Parents Weekend affords us the opportunity to both show off our beautiful campus and impress our parents with the knowledge that we have acquired over the first few months of school.
After the excitement of foliage, campus tours, the new art museum, and intellectual conversations fade, we are often left with the desire for something a little less academic and a little more fun.
For those of us who are of age, I can see no better solution than a trip to the Sea Dog Brewing Company, where we can both show our parents a Brunswick landmark as well as enjoy some great locally brewed beers. As much fun as debating Middle-Eastern politics over brunch can be, nothing can beat discussing the merits of a good stout over buffalo wings.
Unfortunately, Sea Dog does not bottle many of its best beers, and therefore a Beer 101 review team field trip was in order to sample their beer. Deciding upon a dinner of appetizers and beer, we entered Sea Dog anticipating a great start to our Saturday night.
With close to 10 Sea Dog brewed beers on tap and still more available in bottles, we were forced to focus on four beers that spanned a range of styles and flavors, worrying about a potential distortion in judgment at the end of a review of all 10.
Assisted by the knowledge of the bartender, we decided upon pints of Bluepaw Ale, Windjammer Blonde Ale, Riverdriver Porter, and Irish Stout. Needless to say, we all left satisfied and pleased, and yes, we took a taxi home.
Advertised as a blueberry flavored American style wheat beer, the Bluepaw is one of Sea Dog's best known and most widely enjoyed beers. We decided to start with a pint before the food to allow full appreciation of the blueberry, and to serve as a sort of warm-up with the relatively low 4.6 percent alcohol content.
The Bluepaw pours a light copper color with playful carbonation, described perfectly by Andrew Sinnenberg '08 as "wispy and beautiful." The nose is unmistakably blueberry with an undertone of wheat, much like a freshly baked blueberry muffin. The beer goes down smooth, beginning with a smooth subtle malt that fades into a wheaty but not sour finish, exhibiting a lively but not overpowering blueberry flavor throughout.
Jonah Platt-Ross '08 noted that the Bluepaw was subtle compared to many other fruit beers that he had tried, picking up on the nice balance of fruit flavoring and a solid wheat beer.
Overall the Bluepaw was a very unique, enjoyable, and drinkable starting beer, although I cannot say that I could have had more than a few in a sitting. Its thirst-quenching character make it more of a summer beer, yet it is still capable of satisfying most beer drinkers year round.
Windjammer Blonde Ale
Our next round of pints came at the same time as our food, and I immediately began to worry that the subtle and often mellow characteristics of a typical blonde ale would be overshadowed by the bold flavors of the food. Luckily, we were all surprised to find that the Windjammer was not a typical blonde.
The Windjammer was a deeper amber than the Bluepaw, almost coppery with a thinly poured but dense head. The aroma was fruity and slightly estery with a surprising amount of hop aroma. Also surprising was the flavor, which began with a complex and flavorful malt and finished clean and quite hoppy, more like what would be expected from a pale ale.
Max Key '08 summarized the Windjammer as a "man's blonde." Balancing as perfectly with the spice of our buffalo wings and nachos as with the subtlety of our artichoke dip, the Windjammer proved to be a perfect beer for food, with drinkability and flavor that allows it to stand out singly as well.
Riverdriver Hazelnut Porter
The Riverdriver Porter has won many awards for the Sea Dog Brewery, including Best of Show Porter in the World Beer Championships. Typically, porters occupy a style somewhere between an ale and a stout, with specific examples ranging from robust, smoky, and hoppy to almost stout-like.
The Riverdriver was dark and cloudy, with a dense brown head giving off aromas of roasted barley and hints of hazelnut. Upon tasting, Max was impressed by the surprising lightness of the beer, which is best characterized by a dry but almost brown sugary malt with a hint of hazelnut. The beer finishes smooth, with a roasted barley flavor accompanied by a very small amount of hop character.
Jonah picked up on some chocolate and coffee flavorings, giving the beer a deeper, more complex flavor profile. Although full bodied, the Riverdriver was smoother and carried subtler flavors and a more roasted character than many other porters that I have tried.
Overall, I found the Riverdriver to be a very unique and enjoyable beer, yet some of the others found it a little unimpressive for a world champion beer.
Rounding out the test was a final round of Sea Dog's Irish Style Dry Stout. When watching the bartender pour the beer, I was overjoyed to see that the keg was being run off of "Guinness gas," a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide gasses. While most kegs are usually run with only carbon dioxide, the addition of nitrous oxide in a 1:1 ratio provides for a smoother, creamier, and denser character that goes perfectly with darker beers such as stout. The look of a perfectly poured stout is a thing of beauty: a beautifully thick, bright white head offset by a dark liquid with cascades of bubbles.
The Sea Dog stout poured very much like a Guinness or Murphy's would although with a thinner, slightly less dense head with a hint of brown.
Andrew and Max were quick to comment on the thick, solid line formed where the head met the beer, while Jonah noted how it reminded him of a chocolate milkshake. The nose was smooth and roasted, with slightly more hop character than expected.
Overall, the beer was remarkably well balanced, carrying more malt and hop flavor than a Guinness while still retaining much of the smooth character for which stouts are known.
The stout proved to be a perfect ending to the test, flavorful enough to drive out the lingering spice yet thick and almost desserty. I was actually more impressed with the stout than any of the other beers because of its similarities to the hard-to-mimic, true Irish style dry stouts as well as its uniqueness and flavor. All of the other beers were great examples of well-thought out microbrews, yet the Stout stood out amongst other American craft-brewed stouts that I have tried.