New England can certainly hold its own when it comes to traditional local cuisine, especially in the summer. You have lobster, creamy chowders, corn on the cob, clams both steamed and fried, and a sweet finish of blueberry pie. Blueberries are a plentiful, local harvest that have been used in regional dishes for hundreds of years, so it was just a matter of time before someone threw a few blueberries into the brew kettle.
The most recognizable and arguably longest-brewing blueberry beer in New England is Sea Dog Brewing Company’s Blueberry Wheat Ale. In production since 1995, Blueberry Wheat is Sea Dog’s top-selling beer, with more than 11,000 barrels shipped to 45 states in 2015. It’s a beer you’ll find served in a number of restaurants throughout the New Hampshire Seacoast and Maine in the summer, capitalizing on curious tourists who want to try a little local flavor. It’s a light, refreshing, and somewhat sweet beer that for years was a staple at the Old Ferry Landing in Portsmouth.
Owner Rich Blalock said Old Ferry Landing has been serving blueberry beer for about eight years, first with Bar Harbor Blueberry Ale. Bar Harbor wasn’t able to keep up with demand, so the Old Ferry Landing made the switch to Sea Dog, headquartered in Bangor, Maine. Blalock said it was a popular choice with both tourists and locals, and they even used it in mixed pints called the Blue Summer, consisting of half Seadog Blueberry and half Sam Adam’s Summer Ale.
This year, Old Ferry Landing changed up its blueberry brew by replacing Sea Dog with Moat Mountain Brewing Company’s Miss V’s Blueberry, an American-style unfiltered ale that’s made by steaming the blueberries separately and adding the extracted juices during fermentation. This year-round beer has been in production since 2003, when it was first called Violet B’s, according to Bill Lee of Moat Mountain. The name changed when Moat Mountain, located in North Conway, began canning Miss V’s Blueberry. It’s grown so popular that they produce between 550 and 600 barrels of the brew each year.
Although Sea Dog is light and very sip-able on a summer day, Blalock said Old Ferry Landing decided to try out Miss V’s because it offers more of a craft-style product. “If you appreciate beer, you’re going to like this better,” he said.
Although both of these beers sell well, in some circles of aficionados, blueberry beer gets a bad rap. A quick look around at breweries in Maine and New Hampshire, however, shows that there are plenty of interesting things being done with the native berry, forcing many beer lovers to think twice about fruity brews.
Shipyard Brewing Company, located in Portland, Maine, produces a seasonal Smashed Blueberry beer from January to March, which is described as a hybrid between a porter and a Scotch ale.
Throwback Brewery in North Hampton has produced a number of small-batch beers featuring the little blue fruit, which brewer Nicole Carrier says produces a complex flavor.
“In a darker beer, the berry rounds out the roasty notes,” Carrier said. “I think that blueberries in lighter beers add such great color and tartness.”
With Throwback’s one-off Blueberry Stout, for instance, Carrier and head brewer Annette Lee found the blueberries produced a tart, jammy flavor that had hints of a chocolate-covered blueberry.
“Actually, when Annette and I talked about making a blueberry beer, we talked about how to make it not taste like some blueberry beers can, which is very flowery,” said Carrier.
Blueberry Stout sold out quickly, said Carrier, and since then Throwback has brewed Blueberry Cheek Squeezer, a tart and refreshing sour blonde ale with blueberries from Brea Farm in Stratham, and Bueno Grassias, a pink-hued blonde ale with blueberries, raspberries, and lemongrass that Carrier says delivers the perfect balance of tart and sweet.
“One reason (blueberries make) a good beer ingredient for us is that blueberries grow great around New Hampshire and Maine, and we like to make our beer from ingredients around us, so it is a nice fit in that regard,” said Carrier.