All posts by Chris

One THOUSAND!

One THOUSAND breweries. A journey that began in the late 1980s culminated earlier this month in Seattle, WA with Merideth and I visiting our 1,000th brewery.

This was never really the plan. There was no plan when I started keeping track of the breweries we visited. But “the List” began to take on a life of its own becoming the focus of our travels.

We really didn’t think about 1,000 until we reached the 750 range. Then it was just a feeling “I want to reach 1,000 before I turn 50.” Only at #900, did Merideth and I start discussing the possible the milestone brewery. Ideas ranged from some exotic locale to that brewery we always wanted to visit, Budweiser in St. Louis.

When we reached #950, I realized I needed to start planning in earnest. Reaching out to a fellow beer traveling friend, he said something that stuck in my head. Whatever we did, it needed to be special. After some thought, special to us was an Urban Beer Hike in Seattle with a group of friends.

Fast forward to Merideth and I sitting at #994. On a rainy Saturday morning, we met up with that group of friends at Brouwers Cafe, the starting point for our hike. Over a few beers and some much needed food, Merideth and I caught up with our fellow beer hikers, most we hadn’t seen in a few years. At the scheduled time, 12:30pm, our group started our trek to the first brewery in a light drizzle. Our looping journey would start in the Fremont district and end in Interbay. In between, we would hit the brewery dense Ballard and Magnolia districts.

Let’s get hiking!

Despite the rain, it was a pleasant walk as we set out along the tree-lined path decorated in fall colors. The only hazard were the puddles. There would be plenty of time for wet feet without the added soaking of stepping into one of the small lakes along our route.

First stop

Covering territory we had walked on previous beer hikes in Seattle, we passed Hales, one of the first 50 breweries visited and the new Fremont Brewing facility. Before long and still relatively dry, we were at Lucky Envelope Brewing, #995 on “The List.”

Usually, Merideth and I would order a taster set. But today wasn’t about the beer, it was about enjoying the moment, enjoying time with friends. Quickly scanning the choices, Merideth ordered a Blonde Ale. I went with ENIAC 2.0 a 6.9% ABV Mosaic-based IPA. With pints in hand, we rejoined the group at a large table and continued the banter that began at Brouwers.

With a schedule to keep, Lucky Envelope was a one and done. Thankfully, more beer wasn’t long in coming as our second stop, Stoup Brewing, was literally around corner. With the weather, their rather large outdoor seating area was empty. We squeezed into the smallish, busy tasting room and joined the queue for beer.

All smiles at our second stop

Merideth and I played true to form with our beer choices; she with their award-winning Hefeweizen, me with the Citra IPA. Beers in hand, our group scattered about the tasting room looking to squeeze into a corner or along the wall.

Despite being a non-taster flight day, traveling with our little gang afforded us the opportunity to try a number of beers that our compatriots ordered. Getting a sip of the wonderful and also award-winning Stoup Porter I decided going forward  I would temper my hophead tendencies and branch out with my beer choices.

The special moment of the day happened when Chris D. pointed out a Fraggle sticker on the wall at Stoup. Merideth and I thought it very fitting that Fraggle unexpectedly became part of our big day.

Beers at Reuben’s

In the Ballard district, ticking off breweries was like shooting fish in a barrel. After contemplating a second beer at Stoup, we again decided our schedule dictated we press on. Reuben’s Brews, our third stop, was another short walk.

A dizzying array of beer choices confronted us, 24 in all. While Merideth started with 5.7% ABV Belgian Pale I jumped off the IPA train and ordered the 6.2% ABV Robust Porter. After quick sips at the bar, #997 was officially added.

Lucky for our sizable group, a large table opened up in the crowded tasting room while we were lined up for beers. Sitting at the beer glass filled table with our friends chatting about this and that, I realized that we had made the right choice for our 1,000th brewery trip.

Maybe starting to get into a groove, Reuben’s was the first multi-beer stop. Despite my vow to broaden my horizons, I went back to the hops, ordering the Amarillo Fresh Hop Pale Ale.

