We arrived in downtown Portland around 11am on Sunday morning and parked next to Sebago Brewing. We were scheduled to take the 11:30am Maine Brew Bus tour that would take us to two breweries and a brewpub for lunch. Before we hopped on the bus, Renée and I sampled Sebago’s lineup. We were pleasantly surprised by how good their beers were. We both agreed the best beer in the flight was a delicious Belgian pale ale called “Belma Blonde.”
The bus tour was a fun way to spend the day, especially since it was pouring out (trying to drive in the rain in a strange place sucks). The guys running the bus were friendly, funny, and enthusiastic about beer. Don Littlefield, the tour guide, recognized me and engaged me in some fun Q&A for the passengers’ entertainment. I was impressed by how familiar he was with me and my blog; he asked better questions than most journalists who have interviewed me.
The first stop was Baxter Brewing Company in Lewiston. This is a fairly new brewery that only sells their beers in cans. They don’t distribute to New York yet, though I’ve had a couple of their beers at beerfests and bottleshares. Baxter tends to make slightly eccentric versions of otherwise typical styles, though I found all their beers to be okay, but nothing amazing (well, their black IPA was pretty good).
Next, we stopped for lunch at Ebenezer’s Brewpub in Brunswick. This place should not be confused with the original Ebenezer’s in Lovell, as this location was formerly The Lion Pride’s Restaurant & Brewery, but was bought and renamed by the owners of Ebenezer’s. Beers are brewed in-house under the “Lively Brewing” banner. As part of the bus tour, we were able to sample four of the seven beers on tap, plus we each got a half-sandwich, cup of soup, and small salad. I liked the beers, but nothing was mind-blowing (their 4% ABV witbier was quite interesting). The food and service were both good, and the ambiance and decor was nice. The only problem was they had loud live music playing, which is not something you usually see on a Sunday afternoon. It made it difficult to converse with the fellow tour-takers.
On the way back to Portland there was one final stop at Maine Beer Company in Freeport. This is one of the hottest breweries on the scene today, though their beers tend to be expensive and sometimes difficult to acquire (especially the Lunch IPA). The brewery looks like a large house from the outside and the tasting room is rather barebones as far as design goes. We each got a sampler of four beers: Zoe, Peeper Ale, Another One, and Mo. King Titus porter was also available on tap, so I bought a full pour to try and it was robusterrific! I’ve had most of these beers before and I’ve always enjoyed them immensely, so drinking them on draught at the brewery was a memorable experience. Bottles were only $6 each, so I bought one of everything they had in stock (but not even the tasting room had any bottles of Lunch).
We returned to Portland, checked into our hotel room, and took a nap to recover from a day of drinking. However, the night was young and there were still a few more sights to see and people to meet. I thought I should check out Gritty McDuff’s because of it’s one of the oldest brewpubs in the country. I had an idea of what to expect, since this place was started by Alan Pugsley and the beers are brewed in the traditional British style using Ringwood yeast. However, I didn’t find they to be all that authentic, with the exception of their ESB. Most were bland, flat and buttery (not surprisingly). I think their generic summer ale might have actually been the best of them all, though the cider was pretty nice, too. At least the food was great, especially the fried pickles and fish & chips. I often find that a lot of brewpubs have great beer or great food, but few have both and many have neither.
Visiting Portland gave me a chance to meet up with two prominent beer writers: Carla Companion of The Beer Babe blog, and Josh Christie, author of the book Maine Beer: Brewing in Vacationland. I had met Carla last year at the Beer Bloggers Conference in Boston and we’ve kept in touch via Facebook and Twitter. She’s originally from Syracuse and has family in Albany, so next time she’s in town I will have to show her the great craft beer destinations around town.
Meeting Josh was probably a good thing to do, since him and I just wrote a book together: The Handbook of Porters & Stouts (I’ll write about this more in a future post). Josh and Carla have known each other for a while, so meeting them for drinks felt like hanging with old friends. In fact, they took us to a much better place – Novare Res Bier Café just a few blocks over. This is a highly-regarded bar among the craft beer community, as it has 25 taps, a few cask beers, and a bottle list bigger than World Of Beer. I saw plenty of beers from breweries we can’t get in Albany, including a Three Floyds Belgian-style quad called “Rats in the Ashes” which I ordered as soon as I saw it on the menu. It was great, almost like a stout with chocolate and cherry flavors. I really took my time savoring that glass.
The four of us spent the next couple hours chatting both inside the bar and out on their deck, and it was a blast. The ambiance was great, the weather was perfect, and a few more people joined us, including a local professional brewer. One of the great things about being a beer geek is meeting fellow beer lovers who could be total strangers, but have a similar passion for beer that you do. It’s also fun to talk about your hometown beer scene to people who have never been.
When Monday morning rolled around, we weren’t ready to head home just yet. We still had one last scheduled stop, and one Renée and I have been looking forward to for a long time: a tour of the Allagash brewery. Unfortunately, it was raining pretty hard that morning and the temperature had dropped significantly – was this July or October? The brewery was right up the road from our hotel and we were among the first people in the tasting room around 10:30am. I figured the lousy weather and the fact it was a Monday morning would make for a small tour group, but it was actually completely full.
I’ve been on many large scale brewery tours; though Allagash’s facility is one of the biggest craft breweries I’ve ever seen. They actually have two systems, a 30 BBL and a 70 BBL. Everyone on the tour wore a headset with an RF receiver that broadcast the tour guide’s voice right into your ear. That was convenient since the brewery was fully operational and quite loud.
Allagash makes some beers using wild yeast and they even have their own “coolship” for spontaneous fermentation, both of which are housed in a separate building from the main brewery to prevent wild yeast contamination. One of Allagash’s reps, Matt, whom I also had met last year in Boston, recognized me and gave Renée and I a behind-the-scenes tour. He let us try several beers from their Coolship series that are only sold at the brewery and only occasionally. We tried a raspberry lambic that was absolutely fantastic, as well as a few of their barrel-aged series.
We were hoping to check out the other breweries located in the same industrial park, but they were all closed on Mondays. Ah well, we had planned on spending the day in Boston, so we had to get going anyway. We stopped at a beverage center on the way out of town and picked up a few bottles from Maine breweries as souvenirs of our trip.
The weather cleared up nicely and Boston was enjoyable as it always is, except for the Red Sox game in which the visiting Blue Jays absolutely dominated with a 14-1 win. If it had gone the other way it would’ve been the perfect end to a fabulous four-day weekend.