Monday, September 2, 2013

Maine Beer Company - Zoe Amber Ale Review

Maine Beer Zoe Amber Ale


Brewery: Maine Beer Co (ME)
Style: Amber Ale
ABV: 7.2%
Grade: A

Age at Consumption: 3 Weeks Since Bottling

Amber ales are one of those styles where I have no idea what to expect before pouring the beer. Will it be hoppy? Hoppy ambers are getting to be popular these days, but in the early days of amber ales' popularity, this definitely wasn't the case. Malty? Sure, but to what extent? Pouring out Maine Beer's Zoe Amber Ale, I expected something along the lines of Troegs Nugget Nectar, an IPA in spirit, bursting from the rugged bronze body of a German malt base.

Zoe is not content to just be a breadier IPA, however; she pours dark. Carbonation is high, and quickly leads to a fluffy, voluminous head. This is an attractive looking beer, but confusing too. You could mistake Zoe for a brown ale — until you taste it.

The aroma is killer, a decadent dense nose of sweet blueberry, strawberry, melon, grapefruit and floral hoppiness. While the shade of the beer is messing with your eyes, Zoe is incredibly light on the palate, with a super soft mouthfeel and a finish that just... dissipates. Poof — next sip. For such a dark beer, this is as easy-drinking as any IPA I've had. I remember this from Maine Beer's Lunch, another exquisite IPA that won me over sip after sip with its soft, nuanced hop character. Maine seems to have some way of drawing every last bit of complexity out of its hops — both Zoe and Lunch have an interestingly nuanced "berry" character that calls to mind exotic New Zealand hops, plus strawberry and blueberry, though the website says Simcoe, Centennial, Columbus are the varieties used. The result is actually much more subtle than most hoppy beers — you'll have to pay attention — but thoroughly impressive.

For as dark as this beer appears, dark malts play a fairly understated role. Being so soft, there's no space for a heavy roast character, though the malts do bring some chocolate, coffee and dark bread; a malty cereal character that, combined with the sweet-berry-fruit, makes this smell almost like Fruity Pebbles at times. While there's a nice body to this, it's not heavy, and the brisk carbonation just adds to the drinkability. Occasionally I feel a palpable sadness when finishing a bottle of beer. This was such a time; Zoe is an exceptional brew. Well done, Maine.

For those seeking more information on Zoe's recipe, homebrewer Shawn Meek has an excellent clone recipe over at meekbrewingco.blogspot.com. I was lucky enough to try a bottle of Shawn's clone earlier this year, and it seemed pretty damn close to the real thing.

Availability: Year-round. 16 ounce bottle.


10 comments:

  1. Great review... very eloquent, as usual. Love the pic as well. And, thanks for the mention!

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  2. Do you think the berry notes have anything to do with their yeast strain?

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    1. Could be. I would be curious to know what strain they use but I'd guess it's probably just an American ale yeast. I get the weird berry note from other beers with Columbus and Simcoe, including some I've brewed. I could've gotten into it more with this review, but I think those hops have some nuances that only come out when they're paired with a very soft profile and a focus on late flavor/aroma-hopping over bitterness. That's my theory, anyway.

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  3. Maybe the bottles I had were past date, but I haven't had a Maine offering that comes close to what you describe. They weren't bad, or poorly brewed, but I was left wondering what the big deal was. I got the impression from both the Zoe and Lunch that I was tasting a friend's homebrew.

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    1. I believe Maine dates all their bottles, and honestly, I wouldn't bother drinking one of their hoppy beers if it was much more than 3 weeks old. Such a short window, but these beers would not hold up longer than that. They're very un-aggressive to begin with, and the bitterness is very soft, so once the hop nuance fades (and it fades fast), I can't imagine there'd be a whole lot left. And of course, there's always personal preference... these are a big leap from your average IPA, and this soft / delicate profile probably isn't going to knock everyone's socks off.

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  4. I'm very sensitive to style, and understanding how these differ from other commercial offerings, and I root for the underdog by design. The beers I tried were almost $8 for a bomber, and though tasted good, it was just that, they were just good. The Zoe is far better than the Lunch I had. Philly gets such a small amount of these bottles and ironically everyone 'in the business' had raved via social media, but when pressed in person, it seemed everyone agreed with me that the offerings were just, okay. I hate giving a 'bad' review, they were just lackluster. If you're going to charge that for a bomber of hoppy amber/brown, it has to be more interesting than Tumbler or the like. However, there's no accounting for taste, and I may just have a dumbass tongue. Love the blog, it's inspired my own journal/blog thing. I read through the whole thing in one sitting, which I'm not embarrassed to admit, and has inspired me to start my own Brett experiments.

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    1. I'm definitely with you on price. While I enjoy Maine's beers a lot, I think $8 bucks for a 16 oz is way way too much, and as a result I don't really drink them too often. There are a lot of great IPAs being sold for like, half the price.

      Preference is definitely not a linear thing, and I almost feel silly writing beer reviews every now and then, as it often feels so subjective. But it's fun, and I also love hearing the varied opinions about the same beer. People pick up on different nuances and interpret flavors differently, which can be cool. Out of curiosity, what do you think of Tired Hand's hoppy beers? I feel like Maine and Tired Hands shoot for a very similar profile and soft palate.

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    2. Awesome to hear that you enjoy the blog! That means a lot to hear, thanks. Good luck with the Brett experiments, what sort of stuff are you trying?

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  5. I noticed that you haven't reviewed any of the Oxbow offerings here, if you get a chance, give them a go. Bunch of nice folks living the 'farmhouse brewery' dream, also from Maine.

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    1. I've had one or two on tap in Portland, ME, earlier this year, which was the first I'd heard of them. They do seem like they're living the dream... I would love to visit sometime, maybe on my next trip up there. A lot of their beers sound very intriguing and definitely up my alley.

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