Let me begin by declaring my love for the Maine Beer Company. I’ve tried 11 of the 13 beers listed on their website, and while there are a few I might not bother with again, none are outright disappointing, and several are excellent. I’ve never had their shiniest trophy brew, a double India pale ale called Dinner, because I’m not going to spend four hours—and my one remaining shred of dignity—waiting in line for the privilege of buying beer. But I have had Dinner’s little sibling brew, Lunch, a fantastic IPA that’s all the better for being named after a friendly neighborhood stray whale (Maine’s a weird place).
I probably drink two MBC beers a month, which is a lot given that I need to try a wide variety of new things for work, and also given that the stuff costs a goddamn fortune. Maine Beer prices are a sneaky kind of outrageous, in that no single bottle retails for more than $8, which is not unheard of for a cult DIPA like Dinner, even when it’s a puny 16.9-ounce bottle rather than the standard 22- or 25.4-ouncers most prestige beers come in.
So that’s fair enough at the top end, but what makes Maine Beer so quietly expensive is that no single bottle goes for less than $6, either; none of it costs an arm and a leg, but all of it costs a finger and a toe. I’m lucky that one of my favorite Maine Beers—in fact, one of my favorite beers, period—is Peeper, their entry-level pale ale. That means I save about a buck retail (all prices quoted here refer to the bottle shop—sky’s the limit at bars) compared to suckers who prefer Mo pale ale, Another One IPA, A Tiny Beautiful Something pale ale, King Titus porter, or any of the other Maine offerings. Which, again, are almost uniformly excellent. But why are they available exclusively in 16.9-ounce (500-ml) bottles? And why do they cost so much?
At $6 per 16.9 ounces, Peeper (remember, this is their cheapest beer, a widely available 5.5-percent alcohol-by-volume pale ale) would scale up to just over $25.50 for a six-pack of 12-ounce bottles. That’s too much for basic—albeit delicious—pale ale! To be fair to Maine, we should note that breweries almost always jack up large-format bottle prices far above what expected economy-of-scale factors would seem to indicate. This is partly because they need to make a greater profit margin to accommodate the lower sales volume generated by big bottles versus traditional six-packs. And it’s partly because they know we’re suckers who can’t do the math.
I try not to complain about beer prices, because it’s a luxury item, and Maine Beer is particularly luxurious at that. So I’m not saying they’re ripping us off. I’m saying they’re charging quite some damn bit for their everyday beers, especially given that 16.9 ounces barely qualifies as “large format”: That’s not an oversized bottle, it’s just a fancy metric-system tallboy!
But, gripes aside, let’s talk about Maine Beer’s Lunch IPA, which was their most sought-after beer until Dinner came around. Lunch is not nearly as rare as Dinner, but it’s still not easy to find in Boston. Stores that are in good with the right distributor will get a case every couple months or so, and it tends to sell out the day it arrives. It costs about $7 a bottle, and it’s almost kinda worth it, who knows, beer’s all too expensive yet we all spend all of our money on it, and these dudes have a right to get as rich as they can. Or maybe they sell it at a loss. I dunno.
Finally, the beer. Maine calls 7-percent ABV Lunch “an East Coast version of a West Coast-style IPA.” That means it’s hoppy. It’s more than that, though, and in fact the recipe calls for five different malts to only four hops. They’re four of the biggies, though: Warrior, Amarillo, Centennial, and Simcoe. Lunch opens with strong tropical aromas of pineapple and mango that never really wane, even after they’re joined by bitter grapefruit, caramel, pine, and a slight funky barnyard edge. I adore it from start to finish.
Lunch is an outstanding IPA. Is it overpriced? Are all Maine Beer Company beers overpriced? Is all beer overpriced? I dunno. Maybe we should all start to really question just how much money we spend on the stuff. Or we could shut up, drink Lunch, and be happy.
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Image by Jim Cooke.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and some of his closest friends have met Certified Cicerones. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.