By Chris Maza
Reminder Assistant Editor
This month, I had my beer selection handed to me, quite literally.
Reminder Publications managing editor G. Michael Dobbs had a conversation with Holyoke's John Kane, a brand consultant for a brewing company called Peak Organic out of Portland, Maine, and suggested it as a good, regional beer for this month's column.
My curiosity was piqued and I agreed. I had seen Peak on the shelves before, but admittedly, the term 'organic' scared me off. What does organic beer mean anyway? Isn't the whole process of making beer organic in nature anyway? Is this beer going to brainwash me into hugging trees and wearing hemp clothing?
In a conversation with Kane, he explained that the term referred to the manner in which the hops and barley were farmed.
"Our grains and our hops are grown organically," Kane said. "That means the farms that produce our ingredients don't use any pesticides or herbicides or chemical fertilizers. Those chemicals that they use at other farms can eventually make their way into the water supply, which affects everything."
The Peak Web site claims that organically grown ingredients actually make the beer taste better. But is that really the case?
"I think it does," Kane said. "If you tasted it side by side with another beer of the same style, I'm not sure if the common beer drinker could notice a big difference, but if you made this beer with conventional ingredients and made it again with organic ingredients, I think you could tell."
Somebody else thinks they can tell. Men's Journal recently named Peak Organic's Pale Ale as one of the 25 best beers in the country.
Peaks' founder, Jon Cadoux, said the use of organic ingredients isn't enough to turn people on to drinking his brand.
"The organic thing is just a little thing we do. No one is going to buy Peak simply because we're organic," Cadoux said. "Making a quality, unique beer is what is going to make us successful."
The company's ability to innovate and take a new approach to classic styles of beer makes that possible, according to Cadoux.
"We don't necessarily brew according to style. Our beers are really exceptionally interesting," Cadoux said. "The onus is really on us to continue to be innovative and creative with the beer we create."
Peak is a growing brand and now is sold in 20 states, including New York, California, Chicago, North and South Carolina as well as Washington, D.C. It can be found at most package stores.
"The term 'organic' makes people think it's only in specialized stores, but all over, we've really raised our profile in the region," Kane said.
Peak was kind enough to let me sample their Nut Brown Ale -- one of my favorite styles -- and their fall seasonal, called Fall Summit. After learning about the high praise the Pale Ale received, I also went to the package store and picked up a six pack, priced pretty reasonably at $8.99
The Pale Ale was a very different, yet enjoyable take the on the style -- "Our Pale Ale is actually a hybrid of an English Pale Ale and a West Coast Pale Ale," Cadroux said.
It was gold in color with a light head that didn't stick around long, not uncommon for beers of its kind.
A very nice balance of maltiness and a hoppy, citriusy aftertaste, coupled with some very active carbonation made this a fun beer to drink. It finished well and was very drinkable.
The Nut Brown Ale is not one for the "hop heads," or those that live and die by the the India Pale Ale (IPA).
A dark brown brew, the Nut Brown Ale actually starts off a little more watery than one would expect from a beer of its nature. Don't be fooled, though. Soon enough you'll experience a rich, nutty taste with a smooth, sweet finish and a somewhat malty aftertaste.
Nut Brown Ales are in the English Brown Ale family, which includes some pretty tasty beers, such as Newcastle Brown Ale, but Peak's take on this style blows away pretty much any mass-produced ale of its kind.
The Fall Summit was my favorite of the three I sampled. Falling into the amber category, the color makes this a very attractive beer to look at.
As I found with all three of their brews, a great balance between hops and malts is struck. Upon putting it to my lips, I reveled in the extremely crisp, piney, wheat taste with a slightly bitter finish. The lively carbonation adds an element to the beer that makes it feel as crisp as it tastes.
Peak has set the bar very high for the rest of its seasonal brews.
On top of its consistent offerings which include the Nut Brown Ale, the Pale Ale, the IPA and Amber Ale Peak mixes things up with a host of seasonal and limited beers, which I am likely to try as soon as I can.
In December, Peak will release in very limited supply a Mint Chocolate Russian Imperial Stout to go along with its other winter brew, simply called Winter Session.
"The Winter Session is a very unique winter brew. It's a dark malted wheat beer. It's single hopped with Citra hops that produces almost a tropical pineapple taste," Cadroux said.
In February, the King Crimson Red Ale is set to be released.
After all the trepidation that loomed over the term 'organic,' I'm now a believer. Some people are out to save the environment by buying electric cars or mounting solar panels on their roofs. I'm not there yet. I'll help save the environment by trying more Peak Organic beers.
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