AN EXCELLENT SAMPLER A Maine Beer
Company tasting flight.
As Lora Burns relocated to Portland last year, she searched for a hub of female beer connoisseurs similar to the IPA (In Pursuit of Ale) club she frequented in Philadelphia, established by Allagash's Mid-Atlantic sales rep Suzanne Woods. After all, such groups have hopped up in most major American cities (including Boston), as women come out of the closet with their love for craft beer — even (and often especially) stouts. Burns, whose boyfriend Mike Fava now brews for Oxbow, hoped someone might start such monthly meet-ups here.
Fortunately, my Brunswick friend Carolyn Malcoun Tesini had an inaugural women's tasting in the works for Portland Beer Week 2012. Rising Tide co-owner Heather Sanborn agreed to host the successful event, where Tesini chatted up Burns, who offered to help the busy new mother plan future brewery tours. Now, the club known as Maine Beer Mavens has 150-some Facebook members, women who blog about beer, homebrew, and increasingly prefer craft beer to cocktails and wine. Tesini, a recipe developer who writes for DRAFT magazine and blogs for ChicksThatDigBeer.com, had longed for more ladies-only events like the ones she attended at the female-owned Vermont Homebrew Supply before moving here from the Green Mountain State in 2010.
In May, the Maine Beer Mavens assembled at the Maine Beer Company's new headquarters in Freeport. We gathered at the bar, sipping on four snifters that made for a balanced tasting flight. We drank citrusy-hoppy (still sweet and not bitter) Lunch, my new favorite Maine beer; Pilot 1 (a hop-forward American Pale Ale); Pilot 2 (a dry-spiced saison); and Mean Old Tom, a velvety vanilla stout. Then we moved onto drafts of chocolaty King Titus porter. A former Novare Res bartender hand-whittled the eight gnome-like tap handles, the fronts' blackboard faces chalked with the draft du jour, the bare backsides mooning the bar's patrons.
Maine Beer Mavens member Colleen O'Connor Croteau led us on a tour of the cavernous brew floor, with gleaming stainless steel cauldrons and an sizeable bottling line. Croteau recently left a corporate job to join Maine Beer Company. She basically does everything but brew beer. Croteau manages their accounts in 11 markets and oversees marketing and social media.
Many area craft breweries — Oxbow, Rising Tide, Allagash — have women behind the scenes running the business, and even brewing the beer. Think DeeDee Germain and Allagash Black, and Judi Clark of Smuttynose Brewing Company in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Still, in some ways, the New England beer world remains more an old boys' club than on the West Coast. At the May rendezvous, I met Erin Olson, who used to sell beer for Columbia Distributors around Seattle. She was optimistic about landing a job with a major distributor upon moving to Maine. Unfortunately, Olson says she made it through four rounds of interviews with one outfit only to be asked (by a woman, no less) how she'd handle advances from a guy manager at the bar.
"I was totally caught off-guard," says Olson, who now works in another line of business in Portland. "Of course I'd remain professional and only try to get our product featured as a handle."