Feathers and Suds
Maine birders are on the look out for some rare breeds — no binoculars required.
Bird enthusiast Doug Hitchcox, of Hollis, is leading the Maine Birds listserv’s 2013 Big Year competition, having so far encountered 108 different species in his travels around the state. He is particularly fond of the Allagash genus, but if he had to choose an individual favorite, it would be the Blended Oxtoberfest, an extremely rare, perhaps never to be seen again, cross.
Wait a second. These are birds?
No, beers. Specifically Maine-brewed beers, which the bird-watchers are pursuing with the same obsessive zeal they have for a traditional Big Year contest in which participants compete to see the largest number of species of birds in a specific geographical area within a single calendar year.
Hitchcox, as it happens, is a formidable contestant in both bird and beer pursuits. He was the Maine Birds listserv’s Big Year 2011 winner for bird spottings, and it was out of that experience that the Maine Beer Big Year was born. (For the uninitiated, a listserv is an email mailing list whose subscribers have a common interest.)
As Hitchcox tells it, he was reflecting on the experience (over beer, of course) with fellow birder Derek Lovitch, of Freeport. “Geez, did I really just drive 30,000 miles in the state looking for birds?” Hitchcox remembers saying. “What would be a better challenge? Why not see if we could do it with beers brewed in Maine?” A few weeks later, Lovitch put out the challenge to a small selection of Maine Bird’s 780 subscribers. Those who took up the gauntlet created a new listserv, which now has seventeen subscribers, ten of whom are birders.
Rules are based loosely on those for Big Year birding. Contestants are challenged to sample the largest number of varieties of Maine-brewed beer by December 31, 2013. An impressive 280 brews have been submitted to and approved by the group’s records committee — the number includes the perennial offerings of Maine’s thirty-odd craft breweries, as well as their limited-edition beers, like that Blended Oxtoberfest that won Hitchcox’s heart. It was brewed by Oxbow Brewing Company in Newcastle by combining its 2011 and 2012 Oxtoberfest ales.
Just as in birding, then, rarities can make all the difference. “But there’s not quite the same sense of urgency,” admits Hitchcox, who has been known to drop everything and drive for miles at the reporting of a rare bird. “A beer isn’t going to fly away.” — Virginia M. Wright