Hilliard’s

Even on our 1,000th brewery day, we stuck to the code we developed all those years ago. Walking into a tasting room that the locals in our group weren’t sure met the brewed on premise rule, we verified with the bartender that in fact the beer was brewed elsewhere. I felt bad as our group of eight, who had just entered, all left.

Our backup choice and last Ballard brewery of the day was Hilliard’s Beer. It truly felt like the quiet before the storm as Merideth and I sipped on Chrome Satan, their delicious version of a California Common. Props for the name, an anagram for the well-known version from San Francisco.

With a number of beers under our belts, our hike leader, Dave,  recommended a quick stop for some food. After a few slices and pints at Ballard Pizza Company, it was time for the first of two long legs of the hike.

Darkness had started to settle in during our pizza and beer break. Bundled up, we set off through “downtown” Ballard heading towards the Magnolia district. Walking past hip shops, bars and restaurants, I felt oddly dressed in my shorts and rain gear. Thankfully, I wasn’t wearing a bright yellow rain poncho or I would have really felt out of place.

The locks at night

Through a park we came upon the Ballard locks. Officially called the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, I had no idea they even existed in Seattle. The series of locks connect Lakes Washington and Union to the Puget Sound and looked beautiful at night lit up in the rain.

The last of the triple digit breweries

Arriving at Urban Family Brewing, there was not just one but two kids birthday parties happening. Seeing no cake, I moved on to the important matter of getting a beer. Easily the most eclectic selection of beers on the day, Urban Family specializes in French and Belgian-style Farmhouse ales.

For the last of the triple digit breweries, Merideth and I both ordered the Saison, The Flowers Are Always Asleep. Other beers ordered by our crew were Limesicle, an IPA with lime zest and the deep purple colored Herr Kinski’s Blackberry Thought-Forms.

Over these beers, we squeezed in a few games of Asteroids and Missile Command on vintage consoles.

The last portion of the hike to West Seattle was another long one. In a beer hike first for us, we passed a bustling rail yard full of locomotives and boxcars. Something that I would expect to be behind a security fence, we walked past as if we were walking through a mall parking lot. If I had dreams of dropping out of society to ride the rails as a hobo, this seemed my big moment to leap on a locomotive or car and really travel. Even after a bunch of beers, I think I made the right choice to continue walking.

1000th brewery kiss

Holy Mountain Brewing was aptly named for our thousandth brewery. For me, the day’s hike to reach Holy Mountain was the end of a long beer pilgrimage that started in 1987 at Triple Rock Brewery in Berkeley.

For the milestone beer at the milestone brewery Merideth ordered the 4.8% ABV The White Lodge Wit. My beer to mark the moment was Three Fates, a 4.8% ABV Pilsner-style beer.

Nowhere else to be, we celebrated over many beers at Holy Mountain. Eight miles walked. Six breweries visited. Milestone achieved. We can’t thank our friends enough for joining us on our special day: Chris D, Dave, Mandy, Link, Allie, Melissa, Renee, Mike, Russ, Phillippe. Special thanks go out to Dave for not only planning the hike but also keeping us on schedule during  and Chris D for letting us invade his work for our thousandth.

It truly feels like an end of an era for us. When we started beer traveling, there was a sense of adventure, such as finding the brewery in Italy with our only directions being that it was in the village’s main piazza. Today, with the sheer number of breweries and technology, beer travel has morphed into more a matter of logistics; how many breweries can we fit in a certain amount of time. We’re not sure what thebeergeek.com will look like moving forward but it will most likely more closely resemble our Zoigl experience rather than what we have done in the past. We hope you continue to follow along as we look for new beer adventures.

Here is a little video shot to commemorate the moment.

View all the images from our Seattle trip

Our Anniversary, Dublin Style

We have been lucky enough to spend some special days in some of our favorite cities. The last time we were in Dublin, Merideth and I spent her birthday traipsing around the ice-covered city drinking craft beer, ending with an awesome dinner with friends. This trip, we spent a romantic 26th anniversary traipsing around Dublin drinking craft beer without the ice, ending at the same spot to have another awesome dinner.

