For well over a decade, Maine Beer Company has built a reputation as one of New England’s prominent beer makers, crafting simplistic, yet highly sought after, efforts. What started as just two brothers in a garage back in 2006 continues to blossom, with about 23,000 barrels produced annually, and at the heart of the company’s success is what’s become one of craft beer’s many holy grails – Dinner.
Released in March 2014, Dinner was the company’s first DIPA, an 8.2 percent ABV limited release featuring Citra, Falconer’s Flight, Mosaic, and Simcoe hops that’s double dry hopped with over six pounds of hops per barrel. The popularity of Dinner, a beer only available at the brewery, was so staggering that the company was inundated with drinkers asking for a follow-up to the DIPA. Last October, after nearly five years of perfecting a new recipe, Maine Beer released Second Dinner.
Brewed with Amarillo, Citra, HBC 522 and Idaho 7 hops, Second Dinner offers notes of citrus and pineapple as well as a strong fruit aroma, with a slightly less 8.0 percent ABV. It’s been almost a year since that initial launch and Maine Beer recently dropped another batch, the sixth batch of 2019, which is sure to disappear quicker than the holiday season – but what exactly dictates the release date of Second Dinner?
“Our releases are primarily based around ingredient availability and coordinating around the rest of our brew schedule – making sure we have tank space available,” said Technical Director Cole Corbin. “We frequently try to alternate Dinner and Second Dinner releases so there is always one DIPA in our tasting room lineup.”
Corbin, who initially joined Maine Beer Company in late 2013 as a brewer, has moved up the ranks thanks to an extensive resume which included a stop at Virginia-based AleWerks Brewing Company and an International Diploma in Brewing Technology from the Siebel Institute. He’s witnessed the evolution of the India Pale Ale landscape during his time with the company, from styles like the West Coast IPA, to the hazy New England IPA, to the milkshake IPA but the focus isn’t on conforming to the latest craft beer trend, it’s on the hops and making a more unique style.
“We have always been a hop-forward brewery, so Dinner and Second Dinner are our takes on the style, but both stay very true to our styles of IPAs and the focus on balance and quality we expect from all of our beers,” Corbin added.
Bringing a beer like Second Dinner to the masses takes 18 days in total, according to Corbin, from the brewing through to the fermentation, cellar processes and packaging. But the initial batch was actually a labor of love, with a year of experimenting before finding the perfect recipe, one that also minimizes oxygen exposure – an enemy to freshness when concocting a beer that’s very hop forward. But it all really starts with the ingredients: malts from Wisconsin, barley from Wyoming and hops from Washington’s Yakima Valley. Outside of the standard hops Maine Beer uses, the company works with Yakima Chief Hops on experimental hop programs to test new varietals being grown.
Speaking of experimenting, Maine Beer never releases a beer to the public until it believes the recipe is ready, as far as quality control is concerned. The best way to ensure a beer like Second Dinner is ready for consumption is by brewing a small batch on a 10 gallon home brewing system over and over again before scaling-up to the 15 bbl brewhouse.
“We sit down and analyze and taste each iteration of a beer during the development phase and come up with ways to modify the recipe to make the beer better,” Corbin said. “Our Black Barn Program beers, beers that are only available in our tasting room, is how we’re able to share our new creations that were developed through this research and development process.”
The latest batch of Second Dinner yielded 690 gallons, with 542 gallons being bottled and the rest getting kegged. It’s sold exclusively at the company’s tasting room, simply to ensure the utmost freshness – stored cold while adhering to 45 days of optimal quality.
It’s this planning, preparing and experimenting that’s the reason Maine Beer doesn’t release an excess of efforts throughout the year. Less is more and quality is everything, which is abundantly important to the brewery, but after almost five years between Dinner and Second Dinner what exactly is the difference between the two?
“Each of these beers has the same malt bill but they feature different hops, with Citra being the only shared hop varietal between the two,” Corbin explained. “While Dinner focuses more on pine and tropical fruit notes, Second Dinner balances notes of citrus and tropical fruits with delicate underlying notes of peach and cantaloupe. So even with the same grain bill, Second Dinner comes off a little bit lighter and fruitier than Dinner. Second Dinner also features experimental hop varietal HBC 522 which highlights that stone fruit aroma.”
Much like with Dinner, the question now on the minds of loyal Maine Beer Company drinkers, the ones lucky enough to get their hands on these beers, is what the next release might be. Corbin and his crew are constantly experimenting with style, ingredients and processes for customers to try at the tasting room as part of the Black Barn Program, however he wouldn’t tip his hand when it came to any new upcoming releases.
“We’ve had one or two we received great feedback on, so keep an eye out for what’s next!”