.

hf line
The line from our spot an hour before the release time

Our timing was perfect and we pulled up to Hill Farmstead at 10:00 AM. The only problem being the line was extremely long even 1:00 before the release was to start. After standing in line for about 45 minutes we determined we were not even within the first 300 people and no way were we included in the first 190 that would get Double Barrel Damon so we made the tough decision to get out of the bottle line and start the growler line. This ended up being a wise decision as best I can tell from the BeerAdvocate thread you would have had to arrive around 9:30 to get any bottles and by 8:45 to even have a chance at the Double Barrel Damon. The lines were much longer than most people anticipated including the employees and volunteers at Hill Farmstead.

We got our growlers and were on our way around noon. The bottle line had barely moved at that point and we headed out to the rest of our stops. Lost Nation in Morristown was our next stop and we had a great Gose there. I grabbed a growler and a glass that you will see reviewed shortly. Then off to Waterbury to stop at The Alchemist, the one case limit was still in affect so not a lot of extra Heady made it back. No where close to the 13 cases I brought home in March. We then had lunch at Blackback which included drafts from Hill Farmstead, Lawson’s and Zero Gravity. Excellent beer and plenty of other people that had gone to Hill Farmstead for the bottle release.

Next stop was the Warren Store for some Lawson’s Finest Liquids and then back to Hunger Mountain Coop to see what other goodies we could find. Ended up with a couple bottles from Prairie that we cannot get in Maine as well as some Crooked Stave. Then the long journey back to Maine. We arrived in Fryeburg around 7:30 and each of us had about another hour from there.

We were initially disappointed to miss out on the bottles at Hill Farmstead but at the end of the day it is just beer and we brought home plenty of great beer to drink. Much fun was had and we will certainly be making this trip again although it probably will not be on a Hill Farmstead bottle release day as we may never see another announced release like that.

Bissell Brothers Brewing

If you have been following my blog for a while you have probably read about the Bissell Brothers and their beer The Substance (see photos and review here). It has been almost 9 months since I had this beer and posted this review, long enough for a child to be born. BBBIn this case it is not a child but  a brewery that is being born. Peter and Noah Bissell (the Bissell Brothers) have taken over the old Maine Beer Co space on Industrial Way in Portland and will be working on opening their brewery over the next few months.

The plan is to provide 4-packs of 16 ounce cans with their double IPA being the premier and flagship beer. If you are one of the few that has been lucky enough to try The Substance you know this is going to be one of the best IPAs on the market when it hits the shelves of your favorite beer store. Be sure to tell your local beer store and bar that they need to carry this beer when it is released.

Over the past 9 months I have met up with Peter and Noah several times at The Thirsty Pig where they both work and they are both great guys. Peter is a professional photographer which I love and Noah has a true passion for brewing beer. In the coming months follow their progress using the links below and wish them luck as they continue down the path of opening a top notch brewery in Portland, Maine.

Facebook Page – Not sure this is the official one but I will update if not
Twitter – This is official
Blog –

Video interview with Peter and Noah:

Rising Tide Brewing Company – Portland, ME

024Somehow in all my trips to Rising Tide in Portland I have never done a post about the brewery. I stopped by to take some photos last week for my new site New England Beer Insurance and thought it would be a great time to do a post. The first time I visited the brewery they were on Industrial Way with Maine Beer Company and Bull Jagger, brewing on a much smaller system. Shortly after that visit they made the move to Fox Street and had their current system installed.

Nathan Sanborn (no relation as far as we can tell) is the brewer and his wife Heather is also involved in the day to day operations of the brewery. They also recently hired and an employee, Spence, who can be found at the brewery or pretty much anywhere good beer can be found. Seems I am always running into Spence somewhere in Portland. Nathan, Heather and Spence are always gracious hosts and willing to accommodate when they can.

Tasting room hours are noted below and they do sell growlers at the brewery. In addition to the 22 oz bottles distributed in Maine, Mass and Vermont they have the occasional brewery only release. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter for updates and next time you are in Portland stop by and visit. Tell them their insurance guy sent you over.

Facebook Page: Link
Twitter: @risingtidebeer @risingtide_hbs
Location:  103 Fox Street – Portland, ME
Phone: 207-370-2337
Brewery Hours: Tuesday 4-7 / Thursday 4-7 / Friday & Saturday 12-3
Tours: Friday and Saturdays at 1:00
Growlers at the brewery/ 22 oz bottles / Occasional Brewery only special release. 
 Maine, Mass, Vermont

Geaghan Bros Brewing – Bangor, ME

3Last week I made a trip to Bangor and met up with Andrew Geaghan of Geaghan Bros Brewing and Pub. I have been to brew pub on several occasions for lunch and growlers but never caught Andrew.

