Lager may have dominated the American beer market for two centuries, but ale has been the trendier brew for the last 40 years. Recently, though, breweries have been touting their new lagers as the most exciting thing since IPAs went hazy.
Despite the fact that Sacred Profane Brewing, in Biddeford, brews only lagers, Michael Fava, director of operations, insists the new brewery and tank pub is not trendy. Fava’s an undisputed expert in the beer world, but he might just be wrong about that.
“We only make two styles, and both are lagers,” Fava argues. “Eighty percent of the world’s beer production is lager. What’s trendy about that?”
Despite what the first generation of craft beer snobs (like me) used to think, lager has always been cool. The folks at Oak Pond Brewing, in Skowhegan, knew it back in the 1990s. Bunker Brewing’s Chresten Sorensen and Dirigo Brewing’s Tom Bull always knew it, too. And, of course, Banded, Fore River, Foundation, Oxbow, Foulmouthed, and a host of other Maine breweries have found success with lagers. In short, lager has always been secretly hip, but now all the cool kids are doing it — creating, by definition, a trend.
Yet Fava draws a distinction between Sacred Profane and the other breweries. “There are some awesome lagers being made in the state which are parts of other breweries’ portfolios, but not the sole focus, and there’s no brewery in the state that opened with a purely lager focus. What gives us an advantage, or why we’re different, is that we designed all of our equipment specifically to make lagers.”
Does the equipment really matter to the drinker? Yes, Fava insists, it does. The most obvious part is the LUKR side-pour faucet, which he says is the most advanced beer faucet in the world.
“That beer faucet gives the tapster full control of the beer that’s poured,” he said. “How much foam, how little foam…. It is the difference between driving an automatic transmission versus a manual transmission. There really is a feel and a technique. It is kind of something to marvel about, if you have a talented tapster back there by themself, hand-washing every glass, pouring every glass identical, and the pour that they’re doing and the experience of drinking a beer out of one of those faucets makes you wonder what you have been doing all your life.”
OK, the faucet makes a difference, but do the brewhouse and fermenters matter? The serving tanks?
Brienne Allan, co-founder and head brewer at Sacred Profane, says yes. Using her years of experience at Notch Brewing, and her Advanced Brewing Science and Engineering degree, she and Fava designed every vessel in the brewery to achieve greater control and efficiency. Those technical adaptations are intentionally lager-centered, but also designed to minimize the use of CO2 throughout the process.
“It’s very specialized — the equipment you need, the knowledge base,” Fava explained. “I think a lot of that plays into why there are 171 breweries in Maine, and there’s only one that only makes lagers. It’s a little bit of a coup. I will give ourselves a pat on the back. We have been in the industry for a while and we have worked hard to gain the knowledge to learn the systems, to travel to the places where these styles originate, and that doesn’t happen overnight…. It’s been a life goal and a life mission and a career working towards this moment, and I couldn’t be more happy about how it turned out.”
The menu at Sacred Profane is as artfully designed as the beer, but far more varied. (I would say crafted, but Fava says they don’t use the C-word there.) “There’s a big Eastern and Central European influence, for sure — Czech Republic; some German, Austrian dishes; Polish, even, mixed with a little bit of Quebecois flare,” Fava said of the food. “And being in Maine, some seafood. One of my favorite dishes right now is the smoked haddock chowder. It is probably the best chowder I’ve had, and that might be fighting words here in Maine, but the proof is in the spoon.”
Trendy or not, craft or not, Sacred Profane is unlike any other brewery in Maine and well worth a visit.
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