Not often I take the time to review a beer on Beer Advocate, but with all it’s hype, and the differences I found in my tasting compared to some of the reviews there, made me write one. So below is my BA review, followed by a few more thoughts:
Bottled on 6/4, I drank this on 6/28. About as fresh as I would expect to have one. These are bottle conditioned, so I assume I picked this up pretty much as soon as it arrived at my local beer shop. (along with a bottle of MaineBeer’s Mo, also bottled on 6/4)
Obviously expectations were high given the craft beer hype machine. Plus, I’ve had their Peeper Ale which I really enjoyed.
Appearance: Poured a hazy orange with a three finger head into a 23 ounce Sierra Kellerweis Hefeweizen Glass. Poured pretty gently give the sediment from bottle conditioning, so a bit surprised at the carbonation level.
Aroma: I’ve heard Lunch competes with the best West Coast IPAs so I did have some expectations. With that much head on the pour, I fully expected a huge amount of hop aroma, but it wasn’t there. Much more subtle aroma than most big IPAs out there these days. Pine, lemon, grapefruit. But again, not hop-bomb aroma.
Flavor: Again, not overwhelming hop flavor. More flavor than the aroma suggested, but not over-powering. The malt flavor is there to balance, but again, very subtle. I would guess there’s some Pils in the malt bill, and that they avoided caramel malts, or at least minimized their percentage in the grist. Bitterness is there, but not harsh. Lingers crisply on the tongue.
Hard not to review this with beers like Bear Republic’s Racer5, or Ballast Point’s Sculpin in my mind. Those beers are much more hop forward. Lunch is more “smooth”… crisp… hard to explain. I am surprised to see so many reviews suggesting much more hop aroma than my bottle offered up.
Overall it’s an enjoyable IPA. Much like Peeper Ale, the malt character avoids a heavy caramel component and the hops are intriguing. Simcoe appears to be a brewery favorite variety, along with perhaps amarillo. Do I think it’s a top 10 IPA? Not in my mind, but that’s personal preference. This is a well-made beer with enough originality to separate it from the abundance of American IPAs on the market.
End of my BA review
EDITED: should have looked a little eh? Their site offers up stats on the beer:
Color – Orange
ABV – 7.0%
O.G. – 1.059
Malt – American 2-Row, CaraPils, Caramel 40L, Munich 10L, Red Wheat
Hops – Warrior, Amarillo, Centennial, Simcoe
So, the Amarillo and Simcoe I guessed were in there. Warrior is likely to bitter with. Centennial is always a good hop to blend into an American hoppy ale. As for the grain bill: no Pilsner malt. Hmm. My bad. Guessing the C40 is adding most of the color. Carapils and wheat will contribute to the large white head and to the body/mouthfeel.
Now, let me add a few more thoughts.
Whether intended by MaineBeer Co or not, their tiny brewery has gotten a lot of notoriety and their Lunch IPA has been called one of the best beers in America. I’ve heard it called “the East Coast’s answer to Pliney” (Russian River’s Pliney the Elder, by many considered to be the best beer in America). I’ve seen beer shop’s only sell you 1 bottle due to the tiny amounts select beer shops get when Lunch is made available. Personally, my local required anyone buying Lunch to also buy another of MaineBeer’s offerings as well. I think they initially tried to do a “buy all the MaineBeer styles in one box” in order to get Lunch, but I don’t think that worked out. These are all bottled in 16.9 oz bottles, and tend to sell for $8 per bottle. Not inexpensive.
Maine Beer was a two person operation when outside of Portland a couple years ago. They’ve since moved to Freeport, and have a tasting room on site.
From what I’ve heard though, you still need to buy bottles (at no less $$ than retail) to try them because they do not keg their beers. (EDIT: confirmed that Maine Beer DOES in fact keg as well as bottle) They are a bottle-only operation. Like they say in the 2011 Boston. com article, they are simply a homebrew setup, with bigger containers. They intend to stay small. This means the hype builds, as the beers are harder and harder to come by as their reputation continues to grow. I have no trouble finding their other beers on the shelves I must admit. And given their need to be drunk fresh (their hoppy beers like Mo, Zoe, Peeper, and Lunch will have the hop aroma and flavor drop out as time goes by) perhaps Lunch’s popularity is actually taking away from sales of their other beers? Or They purposely brew less Lunch in order to keep up the perception of demand.
Being a homebrewer, I will say that staying tiny as the seem to intend to do makes it harder to take advantages financially of brewing larger capacities. Beer takes the roughly the same amount of time to produce being it a 15 barrel system, or 120 barrel system. Of course, there’s more ingredients to move, but the boil time, whirlpool time, fermentation time… all pretty much the same. If you can produce twice as much beer in the same amount of time, with a bigger brewhouse, you can minimize cost to produce that amount of beer. But, it seems Maine Beer is more about staying the small local brewery it started as, by two brothers, and who can blame them. Going bigger comes with a lot of growing pains, and involving more employees to disagree with. 😉
While I enjoyed Lunch, and their “Mo” Pale Ale just as much if not more, I can’t say it’s lived up to the hype surrounding it, or the high price of their half liter bottle conditioned beers. I’m glad I tried them, and will likely have more of their beer in the future, but it’s reminded me again that there are very few beers that can live up to the ridiculous craft beer hype machine. It is just beer, after all.