Returning to a favorite Maine brewery tonight with Maine Beer's Lil One, a new strong ale coming out for Winter for the first time ever this year. I'm excited just by the description on the back: "Hoppy, well-balanced and full of warm belly cheer." As we hopefully transition to Spring weather soon, this is just what we're in need of!
A rather strong pour yields a huge, dense and foamy head into my glass, positively exploding with pine-fresh hoppiness and deep caramel malts. The body is an extremely-cloudy amber/chestnut brown with reddish-bronze highlights that holds up the intense head in a distinguished-looking manner. Hard to see any carbonation activity through all the haze, but as I take my first sip I definitely notice a slight bubbly hint of carbon dioxide. It's certainly restrained here though; there's a slick sweetness that hints of darker, possibly even chocolate malt here and there, bouncing off bready, spiced notes and a mildly-fig like fruit flavor. There's a rye character to this beer, too, in the spicy and full yet playful finish, though rye is not explicitly listed in the recipe. The soft and full-bodied mouthfeel may have something to do with the midnight wheat used, however. Beyond the pine hop punch and slight citric blast are a multitude of excellently-balanced malt aspects ranging from sweet and bready to grainy and chewy. Wood flavors make it feel a good deal more "wintery" -- there's pine from the hops but some spruce and light oak notes are
Lacing as this drinks is pretty stellar, as it is with most MBC beers, and I applaud them doing a malty big beer (though it's definitely got their "hop-wizard" deftness to the bitter aspects); their only other malt-forward beers are a stout and a porter and, though Zoe is an amber and drinks like a very young sister beer to this one, this is on a different level. The wood-like stiffness of the spruce and pine aspects, the sweetness/complexity of the crystal, caramel and chocolate-like malts and the strangely-enticing citrus and lightly-fruity, earthy hop character combine to make an enjoyable big beer that has a bit of something for everyone. It's definitely a big guy, though, despite its name. The brewery seems to remain ambivalent about its categorization, however, stating that "some may call this a malty double IPA, some a hoppy barley wine. We prefer that it not be classified. We think of it, simply, as our strong winter ale." I can drink to that!
The official breakdown:
- Style: American Strong Ale
- ABV: 9.1%
- Appearance: Quite hazy and deep in color with a brown/chestnut wood color that has bronzed-orange highlights. Retentive head and crazy lacing
- Scent: Very biased towards pine and citrus hops initially but after some concentration there's sweet bready and caramel/crystal malt aspects
- Taste: Some wood on the palate with nice hop flavor and sugar-y malt. Toasty with good balance; melon, caramel, grapefruit and toasted bread are all present
- Mouthfeel: This is where things are different; under-carbonated and smooth with a nice resinous, dry finish. Pine sap and herbal/earthy hops end each sip
- Drinkability: Wouldn't say this is MBC's most drinkable beer but it's a nice treat for the season. Hope it sees a bigger release next year! Lucky to get it!