Maine Micro-breweries Are Big News

Maine Micro-breweries Are Big News by John and Jennifer VerPlanck, The Black Sheep Wine and Beer Shop

 Perhaps you’ve heard by now that Maine currently has more breweries per capita than any other state. The popularity of craft beer has propelled the rise in new breweries nationwide for the last decade. In 1983, when Geary Brewing opened in Portland, it was the first craft beer operation throughout New England.  Currently, there are some 156 active Maine breweries and brewpubs in the state. In 2013, Maine had only 35 registered breweries. Maine saw 10 breweries open up in Maine in 2020, despite the pandemic.  An economic impact study released in 2019, recorded the beer industry and related activities add $2 billion to Maine’s economy each year as well as nearly 16,000 jobs. We have a full- on beer culture now in America, and it’s a pretty welcoming one. You can find an interesting selection of Maine craft beers at stores like The Black Sheep Wine and Beer Shop in Harpswell, Maine. 

  The simple ingredients for making a beer are just water, hops, malt and yeast. Many Maine brewers use homegrown hops, barley and oats; some even utilize wild Maine yeast. They also may add homegrown fruit such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, peaches for seasonal flavors and even wine, honey, seaweed, pumpkins, fresh oysters or pine needles for exceptional flavored handcrafted brews! Someone tell me there is a Maine beer made with lobster or potatoes and I’ll believe them!

   It didn’t take long for a coalition of brewers to form the Maine Brewshed Alliance to ensure the quality and supply of the pure water from our lakes and aquafers. Sebago Lake is the source for all of Portland’s craft breweries, so clean it doesn’t need to be filtered and happens to have the mineral content of the water used by most Belgian beer brewers.  

  Maine has earned its beer mecca reputation, building over the last 30 years, with some Maine breweries internationally recognized for their quality and craftsmanship and other newcomers rising to the top fairy rapidly. The beer world is both a competitive and companionable industry. The fun for drinkers is in the exploration and on- site experiences. You can sample one- of- a -kind beers from any point in the state, many adding some food options varying from lobster and fried clams to wood-fired pizza and rotating food trucks. There is a Beer Trail as well as some micro-brewery tour busses in the major cities. Every brewery has its unique style and character. Cross brewery collaborative brews are not rare as well as small batch seasonal or limited release experimentation. The industry is always yielding new discoveries. There are over 400 types of beer. Which makes sense when you think that beer has been made for 7000 years.

   A custom built 40 ft. refrigerated shipping container, The Maine Beer Box, with 78 taps for craft beer, was created and used as a kind of global marketing and goodwill initiative by the Maine Brewers’ Guild. It has been shipped to Iceland, England and Canada so far, with a return load of their counties beers for Maine drinkers to enjoy here. How cool is that?

  Most people don’t know that marijuana and beer hops are from the same family of plants. Both cannabis and hops are members of the Cannabaceae family. A couple of new Maine brewing partnerships are also experimenting now with producing some cannabis-infused beers. The non-alcoholic craft beer is infused with THC oil and steeped using grains and hops. Because of a process called nano-emulsification, drinkers will feel the psychoactive effects in 15 or 20 minutes, with 5 mg of THC per bottle, having a stronger effect than that of a traditional cannabis edible or other product. Perhaps we have to make way for another new industry, Maine. It’s not your grandfather’s beer, that’s for sure.

African Wine Country

African Wine Country by John and Jennifer VerPlanck , The Black Sheep Wine and Beer Shop

        Of the fifty countries on the African continent, eight produce wine. South Africa, a country roughly twice the size of Texas, is by far their most successful wine area and is the 7th largest producer in the world. It contains more than 290 conservation parks, 8 World Heritage sites and 8 distinct biomes.       

       The country’s wine history goes back to the 18th century, when their Constantia, a Muscat-based wine, was both the preferred, and most expensive in Europe, a favorite of Frederick the Great and Napoleon.  The industry faded almost into obscurity for almost two hundred years, and did not re-emerge until the late 20th century.  Later, boycotts, government interference, and the establishment of a huge and dominant wine grower’s cooperative (KWV), resulted in mostly lackluster, uninspired wines.  Winemakers even openly smuggled vines into their vineyards, called wine farms in South Africa, to bypass restrictions.

        Until quite recently, the region’s principal grape was Chenin Blanc, locally known as Steen, with half the harvest dedicated to produce brandy and spirits. Chenin Blanc is still very popular but now there is interest, value and investment in diverse and significant other quality wines as well.

         Through the 1980s, international apartheid sanctions severely restricted the export market.  The combination of the Mandela presidency and the growing demand for quality reds, changed everything.  The climate being very similar to the Mediterranean, it was relatively easy to start producing high quality wine.

         Probably the best-known region and the nearest to Cape Town is Stellenbosch, a pretty university town in a region best known for its red wines, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon-based, but also a good producer of Pinotage, the country’s signature wine, a genetic blend of Hermitage (Cinsault), and Pinot Noir.

          To the northeast of Stellenbosch is Paarl, a source of dessert wines, particularly Sherry-style solera wines.  Paarl’s south latitude is almost the same is the north latitude of Spain’s Sherry region.

          Between Stellenbosch and Paarl is Franschhoek, another area known for excellent wines, mostly Bordeaux-style blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. There is a distinct French winemaking influence in this region.  To the northeast is Robertson, which is quite hot and dry, but its proximity to the Breede River and its alluvial soil makes it an ideal source of big, sumptuous whites, such as Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Chenin Blanc.

          South Africa also has a large wine tourism industry, with spectacular vineyards, wine trails, including state parks and fabulous foods. Find South African wines at the Black Sheep Wine and Beer Shop in Harpswell, Maine. If you have not yet experienced any South African wines, try some.  You will be pleasantly surprised.         