December 2010: Our last Dublin beer hike

As we departed our hotel late morning, I realized the one advantage that frigid and icy December day in 2010 had over present day Dublin was oddly the weather. While cold, I mean really cold, that day was clear. Forecast for our anniversary beer hike was showers. Nothing can put a damper on beer travel enthusiasm more rain.

On the map, the journey to our first stop, the 5 Lamps Brewery, looked pretty straight forward, a few lefts, than a couple of rights. But a premature left had us wandering the confusing grounds of St James Hospital. I stand corrected. The one thing more than rain that can put a frown on Merideth’s face is following me when she thinks I am lost, which on very rare occasions, does happen. Then it started raining. Our on wedding anniversary. Even I was frustrated unleashing a few f-bombs. After circling around to what felt almost back the our hotel, I finally found the correct road and we were on our way.

Our brewery count immortalized on the wall

We were teetering on being soaked when we located the 5 Lamps Brewery at the back of an industrial park. Greeted by brewer Will Harvey, we were soon joined by owner Brian Fagan.

With greetings completed, we got down the important stuff, drinking beer and learning the definition of 5 Lamps. With their first beer in hand, the Dublin Lager, we listened as Brian explained their colorful name. In Dublin banter, if you want, for example, to shut up a person who is being annoying, you ask them “Do you know the 5 lamps?” No matter the answer, the reply is always “go hang your bollocks off them.”

Continuing on through the 5 Lamps beers, we chatted with Brian and Will about the 5 Lamps (the brewery not the slang) and the Dublin and Irish beer scenes. Talking of their beers, the word accessible came up a number of times. In our world of heavily hopped, barrel aged this and that, accessible is not always a word we hear a lot. But all the beers were well crafted, with the Honor Bright Red Ale and Blackpitts Porter being the standouts for me.

Not wanting to take up any more of Brian and Will’s time, we offered our thanks and bade farewell. As we backtracked to continue our anniversary beer trek, thankfully, the rain let up. The day was even making an effort on being pleasant with the sun trying its best to make an appearance.

Anniversary pints at Bull & Castle

Up past St. Patrick’s Cathedral we walked, conveniently arriving out front of Bull & Castle just around lunch time. Settling in with a pints of Galway Hooker Irish Pale Ale, Merideth and I grabbed a quick bite to eat to fortify us for the afternoon of walking and beer drinking.

We even managed to have goodbye pints with our friends Paul and Eilís before they headed back to London.

Continuing our journey through the bustling Temple Bar for the last time this trip, I thought back to our first visit to Dublin almost 17 years ago. Home to the city’s first brewpub, the Porterhouse, Temple Bar in those days was the center of our Dublin beer universe. How our beer world expanded over the years!

With no time for a pint at the Palace, we exited Temple Bar destined for one of the Dublin’s new specialty beer bars. Crossing O’Connell Bridge, we headed down past the Custom House. For Merideth and I, these are mostly uncharted parts of Dublin, an area we rarely frequent.

Near Connolly Train Station, the Brew Dock, like Beer Market we visited on the first night, is part of the growing Galway Bay empire. However, where the Beer Market was shiny and new, the Brew Dock, though newish, felt more traditional, even gritty. Though I will admit seeing out front the young drunk lad with the almost empty bottle of wine being kicked off LUAS added to my initial other side of the tracks impressions.

Taps at the Brew Dock

There was nothing other side of the tracks about the beer list. Along with a lineup of Galway Bay beers, the selection was a who’s who of international breweries. Of note to me was London’s Brew By Numbers, which was housed in the brewer’s basement flat when we visited in 2013. Things must be going well for them.

We stuck with Galway Bay beers. Merideth ordered Mare Icognnita, a 4.8% ABV Saison. Of course, I got the Voyager IPA (US). Hopped with Bravo, Citra, Amarillo and Cascade, the ABV was also on the American scale, 7.5% ABV.

