The Spice Trade

Brewery and Country of Origin: Maine Beer Company of Unit 3 Industrial Way, Portland, ME, 04103, USA

Date Reviewed: 12-31-12

Stouts are known for their dark color and rich, complex bittersweet flavors, both of which are derived from malted grains and sometimes, additives. These ingredients can come in the form of actual spices, or specific malted grains which are produced for their flavoring characteristics. This particular stout from Maine Beer Company is brewed with both chocolate malt, roasted barley, caramel malt, and flaked oats, among other grains. Also included are real, organic vanilla beans which are introduced into the brew during the aging/conditioning process. Maturing a beer with additives and flavoring ingredients will enhance its profile, and bring out unique flavors that normally cannot be delivered during a normal fermentation. Funny though, that none of these are actually spices, yet caramel (sugar, molasses), coffee, vanilla, and cocoa were all historically related on various trade routes, including the Atlantic based Triangle Trade, and the Eurasian based Spice Trade. Of course, that's getting too involved with things. We can only assume that the intention of Maine Beer wasn't to recreate a miniature Silk Road in the form of a beer. Though as you already know, we like to go on about random, non sequitur tangents about useless knowledge and information that usually has absolutely nothing to do with great beer. Or does it? Well, as Papa John and recently, Peyton Manning will tell you, a better pizza is made with better ingredients. And that's why we're here now. Because as your parents say, you are what you eat, and if you eat crap food all day, your body turns into crap. The same applies to beer. A good set of ingredients makes a great beer. On the other hand, if you're making Budweiser for distribution around the world as a cheap alternative to respectable beer, you're not going to want to spend a lot of money on ingredients. And unfortunately for every college student out there, you can taste the results. Not with this beer though.
Date Sampled: 12-20-12 At: 7 Prescott Place, Allston, Boston, MA, 02134, USA
Beer Style: American Stout
Alcohol by Volume: 6.50%
Serving Type: 16.9 oz Bottle, 20 oz Pint Glass
Rating: 3.85


Mean Old Tom pours very smoothly with almost no carbonation action. This delivers a very thin and weak foam head with a meager density, a quarter inch tall stance, and very low retention. The color is very dark brown with a nearly completely opaque appearance, except when held in very intense light. Some chunky sediment settles at the bottom (probably flaked oats), and the brew appears mostly clear with a tinge of light haze. This beer shows moderate lacing on the glass.


This beer's ingredients give the final result a full, rich set of strong aromas which not only deliver a sensual experience of their own, they enhance the flavor with bold coffee and dark chocolate notes, as well as a subtle hint of aroma. The overall smell isn't distracted by alcohol presence, or bitter hoppiness either.


This is a full bodied beer with a good amount of weight, giving it a heavy, solid feel. The feel is also completely smooth with a lower level of carbonation, and a wet, long lingering, yet slightly bitter closing. A subtle warming effect is present after the final bit of the aftertaste This beer has a slightly chunky feel during the last sips due to leftover oat solids, but personal preference might have you avoid these last couple of sips.


As discussed earlier, this beer's real, natural ingredients fuse into a pronounced, complex, set of arousing flavors which any stout or malty beverage drinker will find quite rewarding. Coffee and cocoa notes dominate the palate while a secondary mix of caramel and vanilla sweetness counter a more traditionally bitter presence. Though this beer has no hoppy flavor to speak of, the taste is well balanced between the use of more bitter and somewhat sweet malt, giving this beer a full fledged stout character. The aftertaste is full of semi-sweet lingering with a hint of bitterness.

Our Take

Like we said, the intent of this beer wasn't to recreate history. The intent was to craft an award winning stout with the usual malty presence of a well made dark brew, combined with the unique flair of real vanilla injected directly into the mix. The result is quite impressive, and we must say, this is a beer perfect for this time of year. Despite its name, Mean Old Tom is a pleasant, easy going beer which is nothing but silky smooth throughout. It's full presence, hearty flavors, and semi-sweet character make it a great complement to both big meaty meals and dessert, as well as an great beer by itself. And though caramel malt and vanilla are both included in this stout, they won't take away from the typical stout like profile that you've come to expect out of quality examples, meaning this isn't only just for people looking for a fairly unique experience. This is a stout which is both very familiar to traditional beers and slightly alternative for those who are looking for something a bit different. Either way, if you're into dark, malty fun beers from up north, you'll find a winner here, and good news: you won't have to travel across the world on a cart to find the ingredients come together.