My goal was to try their Penobscot Icebreaker, a winter seasonal, as I had heard good things but they sold out in the days before my visit. I ended up trying their Capt Kool IPA which was very good. While enjoying a pint at the bar the server was able to track down Andrew and he gave me a quick tour of the facility and brief history of brewing at Geaghan’s.

The pub has been in business since 1975 but 4only recently started brewing their own beer. Their head brewer Jason Courtney is from Texas and moved to Maine in 2011 to start brewing at Geaghan’s. He was the 2002 winner of the Great American Beer Festival Small Brew Pub Brew Master of the Year award and brought a wealth of knowledge with him to Bangor to help the Geaghan family start their brewery.

They brew on a custom-made 5 barrel system that is located in a very small but efficient space off the brew pub. All beer is brewed and served only at Geaghan’s Pub. They sell pints at the bar and also fill 32 and 64 oz growlers for you to drink at home. I have tried several 005different beers from Geaghan’s and all are good but the Capt Kool IPA and their Smiling Irish Bastard.

If you find yourself in the Bangor area you should certainly stop by Geaghan’s for some quality beer a great food. They are located right next to Hollywood Casino with ample parking and open daily at 7:00 AM.

Facebook Page: Link
Location:  570 Main Street – Bangor, ME
Hours: Sunday – Thursday 7 AM – 11 PM / Friday – Saturday 7 AM – 12:45 AM
Tours: ??
Growlers (32 oz / 64 oz) and pints at the bar
 Brewery / Brew Pub Only

Funky Bow Beer Company – Lyman, ME

Funky Bow BuildingHad the chance to stop by another brewery that is starting up in Maine on Friday. This one is Funky Bow Beer Company in Lyman. Lyman is located between Biddeford and Sanford and is less than 30 minutes from Portland. The brewery is located in a converted garage and they had just received their tanks the day before I arrived.

Funky Bow FermenterFunky Bow is owned and operated by a father and son team; Paul and Abraham. When I arrived Abraham was working on some interior construction but was happy to take the time to show me the space and chat beer. A short time after I arrived Paul came down and gave me the tour of the entire premise which includes Sunset Farm’s many greenhouses where they grow greens for local restaurants year round.

Funky Bow BrewBoth Abraham and Paul seemed very excited to enter the craft beer scene in Maine and hope to be brewing beer in the next 30 days. In addition to the brand new tanks they also had a deliver of malt from Valley Malt. The grains were grown at Harris Farm in Dayton and then shipped to Valley for the malt processing. Paul and Abraham took a trip down to pick it up and plan on using it in their beer soon. At this time they expect to have an IPA, a pale ale and more interestingly an oatmeal milk stout, a smoked bourbon porter and a European style saison.

They plan on doing kegs for local restaurants and bars as well as 22 oz bottles and to sell growlers both at the brewery and at 2 farmers markets in Saco and Brunswick. No question Funky Bow will be small to start, in fact they claim to be the smallest brewery in Maine. Best of luck to both Paul and Abraham and I look forward to trying the beer in the coming months.

Website: Funky Bow Beer
Address: 21 Ledgewood Dr – Lyman, ME
Owners: Paul and Abraham Lorrain

Henniker Brewing

One of my many beer related stops this week was at Henniker Brewing in Henniker, NH. Not sure I had ever been to Henniker before Thursday but it was well worth the trip. I spent about an hour with owner David Currier and some time with brewer James Moriarty.

The brewery is in a beautiful building at the end of a short dead end road. The facility was formerly occupied by as a medical supplies distribution center so it has all the necessary space, loading docks, etc. They have turned one large area into the brewery with a huge walk-in cooler and area for a tasting room and retail area. There is also A LOT of office space for the staff.

