Maine’s Hard Seltzer Summer
The Pine Tree State’s water shines (and fizzes) in locally made hard seltzer.
Beer is made from four essential ingredients: water, grain, hops, and yeast. In the craft beer revolution of the past decade, three of the four ingredients have enjoyed ample time in the spotlight. Grains shine in top-rated Russian imperial stouts and barley wines. Yeast has developed a cult following in the wild beer craze. And, of course, hops enjoy a comfortable reign in the endless iterations of juicy IPAs that dominate and drive today’s craft beer market. But what about water? This overlooked ingredient is arguably the quiet hero of all great beer. With a wave of craft hard seltzers being released by Maine breweries this summer, water is about to get its due.
Over the past few years store shelves have become overrun with mass-market hard seltzers from the likes of Truly, White Claw, and Budweiser, among others. Last year sales of hard seltzer more than doubled while beer sales fell nationally. As with many offerings from macro-breweries, these seltzers can be littered with off flavors ranging from cloying aspartame sweetness to fruit flavoring that evokes science labs more than rolling farm fields. At its core, any seltzer, spiked or not, should be effervescent, clean, and, above all, refreshing.
In the pursuit of the perfect hard seltzer, Maine brewers have a leg up: great water. The water sources breweries draw from around the state are some of the cleanest, most tap-ready watersheds in America. This is especially true in the Portland area, which pulls from the Sebago Lake watershed, one of only 50 public surface-water sources (out of the 13,000 across the U.S.) that don’t need to be filtered before treatment.
“Look where there are big hotspots for beer in this country: Oregon, Vermont, Northern California, Maine,” says Tom Madden, head brewer and co-owner of Lone Pine Brewing. “These are all areas that have great source water.” After noticing an increasing number of visitors at their Portland and Gorham tasting rooms requesting gluten-free beverage options, Madden and the Lone Pine team decided to try crafting a hard seltzer using their pristine water source as the foundation. “Seltzer is actually pretty tricky to brew. There’s not a lot to hide behind. Water is the showpiece of the seltzers,” Madden says.
Last summer Lone Pine began playing with recipes. Using the brewery’s tasting rooms for research and development, Madden listened to feedback from customers and spent the fall and winter adjusting recipes. Each craft seltzer found in the Lone Pine 12-pack released this spring underwent a number of changes before the brewers were satisfied that it hit the delicate flavor profile they sought. And, of course, they made sure customer palates confirmed their findings. “We took our time with these. If we were going to make a seltzer, we wanted to do it right,” Madden says. “We didn’t think we were smarter than the macro-breweries, but we knew we could give it more care.”
When I crack open a Blueberry Lemon Seltzer from Lone Pine’s variety pack, the time and care spent honing these recipes is evident. An understated aroma wafting from the can offers a fresh lemon zest devoid of the chemical perfumes present in many of its macro-brewed counterparts. The flavor has a nuanced profile, with blueberry sweetness just below tart lemon notes. The fizzy zest indicative of a good seltzer enlivens the tongue at the finish. It’s refreshing. It’s clean. It’s easy drinking. And, luckily, it’s 4 percent, because it goes down way too quickly.
The other offerings in the variety pack—Strawberry, Watermelon Cucumber, and Raspberry Lime—follow suit: bright flavors, fizzy body, and invigorating finish built atop beautiful water.
In the spirit of celebrating and protecting its water source, Lone Pine established the 1% for the Waters Initiative, a partnership to donate proceeds from the sale of every 12-pack to Sebago Clean Waters. This nonprofit works to preserve the forests and wetlands that act as natural filtration systems for Sebago Lake. Madden notes that the decision to donate sales to protect Sebago Lake is both altruistic and self-interested: “We have a resource we’re trying to protect for the future of brewing.”
While the variety pack utilizes natural flavor extracts to keep the price competitive with seltzers produced by large breweries, Lone Pine is also releasing small-batch seltzers brewed with real fruit juice to mimic its flagship beers. Last summer the brewery introduced Oh-J Craft Seltzer, a playful take on its signature double IPA by the same name. This craft seltzer is lightly hopped and brewed with tangerine puree, giving it a mimosa-like profile, akin to a sparkling water from Spindrift.
In addition to Lone Pine, other Maine breweries will be releasing spiked bubbly water this summer, including Moderation, Hidden Cove, Fogtown, Peak Organic, Side by Each, and Lost Valley brewing companies. As hard seltzers continue to fill America’s coolers, look for more Maine breweries to follow suit as they slake our thirst while spotlighting one of our most treasured resources: naturally pure water.