With our day rapidly coming to an end, we were one and done at the Brew Dock. Our journey next took us down shopping mad Henry Street past Smithfield and into Stoneybatter.

If I was forced to name my favorite Dublin beer spot, I would probably say L. Mulligan Grocer. Off the tourist path, the combination of great beer selection and eclectic food menu makes it a must stop on all our visits to the Irish capital. I could think of no better place for the Irish portion of the trip swan song.

Arriving at opening time, we settled in for a few beers and a relaxing anniversary dinner. We shared the Ploughman for an appetizer. While Merideth ordered the Pork Belly for her main, I went lighter with the Spring Pea Tart. There would be plenty of time for pork on the German portion of our trip. All was exactly the culinary expertise that we have come to expect from L. Mulligan Grocer. We finished off the evening pairing chocolate cake with Dark Arts Porter from Trouble Brewing.

Main course…
Dessert…

With an early flight to Germany the next day, we spent our last night in Ireland at an airport hotel. Somewhat an odd way to end a trip to Dublin, especially since we tried to go to bed at 8pm (Not something easy to do when it is light until after 10:30). But we had a full day, six plus miles walked, and plenty of delicious Irish beer and food consumed. All and all, Merideth and I had a great 26th anniversary day.

Happy 26th!

View all the Dublin images

Eight Hours in Cork

Once it was settled that we would spend a few days in Ireland prior to heading over to Germany, my task was to map out our brewery visits. With no plans to rent a car, our options were limited to the Dublin area or places we could reach via train or bus network. After a bit of research, spending a day in Cork seemed like the best option to add a few breweries.

Despite the first day over-indulgence in Dublin, Merideth and I managed to make our morning train to Cork. We welcomed the two-and-a-half hour journey for a bit more sleep. Arriving at Kent Station in Cork, the fresh air of the almost one mile walk to our first stop, Rising Sons, also helped in clearing the cobwebs from our heads.

A nice walk along the River Lee

Rising Sons was unlike any other brewpub we have been to in Ireland. For lack of a better word, it was very American. The large brick exterior was reminiscent of a warehouse but the building had, in fact, housed a printer who at one time printed all the check books in the country. The high ceiling, exposed beamed open interior was dominated on one side by the copper clad brewery behind a large window that backed the bar.

Starting light

Waiting for us at the bar was our friend and guide for the day, Dave O’Leary. Owner of Bierhaus Cork, we first met Dave back in 2008 during our Year in Beer visit to Ireland. One of the pioneers of the Cork beer scene, who better to hang out with in Ireland’s second city?

Still feeling the effects of the previous night, I ordered, somewhat out of character for me, a half of Sunbeam. The half being the out of character part, I caught Merideth giving me a ‘I’m married to this guy’ look when I said half. The 4.3% ABV Bavarian-style lager was a perfect hair of the dog beer. Merideth started with Grainú Ale, Rising Sons’ 4.6% ABV Belgian-style Summer Ale. She was a trooper though and ordered a whole pint.

Six years since we last visited Cork, five years since seeing Dave last, we caught up with him and the Cork beer scene as we nursed our beers. Starting to feel alive again, I followed up Sunbeam with Handsum, Rising Sons’ American hopped IPA. However, I still stuck with a half pint.

Already back in our minds that we had an evening train to catch back to Dublin, we finished our beers and decided it was best to move on.

If there is a commonality in the people we meet on our travels, it’s that many end up helping us with our quest. Whether it is research, transportation or guide, people are eager to participate in our beer adventures. Dave was no different.

He mentioned there was a newish brewery in Mayfield, an outlying area of Cork, that had an American connection. Too far to walk and too long a journey on public transportation given our short window, Dave volunteered to drive us to the amusingly named Cotton Ball. And we can’t thank Dave enough for this. Not only did we add a brewery that we might not have, Cotton Ball ended up being one of those very special brewery visits — it joined my love of beer and interest in Civil War history.

