While I was home for Thanksgiving in New York last November, I met up with a couple of Bowdoin alums at a craft beer bar on West 45th Street. The place looked like a trendy cellar—slender, dimly lit, and a few steps down from the sidewalk outside. 

And perhaps cellar is the right word, because while the bar had a few taps, this was really a bottle shop. 

The real selection resided in a long wall of coolers containing an enormous array of bottles representing some of the finest beers available. 
Jostling between several groups of stylish, bearded people, I made way from the fridges and hunted for one of my favorite IPAs from the West Coast.  

Returning to our table—a varnished plank straddling two upturned oak barrels—I was surprised by my friend’s selection: an elegant, slender brown bottle, with a simple, unmistakable white label. She’d found Zoe, an amber ale from a small craft brewery, Maine Beer Company (MBC), located twenty minutes from Bowdoin’s campus in Freeport. 

The design of the bottle, clean and unassuming, suggested it might have been out of place among craft ales (it looked almost like a wine bottle). But that assessment was soon belied by the flavorful contents within. MBC wasn’t out of place—it was distinctive. 

It’s a brewery with the unassuming charm of a local business and the prowess to compete in the big leagues. I wasn’t surprised to find MBC among such a fine company of beers because their beer is excellent. I was simply surprised to find it so far from its home in Maine.

MBC is a real  “started-from-the-bottom” story. Begun as a hobby then founded in a garage, it eventually grew from nano-brewery to microbrewery to the brewery that produces beers so popular that it can’t meet its demand—good luck finding bottles of their IPA Lunch. 

As an indication of MBC’s success, prominent beer writer Joshua Bernstein uses its flagship brew, Peeper Ale, as a paradigmatic example of the American Pale Ale style in his bestselling coffee table book on beer tasting. Truly, their story is so quintessential and inspiring that you can find it on their website, presented in a digital chapter-book format. Read it to your kids—or someone’s kids.

But although MBC’s reputation began to extend well beyond mid-coast Maine with a demand to match it, it chose to stay small. When I asked an employee about expansion over a beer last October, she implied that the owners were happy with what they’d built. They didn’t feel the need to expand.    

What MBC does feel the need to do is the right thing—this doesn’t just mean drinking beer. “Do what’s right” is the brewery’s slogan, or more aptly put, the brewery’s mission statement. One percent of their gross sales are donated to environmental non-profits and each beer contains a paragraph on its label describing the non-profit towards which its sales contribute. 

All craft beers wear a noticeably higher price tag than their mass-marketed compatriots, but at least with MBC you can feel like the few extra dollars are truly well spent.

Now, reader, do what’s right and drink MBC’s beers. 

I may be exposing a bias, but I think its hoppier offerings are where the brewery excels. As a general note, MBC beers are not assertively bitter—even those which showcase their hops at the front of the palate. I love MBC because I can rely on interesting, delicious hop profiles when I’m not in the mood for an astringent beer. I recommend MBC pale ales and IPAs to those of you who typically aren’t fond of IPAs or those who are interested in working their palate up to more daring, hoppier experiences.

In his book, Bernstein describes Peeper Ale as a “sunny” beer. Maybe this is a nod to its hazy, yellow appearance, but more likely it characterizes the effervescent, citrusy tang. Peeper Ale finishes dry, with lingering buttery-malt sweetness. Mo is an equally delicious, slightly hoppier, piney pale ale. I can’t decide which I like better.

Lunch is MBC’s most popular beer. Drinking it for the first time, I remember feeling surprised by the complexity of unexpected, even unconventional hop flavors that gave way to an almost graham cracker-y finish. The name is not a suggested replacement for the meal itself, although you have my permission.

Zoe is the outlier of my recommendations in that it’s an amber ale. However, as MBC has termed it a “hoppy amber”. Zoe is a great beer for those in the mood for malty, heartier and darker beer with some hoppy distinction.

You can try most of these and more down at the brewery in Freeport, and I suggest that you do. It’s totally unlike the bar in midtown—the place seems designed to resemble its beer labels, with clean, white, understated walls and an elegant bar to the side. You really do feel like you’re drinking the beer at its home.