FTS Q&A: Carla Companion (The Beer Babe)

Some would say that the craft beer brewing industry on the East Coast found it’s birth in Portland with the likes of Geary’s and Shipyard setting up shop in the Old Port over 30 years ago. With well over 50 microbreweries across the state and what seems like a new brewery opening every day, the craft beer industry isn’t just surviving, it is thriving in the Pine Tree State. When it comes to reporting on the latest trends and new brews across the Maine craft beer scene there is only one woman who knows it best. Of course we are talking about “The Beer Babe” herself, the lovely Carla Companion, who writes for TheBeerBabe.com as well as Maine Today and has been reporting on craft beers since 2007.

Carla joined us on Friday for a special edition of the Fill The Steins Podcast where we had a chance to dive deep into the best of the best local beers as well as some quality craft beers at affordable prices for our audience members on a limited budget. The Beer Babe’s knowledge couldn’t possibly be contained to just the podcast, so we continued on with our conversation here, check it out.
Fill The Steins (FTS): You started your website, TheBeerBabe.com, back in 2007; what inspired you to blog about your drinking adventures?
Carla Companion (CC): Fundamentally, it was my attempt to remember what beers I liked and didn’t like, and document my exploration of craft beer, which was completely new to me at the time. I lived with several other people and we used to get 6-packs of craft beer and bring them home to try together and discuss. We had a lot of fun doing this, learning about what styles were out there and trying lots of new breweries – but at the end of the year of living there, none of us really had good notes or could recall our favorites or why we liked them. Being pretty tech-savvy I decided that the easiest way to keep track of this for myself would be to write a blog with my beer adventures.

FTS: What does it take to become a “beer babe” and do you feel your title may be threatened by any up-and-coming hipster ladies?

CC: Well, honestly, when I began blogging I thought I’d be anonymous, like The Phantom Gourmet that travels to restaurants and then gives an anonymous, critical opinion. I never really thought that I’d have to go out and meet people and introduce myself by my blog name. After a few years, though, I got used to it – and I think I’m becoming known not only by the pseudonym but also for my writing and willingness to discuss important topics with beer lovers (mostly on Twitter). Also, though I chose a fairly gender-specific name, I am looking forward to the day in which it will no longer be viewed as a novelty that women can, and do, enjoy a good beer just as much as men do.
To the second point of the question – no, I’m not threatened at all. The more people that are exploring craft beer the better – and I’m always happy to help out anyone interested in starting to explore the world of beer.

FTS: In your professional opinion, where does Maine’s craft beer scene rank compared to other states in the country?
CC: To me, Maine represents a really good microcosm of what’s happening across the country in craft beer. We have some of the longest-running craft breweries – Gritty McDuff’s, Geary’s and Shipyard – who have been brewing for over 20, nearly 30 years each – finding success right along-side the middle generation that popped up in the early 2000s and the newest surge of the last 2-3 years. I think that the long history of craft beer in the state has primed the consumers to demand and seek good beer. Other states are lagging a little bit behind us in consumer education because they’ve been dominated by some of the larger non-craft breweries and there’s been little demand for change. I also think that cities like Portland, Kittery and Bangor have also recognized the positive economic impacts of the beer industry, and have been very friendly to beer ventures. Restaurants, too, are very open to working with breweries and  finding new ways to bring food and beer together.

FTS: With over 50 microbreweries in the state do you feel the craft beer market in Maine is too saturated?
CC: I’ve been getting asked this question a lot lately, but it’s helpful to put in perspective while Maine does have ~50 breweries operating currently, other cities and states have far more.  Portland, Oregon, for example, has 75 breweries in just the metropolitan area! While I don’t see it as an overall saturation, , I do feel like breweries in Maine may face challenges when they compete for the relatively few beer drinking establishments where drinkers go to get local beer on tap.  When a bar only has a handful of taps, it’s hard for the newer, smaller-scale breweries to get in on that space in a consistent way. Many of the new breweries opening up are doing kegs and growlers only to start – which means that they will need to get on in many establishments to maintain steady revenue. I am worried that, without proper planning, it may be hard for some of those breweries to make ends meet. I am optimistic, though, and have seen no lack of creativity and enthusiasm from the newest breweries entering the scene.

FTS: Even with Portland as the epicenter of craft beers in Maine, you are starting to see breweries upon in other areas like SoMe Brewing in York and Todd Mott’s Tributary Brewing in Kittery later this spring. Is there a new non-Portland brewer you would recommend our followers check out?

CC: Baxter Brewing Company is located in Lewiston Maine and has been making a real impact on the local beer scene and community. They have also made several massive expansions and is likely the fastest growing brewery that the state has recently seen. One of the keys to their success – other than, of course, making consistent and delicious beer – is that they are selling their beer in cans only – which means that more people in Maine can enjoy the beer while camping, boating or doing a myriad of other outdoor activities. I think that outside-of-the-box thinking has set the example for several other brewers, both nationally and in Maine. They also prove that you can be successful in a town that isn’t as young or trendy as Portland can be.
FTS: Although the snow continues to fly spring will be here in the next few weeks, do you have any recommendations for spring time craft beers from Maine brewers?
CC: With a lot of new breweries opening up over the late fall and early winter, I haven’t yet seen what they plan to offer as spring seasonals. I am a big fan of Peak Brewing Company’s Simcoe Spring Ale which has a nice hop-forward character but doesn’t overwhelm your palate. It re-introduces you to hops if you’ve been away enjoying dark stouts all winter. Another spring favorite is Rising Tide Daymark for the same reason. Though this beer is now brewed year-round (and available in 4 packs) I find myself drinking this more and more as the days get a little longer. A new spring beer that I also enjoyed this year is Sebago Brewing Company’s beer named Bump. This black ale is hoppy, yet goes down very easily, with a perfect amount of balance.

FTS: Last question that we ask to all of our guests, what are you currently filling your stein with Tonight?

CC: Tonight I am enjoying an Allagash Brewing Company Saison. They recently started brewing this year round and it is a very straightforward and enjoyable execution of the style. For some reason, you just know it’s an Allagash beer – instantly.
You can catch Carla on her website and Maine Today for all the latest in the Maine craft beer scene.

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