Cool Stash

Cool Stash

By Jennifer Laskey VerPlanck

wine champagne cave-reims de-pommery-greno- history

Some places are legendary. Like the wine caves of Champagne, in France, which are protected as part of a World Heritage Site. Which is fitting because for centuries these caves and underground caverns have been used to protect people, artifacts and wine. The reason that underground sites are still being used for wine storage is that they are dark, stable, with a consistent cool temperature and controlled humidity, pretty much naturally. And some are vast, covering miles and extending like another city deep beneath the surface.

cave limestone underground tunnel ancient
In the Champagne region there is a labyrinth network of tunnels from the old chalk quarries, with hidden rooms and subterranean caves, some dating as far back as the Roman occupation. The Champagne caves of France were used as refuge for desperate villagers, hospitals and schools during World War I, especially in the town of Reims, where on one day alone, in 1914, nearly 3000 artillery shells fell on the ancient city. The inhabitants would live underground for years during the war. At least they had plenty of Champagne.

History champagne caves ww2 habitation- Pommery-caves
During the World War II Nazi occupation, along with risking their lives to hide people, some wine makers of France also courted danger to protect their most valuable commodity, their best wines. Ironically, the disastrous 1939 grape harvest came in handy, as the former sub-par plonk was cleverly relabeled in order to fulfill the Germans enormous demand for their most sought- after wines. This ploy worked for a while. But Berlin ordered up to 400,000 bottles of Champagne a week during the occupation. Quite a few vignerons hid their best wine in wine cellars, behind false walls and in mislabeled containers. They were hoping to be able to save something for after the war. Nearly 70% of the region’s economy was centered on the wine industry. Continue reading

We’ll Always Have Paris

We’ll Always Have Paris

By Jennifer Laskey Verplanck, The Black Sheep Wine and Beer Shop

Some people say that the 1942 film, Casablanca, is the best film ever made. Although it’s been around for 75 years, it still has great authenticity, a suspenseful plot with an exotic location, complex characters, many of them shady, romance, betrayal and political intrigue, a great score and theme song, and the irresistibly alluring Ingrid Bergman. The film was made during World War 2 and had an intensity which may have been partly because no one knew what the outcome of the war would be. One emotional scene in the film has the patrons defiantly singing the French National anthem over the German soldiers singing of  “Watch on the Rhine”. Many of the extras in that scene had real tears in their eyes,as they were actual refugees from Nazi persecution at the time.

casablanca french national anthem
Perhaps you haven’t seen this one, but you may have heard some of the often- quoted lines: “Play it (again), Sam”, “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine”, “Round up the usual suspects”, “ Here’s looking at you, kid” and “We’ll always have Paris”. The rich dialogue is just one of its charms. The characters smoke and drink like there’s no tomorrow, while they desperately connive and deal for precious ‘‘letters of transit” they need to escape Morocco and the dangerous Vichy regime. It’s bittersweet that Rick and Ilsa are destined to be kept apart but they will always have the memories of their idyllic time together in Paris.

cinema casablanca 1942

There is talk about a sequel. I’m not sure it could ever match the magic of the original film; the expectations would be impossibly high. What do you think? The ending has to rank as THE classic ending, though. It’s one of those things that is so perfect that I would rather they left it alone.  Continue reading

The Bacchus Bottle



 The Bacchus Bottle   

by Jennifer and John VerPlanck

   If you are in a foreign country and don’t know the language, you can still have a clue as to the type of wine in a bottle   simply by the shape and color of the glass. Ages ago, somebody decided to create four distinct shapes of glass bottles for wine storage and it stuck. It is thought that the shapes and colors were created fairly at random. If you’re seeking Pinot Noir, Gamay or Chardonnay, look for the bell shaped bottle from Burgundy, France.  A heavier bottle of the same shape, but with a concave indentation in the bottom, contains sparkling wine, Prosecco or Champagne. You’ll find Alsatian and German wines like Riesling in tall slender bottles with long necks colored green or blue (Mosel) or brown (Rhine). Cabernet and Merlot, typical Bordeaux wines, are packaged in the traditional slim cylindrical bottle with straight sides and a high, slightly sloping shoulder.   bottles-colors    

    Before the wine bottle became standardized in 1979, to the 750 ml. size, wine bottles varied wildly in size, shape, color and volume. It was even illegal from 1636 to 1860 in Britain to sell wine by the bottle, due to the common practice of cheating on the volume. So the law was to sell wine wholesale by the barrel and then pour it to customers who brought their own containers. wine-transport-antwerp Continue reading

Who’s Your Daddy?

Who’s Your Daddy?

by John VerPlanck and Jennifer Laskey VerPlanck

ancient tile vineyard harvest black sheep
A few years back we visited the Serego Alighieri Winery, north of Verona, Italy. It was founded in 1353 by the son of the poet Dante Alighieri, best known for his Divine Comedy. Still in the family over six hundred years later, it is hardly unique in continuous family-owned wineries. Chateau de Goulaine in France’s Loire valley, has been making Muscadet, Vouvray and Sancerre since 1000 A.D. The winery of Barone Ricasoli was founded in 1141 A.D., and Feudi San Gregorio has been family run since 590 A.D. These are all noted producers, and all still in the same family.

alighieri carving wine ancient

Families have operated wineries through the Hundred Years war, the Black Death, the Napoleonic wars, the Norman invasion, the Crusades and the discovery and settling of North America.

Black Sheep wine shop 14th century
We can hardly match that in our country, but there are many examples of estates still in the family after one hundred years or more. Continue reading