Portland, Maine, brewery introduces extreme beers.
Big, high alcohol beers are all the rage in the marketplace, and that was something Shipyard Brewing Company was missing.
That left Alan Pugsley, master brewer of the Portland, Maine, brewery, in a quandary -- how do you introduce ``extreme beers'' when you're known for brewing traditional, English-style ales that are typically lower in alcohol?
Instead of looking at newer styles of beer or Americanized versions of traditional styles for inspiration, Pugsley said he decided to brew British styles that can be higher in alcohol than what Shipyard traditionally brewed.
With that, Shipyard recently released the first two entrants in the Pugsley's Signature Series -- a barley wine and an imperial porter.
``The original idea was doing an IPA (India pale ale), but then I said, `Why do we want to do another IPA when there are so many out there?' '' said Pugsley. ``Then I thought the first one should be a barley wine, that's probably the strongest style traditionally brewed in England.''
Barley wine is a traditional British style that got its name because, although it is a beer, the alcohol by volume (ABV) percentage can be as high as wine.
``I wanted to make it fully traditional,'' said Pugsley. ``Barley wines can really range to 11 percent alcohol, but I wanted ours to remain on the lower side (8 percent ABV).''
The barley wine is a very smooth sipper of an ale. It is a thoroughly enjoyable after dinner drink, but make sure to only drink it at slightly cooler than room temperature to really bring out the flavors.
The barley wine was probably my favorite Shipyard beer until I tried the imperial porter.
The imperial porter is just phenomenal -- probably one of my top 10 beers of the year. It has some strong chocolate flavors, a smoothness that hides the 8 percent ABV.
``It gets the very traditional treatment,'' said Pugsley. ``I made it so it was well balanced and drinkable, and it features chocolate malt so you get that rich, chocolaty flavor.''
The Pugsley Series is a departure from the rest of the Shipyard line - more than just being higher in alcohol. They are also only available in 22-ounce bottles, rather than 12-ounce bottles, and are also much more expensive.
The Pugsley Series beers usually cost about $9 for one bottle, rather than that same price for a six-pack of Shipyard's other beers.
``It's a very high-end beer and quite expensive,'' said Pugsley. ``The initial reaction has been very good.''
The Pugsley Series will continue past the porter and the barley wine.
The plan, according to Pugsley, is to introduce a new beer when one of the Signature Series beers sells out. He said that will typically be when the seasons change.
None have been definitively planned, Pugsley said.
``We're very excited,'' he said. ``We're trying to come up with something for the spring. It may be traditional, but it may not. I would expect we'll be lighter during the summer and the fall. Maybe we'll come back with an imperial stout next winter.''
It is also possible that the two current Signature Series beers could return next winter, maybe in 12-ounce bottles in four-packs, rather than the large format bottles, Pugsley said.
Despite being happy with the new beers, Pugsley said he still prefers beers lower in alcohol.
``That's what got me in the game -- I have traditionally been a session beer type of person,'' he said. ``I'd rather see a beer at 3.5 percent (ABV) than 8.5 percent (ABV).''
If the Pugsley Signature Series does not sound like it is for you, Shipyard does brew plenty of lower alcohol beers, including the Shipyard Export Ale, Old Thumper, Prelude Special Ale and the Pumpkinhead Ale.
Shipyard also brews the Sea Dog line of beers, which are mainly fruit beers.
Even though higher ABV beers are all the rage, Pugsley said he wouldn't be surprised to see things change.
``I think this whole thing is somewhat of a cycle -- things come and things go,'' he said. ``The glossy labels, the gold foil top; that catches the attention of people. At the end of the day, I don't think you can lose sight of your traditional beers.''
Norman Miller is a Daily News staff writer. For questions, comments, suggestions or recommendations, e-mail email@example.com or call 508-626-3823. Check out the Beer Nut blog at http://blogs.townonline.com/beernut/.