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Monday, Oct. 20, 10:41 a.m.
Style & Culture

The Hop Report: Surviving Nemo – A Tale of Three Beers

When it comes to winter storm preparation, Mainers tend to know how it’s done. Having survived several major blizzards in my day, the ice storm of 1998, the Mayan Apocalypse and the Y2K scare, snowstorm Nemo didn’t seem particularly threatening. But, like a good Mainer, I know the value of good preparation for a nor’easter. There are many ways to prepare for inclement weather.  What follows is just one account of, and one particular methodology for, “hunkering down.” While it is far from the only way to ride out a storm, I like to think of it as one of the better ways. I call it Surviving Nemo: A Tale of Three Beers.

The tale begins on Thursday evening at the Black Bear Brewing Co. Tap Room, where brewer Tim Gallon was busy filling growlers and chatting with regulars. For $1, he serves 5-ounce samples of his regular beers as well as one-off, taproom-only brews, such as the Tough End IPA, the RIPA Red IPA and the Tree Tugger Barleywine. A steady stream of customers came by as my roommates and I debated what to fill our growlers with. For beer with a summery taste, the Tough End IPA was a top choice. Gallon explained that it’s a West Coast-style pale ale, brewed with American-grown hops, namely columbus, cascade, centennial and crystal.

“We tried to stay completely American with it,” he said, noting its American roots from the grain to the hops.

We discovered the RIPA, pronounced rip-ah, is a taproom exclusive.

“It’s a one-off,” Gallon informed us. “We might have it one time only, or we might do some variations.”

Gallon added that the Red IPA “features centennials, which are to come by right now.”

While we sampled Gallon’s brews, we struck up conversation with a gentleman who has asked to remain known as Brian. A regular at Black Bear Brewing, he identified himself as a founder of an ongoing, iconic event at the University of Maine: Chickenfest. Brian laughed away the idea of being some sort of living legend and expressed great regret at the negative press Chickenfest has garnered in recent years.

“Our goal was to leave the place as we found it,” Brian said of Chickenfest’s original intent. “Between bands, we would send people around to pick up all the trash and put it in the back of a pickup truck.”

He said that he felt like he could teach the current generation of organizers a thing or two.

“We always got permission, and we tried to do everything up front and do it right,” he continued. “There shouldn’t be a law against fun, but there’s a way to do it responsibly.”

He also expressed his sadness at the way the event has been portrayed, especially after a guitar player took his own life after wandering away from the event last year.

“I’m proud that it’s still running, but it’s terrible what happened last year,” he concluded. “I think people should have fun and stay safe.”

After a moment of reflection, I asked Brian about his favorite beer at Black Bear Brewing.

“I love the Demon Stout,” he responded. “Tim, have I ordered anything else here?” he asked the bartender.

Brian’s response effectively settled my growler debate. With my growler filled with the Demon Stout — the first of the three beers of this story —  we returned home to await the incoming snowpocalypse. Nemo was late to arrive on Friday, which gave me ample time to buy other essentials, such as gallon jugs of water and canned goods — in the event that Nemo got feisty.

As the storm got underway, I ventured out, thanks to the ownership of a vehicle with high ground clearance and four-wheel drive. I stopped at Woodman’s, where co-owner Abe Furth was compiling the list of interested people for the Woodman’s Beer Society. Over a single, mild pint of Innis and Gunn’s oak aged beer from Furth’s rotating tap lines, I watched plow trucks and service vehicles dominate the roads with their amber lights flashing. Despite the weather, there were customers throughout the restaurants of downtown Orono. Unfortunately for me, however, Burby and Bates was closed, and its parking lot was a patch of tundra.

The last beer of this triad is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and this is due entirely to its almost unrivaled availability. With Burby and Bates closed and the variety enclosed in the beer cave along with it, I stopped at a gas station to shore up the storm supplies. Thanks to being one of the early figures of the microbrewery movement, and by virtue of producing great and dependable pale ale, Sierra Nevada is available practically everywhere beer is sold. And when confronted with the “limited” choices in an Irving gas station cooler, you do what you have to — to survive.

And survive we did. We told stories, cooked a “storm feast” together and adamantly refused to do anything academic. Regardless of your own preparations, at the end of the storm, what matters is that you stayed safe and warm. Beer is just a bonus.