First pint of the day, Indian Summer Pale Ale

Up past Heineken Ireland we drove into a working class part of Cork. The sign advertising Stouts and Ales gave the Cotton Ball a look of your typical Irish pub from the outside. Entering the small front bar, I was somewhat surprised to be the only customers. Our trio settled up to the bar.

Both Merideth and I started with the 4.7% ABV Indian Summer Pale Ale. A wonderful citrus hop aroma greeted me as I took a big gulp of my first pint of the day. After a few more gulps, it was time to go check out the brewery. Pints in hand, we passed through the large dining room (that’s where all the people were!), down some stairs and into the large space located below. Here we were greeted by Eoin Lynch. Brewing started in late 2013, Eoin Lynch explained as we toured the five barrel brewhouse.

While touring the brewery, Dave brought up the American connection. Eoin suggested we go back upstairs and talk to his father, he would be able to fill us in. Eoin introduced us to his father, Jack Lynch. And the Cotton Ball story unfolded.

Jack’s grandfather, Eoin’s great-grandfather, Humphrey Lynch emigrated to America at age 15, settling north of Boston. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Humphrey enlisted, joining the 4th U.S. Light Artillery. Fighting mainly in the western theater including battles such as Chickamauga, Humphrey was discharged from the Union Army in 1865 at the rank of sergeant.

With Jack Lynch and a rare 39 star American flag

Returning to Ireland in the 1870s, Humphrey bought a public house in what was then called Baile na Mbocht. He named his pub the Cotton Ball, harkening back to his years following the Civil War working as a foreman in a cotton mill. Almost 140 years later, still owned by the same family, the Cotton Ball added the brewery.

Back at the bar after the history lesson, we all grabbed a bite to eat while enjoying the Cotton Ball’s wonderful Lynch’s Handcrafted Stout, both on nitro and off the shelf.

Returning to the city center, we had time for a quick pint at the Bierhaus (Dave’s beer bar) before heading to our last stop of the day. And Merideth bought her new favorite zippie.

Last stop

Space was a premium at the tiny Elbow Lane Brew and Smoke House. Entering the tiny 25 seat restaurant, I wondered if we had ever been in a smaller brewpub. I think not. Greeted by the manager, Jerry O’Sullivan, he immediately started us on a tour of Elbow Lane.

Pushing some tables and chairs away to access a door at the back of the restaurant, we entered the tiny brewhouse. I immediately recognized how the place could be so small, a Braumeister system. An all-in-one brewery, all grain brewing system, we had seen one of these before on our last trip to London, but on a much smaller scale. While in that system, the basket could be lifted out by hand, Elbow Lane utilized the biggest kit available, 250 liters. Lifting the basket required a winch. With this Braumeister kit, Elbow Lane produces five house beers.

Touring the conditioning tanks upstairs, Jerry explained that the goal was to achieve just-in-time brewing as much as possible. One of the benefits of such a small brewery to tour, Merideth, Dave and I were quickly seated at the bar ready to try their brews.

Sample flight at Elbow Lane

Beers ranged from Elbow Lager to Angel Stout. All the beers were solid, especially the 4.4% ABV Stout whose strong roast character I imagined pairing well with some of the bigger meat dishes. The star was Arrow Weiss, a 5% ABV Bavarian-style Wheat that recently won Best in Category for Wheat Beers at the Killarney Beerfest. The prominent banana/clove character reminded me that in a few days we would be in Germany.

The food menu looked pretty amazing but our appetites failed us at this crucial moment. We stuck with a couple of small bites, Olives & Spiced Fried Chickpeas and Pigs in Blankets, as we moved through the sample flight.

It was now early evening and our train’s departure back to Dublin was looming. We thanked Jerry for his hospitality, and after thanking Dave profusely for being our tour guide for the day, we parted ways.

