Lone Pine Brewing makes several beers in collaboration with Holy Donut, including this dark chocolate toasted coconut imperial stout. Photo courtesy of Lone Pine Brewing Co.

Beer and doughnuts: bookends to a good (if self-indulgent) day. Beer with doughnuts: breakfast for soccer fans up at daybreak to watch a North London derby. Beer in doughnuts: a sign of decadence for an industry running out of ideas, whose customers are always demanding something new?

Congdon’s After Dark, a food truck park with a beer garden (as well as cider, wine, cocktails and hard seltzers), has reopened for the summer. Located in Wells, it sits next to Congdon’s Doughnuts Family Restaurant & Bakery, an area institution that’s been around for nearly seven decades.

The opening beer list, with eight draft lines and many more cans and bottles, features an impressive range of styles. Maine classics like Allagash White, Maine Beer Co. Lunch and Bunker Machine Pilz are accompanied by a bevy of New England IPAs, sours, light lagers and doughnut beers. Yes, doughnut beers.

Barreled Souls Blueberry Fritter Photo by Ben Lisle

Saco’s Barreled Souls brews a number of beers, available at the beer garden, using Congdon’s doughnuts and fritters: Maple Bacon Fritter Stout, Apple Fritter Stout and Blueberry Fritter Stout. The blueberry version pours black with a tan head. Tart blueberry is layered with bitter dark chocolate. As you’d expect for a big stout (10.3%) made with fritters, it’s sweet, though the roasty malt and hops keep it honest.

Barreled Souls isn’t the only Maine brewer throwing doughnuts in the mash. Blank Canvas Brewing recently released Salted Chocolate Doughnut Porter, which is available on tap at its home location in Brewer. In developing the recipe, owner Stephen Genthner started with the base beer. In addition to locally grown pale malt, he uses chocolate and black malt to create some slight roasty bitterness, as well as some dark caramel malt to add some burnt sugar flavors.

Salted chocolate potato doughnuts are broken apart before being added to the mash tun along with the other grains to be converted into fermentable sugar. Maine-grown Willamette hops add bitterness to balance the beer. In the end, some of the sugars remain, unfermented, adding sweetness to the rich cocoa contributed by the doughnut itself.

Lone Pine Brewing Co. takes a different approach to its series of collaborations with Portland’s Holy Donut. Brewer Ian Little noted that the first time they worked with the Dark Chocolate Toasted Coconut doughnut, they chucked a bunch in the mash and the “original gravity was through the roof.” In other words, there was a lot of dissolved sugar in the unfermented wort, and once the yeast converted those sugars into alcohol, the beer was a boozy one indeed.

So, the brewers changed their approach, “breaking apart the doughnut flavors,” as Little puts it, before reconstructing them in the form of beer. Plain potato doughnuts are added to the mash, where they steep with other grains. Doughnut toppings and flavors are added later, and the beer is lab-tested to ensure that all these additions are stable. Lone Pine brewer and co-founder Tom Madden says the impact of the doughnuts is “subtle,” but they add a “layer of complexity onto the malt structure of the beer, blending into the background of the overall flavor profile.”

The brewery makes a number of big stouts modeled after specific doughnuts, including Chocolate Covered Strawberry, weighing in at 9% ABV. It’s a full-bodied onslaught of chocolate and strawberry from start to finish – a nice nightcap for those with a sweet tooth. The Blueberry Glaze is a hefty sour at 7.5%. Sweet and tart, it has a creamy mouthfeel amplified by lactose sugar.

According to Madden, the use of doughnuts aligns with a “flavor-seeking” trend in craft beer that engages curious drinkers. Little connects the partnership with Holy Donut to the broader ethos of craftwork and a sense of place.

“It comes down to being a local thing, and really being able to show off to Mainers and the tourists coming in … (that) everything we’re doing is community-driven,” he said. “Being able to highlight someone’s else’s product as well as ours is huge.”

I only half believe what I’m about to write, but bear with me. Perhaps the doughnut beer isn’t merely a gimmick. Perhaps, just maybe, the doughnut beer possesses a lineage linking it to beer’s very origins.

Sumerians, the first great brewers, grew barley and used it to make a type of bread called “bappir,” which was then soaked, spontaneously fermented, and then strained. The resulting beer was nutritional, caloric and mood-boosting. And it was a part of Sumerians’ everyday lives.

Bread-based beers are common across brewing history. Sudanese boatmen drink “bouza,” which dates back to the time of the pharaohs. It was (and is) made of crumbled barley bread that is mixed with water, strained, and left to ferment. Unfiltered, it retains plenty of nutrients from its raw ingredients.

“Kvass” has been brewed for over 1,000 years in Eastern Europe. Traditionally it was fermented from rye bread, then flavored with fruits, herbs, or birch sap. Today, a modern version of kvass can be bought from street vendors in many countries formerly in the Soviet bloc. And every once in a while, you might encounter one made by American craft brewers, like Jester King’s delicious Kvass (3.4%), which popped up a few years ago at Novare Res.

If at its historical core, beer is “liquid bread” (as it is sometimes called) maybe we can make an argument for “liquid doughnuts” as something more than a Homer Simpson fever dream.

Ben Lisle is an assistant professor of American Studies at Colby College. He lives among the breweries in Portland’s East Bayside, where he writes about cultural history, urban geography, and craft beer culture. Reach him on Twitter at @bdlisle.


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