Unlike many new breweries that start with a 1, 3 or 7 barrel system they are starting with a 15-barrel system, 3-15 barrel fermenters, 1-30 barrel fermenter and 2-30 barrel bright tanks. They also purchased a bottling line that will fill both 12 and 22 ounce bottles. This is a very nice setup for a start up brewery. Head brewer James Moriarty comes to Henniker from Cape Cod Brewing and was very excited with the progress being made in the installation. More details on the brewery are below – be sure to check out their website, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Website: Henniker Brewing
Facebook Page – Henniker on FB
Twitter – @hennikerbrewing

Throwback Brewery

Updated November 8th, 2012: Made another trip to Hampton, New Hampshire and stopped at Throwback. I was there early afternoon which is before their normal growler hours but they were nice to let us in for a couple of growlers. They were out of growlers but had plenty of growlettes – a 32 oz growler – and I ended up with an Amber’s Amber and a Donkey Hote – Double IPA.

Also the guy that helped us out gave me an update on the move out of the warehouse to the farmhouse. Apparently it is happening and they hope to move sometime next Summer. The brewery is certainly looking a little cramped so this move will be great for Throwback. Look for reviews of my 2 growlettes coming soon.

Original Post: While in Hampton New Hampshire checking out Blue Lobster I stopped by Throwback Brewery as they are just down the street. Throwback is currently located in an industrial park set back from Route 1. When I arrived shortly before 5:00 there were several people in the brewery enjoying some samples and getting growlers filled. There are a few tables setup near the growler fill station and they sell 4 oz pours for $1. They had 6 beers on tap and you can check the on-tap section of their website to see what they are pouring on any given day. I was able to get a growler of the Rhubarb Wit and also grabbed a bottle of their Hop Happy Hefeweizen. Throwback has a nice variety of beer including some pilsners, stouts, porters and they even have a beer that uses jalepenos in the brew process. If they have this next time I go I will certainly give it a try.

The owners and the assistant brewer are all women which is great in an industry that is predominantly male. Their goal is to move the brewery from the current location to a farm just down the road from the current brewery. Keep an eye on this brewery as they are doing some very interesting things.

Facebook Page:
Location:  121 Lafayette Rd – Hampton, NH
Hours: Thursday & Friday 4 – 7 / Saturday 1 – 4
Tours: ??
Growlers (750 ml / 2 L), bottles, kegs
 New Hampshire only

Oxbow Brewing Tasting Room

Wednesday of this week Oxbow opened their tasting room so on Friday afternoon I made the trip to Newcastle to check it out and grab some beer. Oxbow is about an hour from Lewiston/Auburn so I don’t make it out there as often as I would like. Some say the brewery is hard to find but I have never had a problem. Google Maps will lead you right to it. The tasting room is the building to the right of the brewery when you enter. There are two doors and you can use either to enter the tasting room. Upon entering they have a small retail area with shirts, hats, onesies and glasses to purchase as well as bottles of their beer. They also have a very nice tap setup  with 5 taps (see photo to the right).

The day I was there they had; Farmhouse Pale Ale, Loretta, Space Cowboy and Freestyle #8 & 10 on tap. They offer a sampler of four pours for $5 and these are generous pours so do not hesitate. The person running the tasting room is a new hire for Oxbow but it is very obvious she has been around the brewery and is very knowledgeable about beer and the history of Oxbow.

She did a great job recommending we start with Loretta, Space Cowboy and Freestyle #10 and finish with Freestyle #8 as the hops will taint your palate.

To the right of the tap setup they have a complete list of beer with pricing and the current bottles available. There were bottles of Barrel Aged Farmhouse Pale Ale and their recently released Oxtoberfest blend. I grabbed a couple bottles of Oxtoberfest as well as a growler of Freestyle #8; both will be reviewed soon. With the 4 samples for you $5 you also have the option to take the glass home for an additional $5 (a $2 discount from the regular price) so I decided to do this as well.

The tasting room has plenty of space and there were probably 10 people there as well as others coming in for growler fills and there was room for plenty more. Geoff and Dash both stopped by to chat while I was there and we got to hear about all the great things happening at Oxbow. There is a small area for some barrels and their bottle labeling area is tucked in a back corner.

Overall the tasting room is a great addition for Oxbow. If you haven’t made the trip to Newcastle yet you should and if you have been in the past I would recommend you go again to check out the tasting room and all it has to offer.


Hill Farmstead Harvest Festival VIP Session

Well the weekend I have been waiting for since July finally arrived. On Friday I headed out to Vermont with my brother-in-law for Hill Farmstead’s Harvest Festival. I was one of the fortunate few that was able to purchase VIP tickets for this event as it sold out in about 60 seconds. The ticket price was $100 per for the VIP session but what I have learned from prior events is brewers really make sure you get your monies worth and Shaun from Hill Farmstead certainly did that.