With three breweries added to the List, we walked back to the train station with a bit more bounce in our step then we made the opposite journey from earlier in the day. We can’t thank Dave enough for taking the time to chaperone us around his city.

Heading back to the train station after a great day in Cork.

View all the images from Cork

900th On Our 25th

Seems like June 17th, 1989 was just yesterday. That day, we were crazy young kids getting hitched. Prophetically coincidental (or coincidentally prophetic), I’ll Be Loving You (Forever) by New Kids on the Block topped the charts.

More relevant to our future lives, the “microbrew” revolution was gaining steam with the likes of Boulevard, Odell, Marin and my present employer Drake’s founded the year of our marriage. Though “The List” was still a few years away from conception, I had already visited two breweries. Merideth, not yet 21 years old, theoretically had not visited any.

Our ride for the day…

Fast forward 25 years (it seems to have gone by very fast!) and 886 breweries later, we are now well-versed beer travelers. Over the years, our adventures have taken us beyond North America to Europe, Australia and New Zealand. We have experienced great beers at the source and, most important, made many friends. It was one of these friendships that would make our silver anniversary extra special.

Posting on social media several months back about our upcoming special occasion visit, I got a response from Don with the Maine Brew Bus. On our previous visit, we had met up with him and the other fine folks behind Maine’s brewery tour company for a beer. And this time around, they graciously offered to take us around on our anniversary.

Not only would Don be our chauffeur for the day, he also arranged the visits to the two needed breweries for us to reach 900. At the appointed time, we met him and the bright green and yellow bus in Portland’s Old Port. Our “small but mighty” group were on our way for a day of beer drinking.

We started the tour at Allagash Brewing. Already on the list from our 2009 trip, Allagash was, in fact, my 500th brewery. Five years, 388 breweries and an expansion later we were back for another brewery tour.

All shiny

Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed having to jump through the brewery tour hoop. Not having to drive, I was ready to get my drink on and the tour just delayed my fun. But what a tour it was. Along with 20 or so other beer enthusiasts, we donned our safety glasses and audio equipment and followed our enthusiastic guide into the Allagash brewery.

Still smiling after 25 years…

Standing in what used to be the parking lot staring at the cool White spice injector at work on the shiny new brew kit, I felt a bit silly about my usual ‘I don’t want to go on a brewery tour’ mantra. The new facility was quite impressive. And the tour now finished with a tasting in the beautiful new barrel house.

Amongst the barrels, we tasted White, Saison, Prince Tuesday (a collaboration with Rising Tide and Maine Beer Company), and finally the limited Confluence. What a great way to start the day!

Big thanks to Allagash for the anniversary gift. We’ll save the bottle to share on our 26th anniversary. Or maybe our 50th!

One Industrial Way will go down as one of the most important addresses in Maine beer history. Five years ago, we first visited the unassuming industrial park down the street from Allagash to add the then brand new Maine Beer Company to our brewery list. Checking in on their growth two years later, we wandered to the other side of the building to see Rising Tide making a small batch of beer.  Since then, both have graduated from the location to bigger pastures. Present day, its role as a brewery incubator continues with three fledgling brewing operations joining the Maine beer scene.

Looking introspective with one more to go

Bissell Brothers was the first new brewery of the day, our 899th overall. Located in the old Maine Beer Company space, the less than year old brewery was, of course, the brainchild of two brothers, Noah and Peter.

Bissell Brothers created a huge buzz with their initial offering, a 6.5% ABV IPA called The Substance. Cans were sold and kegs were drained very quickly of this popular new beer. Coming in a 16oz can and being their only beer available brought their debut brew heady comparisons to the Alchemist’s Heady Topper.

Comparisons really end there. While Heady Topper is big, The Substance was an easy drinking IPA. Pleasingly aromatic, Merideth, the self-proclaimed non-hophead, even enjoyed it.

As we sampled the The Substance, Peter explained having only one beer was never the plan, it was something that just happened. Pleasantly surprised by demand and trying to keep up, more beers were on tap for the future.

The only disappointment was there were no cans to buy to bring home.

900!

It was a long walk next door to our milestone 900th, Foundation Brewing. Given that their business manager and owner, Tina Bonney was part of our tour group, it was probably apropos that Foundation was the chosen brewery.

Entering the small tasting room, we were greeted by co-founder/brewer Joel Mahaffey. As we chatted with Joel, he ran us through the Foundation lineup.

Five beers were available to sample, all Saisons brewed with their proprietary yeast strain. The two flagships were Eddy, described as their house Saison and Blaze, a Farmhouse IPA.

All the beers were excellent, very worthy of a milestone brewery.  Merideth pegged the lemon zest infused Saison as her favorite. Mine was Wanderlust, a 4.3% ABV dry hopped Saison. Employing five hop varieties, including one of my current favorites, Mosaic, Wanderlust had the huge tropical fruit thing going on which complimented the light body.

Our small group toasted our achievements, 25 years and 900 breweries. We thanked Joel and Tina for their hospitality and Don for making it all happen.

One of my favorite beers!

With our 900th brewery in the books, we were able to relax and celebrate our latest milestone. And Rising Tide seemed the perfect place to do just that.

Our second visit to the Rising Tide’s East Bayside location, we shared our story of the first time we met owner/brewer Nathan Sanborn at One Industrial Way. Back then, Nathan stood over his brew pot checking on his latest batch. Not able to try any beer, we chatted with him for a few minutes and promised to visit Rising Tide again to add it to the List.

Standing in the sampling area, Merideth and I marveled the brewery’s growth, and not just from the former location. The space that just last year had been empty was full of barrels and fermenters.

Amongst the seven beers to sample, I craved Maine Island Trail Ale, their 4.3% ABV summer seasonal that benefits the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA). Hopped with Simcoe and Citra, MITA was a prime example of a beer that I would describe as “in my wheelhouse.” Light, refreshing body but full of hop aroma and flavor, Maine Island Trail Ale is one of my favorite Maine brews.

Our day with Maine Brew Bus was done. Dropped back off in the Old Port, we continued our celebrations with more beer and of course, lobster. We can’t thank Don and the Maine Brew Bus enough for making our 900th brewery visit on our 25th anniversary so very special.

Anniversary dinner at J’s

View all the images from our day in Portland…

Setting Up For Our Big Day

At some point last year, I figured out that it was possible for us to visit our 900th brewery on our 25th wedding anniversary. For beer travelers like us, nothing could be more romantic. With this idea stuck in my head, the challenge became making it happen.

On the eve of our silver anniversary, we woke up in Nashua, NH. Somewhat out of the norm for our beer travels, I planned a leisurely day that would end in Portland, ME. And with the first brewery visit in Nashua itself, we even had time for a pleasant walk through the town’s park, Mine Falls.

A nice day for a walk…

Despite the relaxing start to the day along the Nashua River, there was a nervousness in the air. Well, at least I, as the planner, was nervous. To reach 900 breweries the following day, Merideth and I needed to visit all breweries on the day’s itinerary. There was no wiggle room, no plan B breweries to visit if one was unexpectedly closed. Something often goes awry on our travels and this day had to go perfectly.

The beginning of our beer day…

With that air of tension of what our day would hold, we finished our walk and drove the few blocks to downtown Nashua and our first beer stop of the day, Martha’s Exchange.

Despite the slight tinge of heat and humidity we passed on the air conditioned brewpub and chose a well-shaded table outside. With lunch plans already sorted, this was just a taster flight stop, which we quickly ordered.

Eight samples were soon in front of us. One of the more diverse set of beers we have tried recently, the octet of brews ranged from Volstead ’33’, a Golden Ale, to Velvet Elvis Vanilla Stout. In between there was an Alt, Saison and requisite IPA to name a few.

It was probably the weather talking but the refreshing, easy drinking Golden Ale stood out for me. The hopping reminded me of a German Helles, a style I really love. For Merideth, the peppery, dry Consortium Saison was her standout.