We arrived at the brewery around 12:30 on Friday to get bottles and growlers filled before the event. With 500 tickets sold for the Saturday (non-VIP) portion of the event the lines were going to be long so getting most of our beer on Friday was a great idea. I ended up with 2 full sized growlers (Edward and Society & Solitude #5) and brought home another 15 – 750 ml bottles for myself and other beer lovers in Maine. The line was only 2-3 deep when we arrived but most people (including me) were filling 10+ bottles so it did take some time. In addition to the growlers and 750s I purchased 5 bottles of beer – 4 from Hill Farmstead and one from Grassroots Brewing. All will be reviewed here in the coming weeks as they are now at the top of my list of beers to drink.

After getting our fill of bottles we headed South to the Hunger
Mountain Co-op to find some Heady Topper and whatever Lawson’s Finest Liquids we could find.  The Co-op had a two 4-pack limit for Heady and the only Lawson’s was a 40th Anniversary Ale made specifically for the Hunger Mountain Co-op so I grabbed a bottle. We also grabbed some lunch at the Co-op and if you have never been you must go as they have some amazing sandwiches, a salad bar and even do growler fills. I wish there was something similar available in Maine.

After the co-op we headed back to Hill Farmstead and arrived around 4:00 with a few hours to kill before the event  which was scheduled to start at 7:00. After a bit of rest we ended up on a picnic table with a growler of Hill Farmstead Holger Danske and a couple of people from New York / New Jersey. This was their first time visiting Hill Farmstead and they had not tried any beer from Hill Farmstead until then. We ended up finishing the growler before the event even started but it was a great way to start the night.

As 7:00 approached the crowd started to arrive and the food from Mad Taco was cooking. Everything smelled amazing and was being prepared right there with fresh onions being chopped, multiple charcoal grills cooking the meat and lots of great bread. Also the music started and the beer started to flow. There were 2 taps that initially were dedicated to Hill Farmstead beer and at least 2 that were pouring beer from other brewers including a cider from Chicago.

My beer drinking for the night included;

  • Abner without Principle (blend)
  • Ephraim, Society and Solitude (blend)
  • Civil Disobedience 4.5 (blend of this summer’s saisons)
  • Simcoe Single Hop
  • Brasserie Cantillon – Rose de Gambrinus
  • The Alchemist – Heady Topper
  • Cigar City Brewing – Dirac

The beer was amazing and there were no tickets or other limits, basically as fast as you could make it through the line you could get refills. I had very little food but what I had was excellent and the remainder smelled excellent. While the event was going I met some people that follow my blog which is always a lot of fun. Some time after 10:00 they stopped pouring but many people continued to hang out talking beer and enjoying the evening.

Eventually we made our way back to the tent feeling good and full of plenty of great beer. Our plan was to make it out before the masses arrived on Saturday so we woke early, tore down the tent, packed up the car and had some breakfast on one of the picnic tables. They were selling 750s of Ephraim on Saturday which was the one beer we could not get on Friday so we expected to hang around until the bottle filling started at 11:00 for the VIP ticket holders. Around 9:30 the door to the brewery opened and we went in to chat with some of the employees/volunteers that we met the previous evening. Eventually Ephraim made it to the tap and we got our bottles filled around 10:00 just before they kicked everyone out of the fill area.

The ride home should have been about three hours however shortly after getting on Highway 91 in Vermont we had an issue with a tire and had to stop to change over to the spare and eventually found a tire shop in St Johnsbury to get a replacement. This delayed our return home by at least 90 minutes but we still made it home mid-afternoon on Saturday with plenty of great beer in the coolers and a day of rest before heading back to work on Monday.

I believe the next Hill Farmstead event is May of 2013 so keep an eye on their website and/or Facebook page for details. Provided I can score some tickets I will certainly be out there again and would love to meet up with more followers of my blog. In the meantime if you have the opportunity to go to Vermont be sure to plan a trip to Hill Farmstead or if you are bored on a Saturday and want to take a day trip it is only 3-4 hours from most of Central / Southern Maine. It is well worth the trip but be sure to bring cash as they do not accept credit/debit cards or checks. And if you go let me know as I may want to place an order.

All the people that I met at the event; Hill Farmstead employees, volunteers, other beer drinkers, etc were great and everyone I encountered was there to have  a good time and enjoy some World class beer. I posted some more photos to my Facebook page if you are interested click here.