Eager to press on, we didn’t dawdle once we finished our sample flight. We quickly left Nashua in the rear view mirror heading across New Hampshire.

The first of many

For those who know of our previous New England travels, lobster and especially lobster rolls are as important as beer. Heading towards coastal New Hampshire on our way to Maine, it was time to indulge in our second passion.

Despite its touristy appearance, pre-trip research pointed to the Beach Plum in Portsmouth as the stop for our first lobster roll of the trip. Its location on our route and award-winning lobster rolls made it an easy choice.

Choice confronted us as Merideth and I stood in front of their extensive menu. Six versions of lobster roll were available including a 20oz., foot-long monster. Romance aside, we decided on the non-sharing route, each choosing the 10oz. version. Same amount of lobster meat, no competition or hurt feelings.

Preferring our lobster rolls naked, the light coating of mayonnaise was distressing to see at first. But they were quite yummy and were a worthy first roll of the trip.

It was a short drive up the road to downtown Portsmouth and maybe the surprise brewery of the trip, Earth Eagle Brewings. While I sorted the parking situation out, Merideth went into the tiny tasting room and ordered the six beer sample flight. When I finally sat down to sample, Merideth was already several tastes in.

Merideth enjoying her Gruit

Grabbing my first taste, Sputnik, a Pale Ale, Merideth said something about gruits. Not a gruit guy, I didn’t really pay attention until she added that three of the six samples were of the hop-free variety. Never having tried three gruits at once, curiosity got the best of me. Ignoring the two IPAs (which ended up both being excellent), I delved into Barelyberry, Exhilaration and Birthday Boy.

Though not a fan of the style, I could still appreciate the quality that went into the brews. I also liked that they had a forager who gathered the herby ingredients. The latter two were more what I associated with the style, earthy and herbaceous. The first, Barelyberry,  Merideth’s favorite in the set, as its name suggested, employed blackberries in the brew.

A candidate for beer of the trip was not in the sample flight. Madame Trixie, their current barrel release, was a Blood Orange, Black Pepper Saison with Brett. If that wasn’t enough, Madame Trixie was aged in Allagash Curiuex barrel for 14 months. A sucker for beers with black pepper, despite what all was going on in the brew, it all worked together deliciously well.

Crossing over into Maine, we found the final new brewery of the day in the beachside town of Wells. Hidden Cove Brewing at Fire N Brew didn’t open for another hour. Confidence was high that it was opening, so that stress I had been feeling all day went away. With time to kill, Merideth and I backtracked to Wells Beach Mini Golf.

It was a beautiful Maine afternoon for a round of mini golf. Unlike previous times we have played, Merideth rode a strong short game on the front nine to finish +2, a surprising seven stroke lead over me. Her only mistake was to hit the ball out of bounds, a one stroke penalty. This was to prove costly.

A nice day for some mini golf…

The back nine played more true to form with myself slowly eroding Merideth’s sizable lead. My par and her bogey on the last hole sealed my comeback, both of us finishing with the identical score. Despite our normal competitiveness, we thought it quite romantic on the day before our 25th anniversary.

The mission of the day is accomplished!

Back to Fire N Brew, we bellied up to the bar and chose four beers, Summer, Scully, A’Rye and Crowsfoot, from the five offerings for our sample flight. First things first, Merideth and I each grabbed a sample glass and toasted the important goal of the day being successfully completed.

Eager to get to Portland to watch the USA v. Ghana World Cup match, Merideth and I didn’t really dwell on sample flight. Our loss, since Hidden Cove was doing some interesting things in the brewhouse with local ingredients and wild yeasts. We’ll give it a proper visit on our next trip to Maine.

In Portland, I was finally able to let my hair down. After catching the inspiring USA victory over Ghana in the Old Port, we moved on to our traditional activities. First up was a lobster roll and Allagash White at J’s Oyster followed by a Maine Beer Company nightcap at Novare Res. A great ending to a productive day!

Our Portland tradition…

View all the images…