“Vermont, New Hampshire & Maine” is the latest episode of One Pint at a Time.
Our trip from Burlington, VT to Portland, ME was not only a celebration of our 22nd wedding anniversary, but also a milestone for beergeek.TV. When we started chronicling our beer adventures on video back in 2007, I am not sure we thought four years later we would be releasing our 50th episode of One Pint of a Time. But here we are!
So enjoy the 50th episode of One Pint of a Time…
For all the episodes of One Pint at a Time go to beergeekTV.
After five great days in New England, we finally reached the most important day of the trip. Day six was our 22nd Wedding Anniversary. And what better way to spend the day with my wife, best friend and beer travel partner than in one of our favorite American cities, Portland, where even more lobster and beer awaited us.
We left Lovell mid-morning for the hour long drive to our first stop of the day. After four days of driving in the middle of nowhere, Baxter Brewing in Lewiston, proved difficult to find. All those cars and buildings were so much a distraction that both driver and navigator missed the right turn for the brewery. But we quickly recovered from our mistake and with a series of turns, located the brewery.
Opened last fall, Baxter is housed in a beautifully restored old mill. Their small tasting room fronts an expansive brick-walled brewery space. Having plenty of room was good as they have already expanded production capacity in their short time in business. For the can-heads, Baxter is the first brewery in Maine to can all their beers.
It was early in the day, so Merideth and I were the only two customers. Our hostess, Steff, enthusiastically poured us samples of their flagship brew, Pamola Xtra Pale Ale. At 4.9% ABV and 27 IBUs, it was a very drinkable, first beer at 11am, type of beer. Or perfect for hot and humid weather we experienced in Maine.
A Pamola is the moose-like creature in their logo. From a Penobscot legend, the Pamola had the head of a moose, the body of a man, and the wings and talons of an eagle. Pretty freaky if you ask me!
Baxter’s other production beer was Stowaway IPA, a brew familiar to my West Coast palate. At 6.9% ABV and 69 IBUs, Stowaway had an assertive, hop-forward flavor and underlying light-ish body.
We finished our tasting with two test brews. The Red Ale was a good example of the style but the star was their Mild. Of the four beers we sampled, the Mild was my favorite.
We thanked Steff for her time and departed with a bit of Baxter swag and a six-pack of Stowaway IPA. We continued our journey on to Portland.
This was only our second visit to Portland. But I have to say, no visit to Maine’s largest city is complete without visiting The Great Lost Bear. The original Maine beer institution, the Bear is THE place to find local beer.
The dimly lit interior was comfortably cool, an oasis from the hot and humid weather. We took our familiar positions at the bar. Despite being our next stop, Merideth and I both ordered beers from Maine Beer Company. Merideth ordered her beloved Peeper, while I went the latest offering from our favorite Maine brewery, Lunch IPA.
Maine Beer Company was a last minute addition to our previous trip to Maine. Visiting the brewery, we met co-owner David Kleban. Their story was one of a pair of brothers starting a brewery with glorified homebrewing equipment. The plan was to build a market for their brews first. If they could do that, the ‘real’ brewery would be built.
In the subsequent twenty months, Merideth and I followed their progress from afar. From the glorified homebrewing beginnings, their now highly sought after brews are distributed in three States, Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts. And kegs are on the way very soon.
We returned to Maine Beer Company to see the changes. Joining their regular Friday 2pm tour, we were amazed by what we saw. The shiny new brewery was quite different from the pot on the burner from our first visit. With his low key, matter of fact manner, David told our group about the beers and the brewery. We also got to meet David’s brother Dan for the first time. Dan has been the brewer for Maine Beer Company from the beginning, but only recently, due to the high demand for their beers, was he able to quit his day job. It was really nice to see success come to good people.
Our visit to Maine Beer Company concluded the preliminary activities for our Anniversary Day. It was time to head to Portland’s Old Port for the main events.
Once this trip was decided in early Spring, there was only one place that we would have our Anniversary dinner, J’s Oyster on Portland’s waterfront. Despite the rainy weather that came in, Merideth and I grabbed one of the available tables outside. As the rain dripped off the awning above us, we drooled at the thought of the upcoming lobster feast.
We hardly had to look at the menu except to choose a beer. Merideth and I both went with Allagash White to accompany our lobster. We also both ordered lobster rolls. But from here our paths diverged. Merideth started with the lobster stew she fell in love with on our last visit. Again she marveled at the huge chunks lobster in the broth, something we don’t see on the West Coast. I didn’t need any broth with my lobster so I ordered the lobster cocktail as a starter. And a dozen raw oysters (Don’t judge me. it was our anniversary… ).
J’s Oyster was everything we remembered it to be. We left with full tummies, huge smiles and the knowledge we had one more day in Portland. We would be back!
The last Anniversary Day stop was Novare Res Bier Café. We fell in love with Novare Res on our first visit. Beyond the world class beer list, Novare Res just has a great look and feel. If we ever opened our own beer bar, Novare Res would be the blueprint.
More Maine Beer Company brews were ordered. Again, Merideth went with Peeper while I ordered Lunch IPA for myself. Joined by a former Monterey-ite and friend, we chatted the evening away. Shahin, the personable and friendly manager of Novare Res, joined our conversations when time permitted.
Later, we toasted our anniversary with a bottle of 2007 Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus. It was a great way to finish a great day. Drinking amazing beer, hanging out with friends, old and new. We wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Thursday’s agenda included heading into Maine and starting our day off with a hike around Blueberry Mountain in Weld. The morning was warm and sunny; a nice contrast to the intermittent rain and overcast skies of the previous days. It was the perfect weather for beer and outdoor activities. However, the difficulty of our Mt. Washington hike the day before had left our legs sore and wobbly. Not wanting to waste the beautiful weather, we changed our plans to include a canoe adventure on Kezar Lake near our evening’s destination of Lovell.
Before embarking on our new adventure, we needed a little liquid sustenance in the way of a visit to Sunday River Brewing. The lush green scenery with which we’d become so familiar, continued as we traveled north of our day’s final destination. Choosing a route off the Laconia Bike Week path proved a good move, as the air was no longer punctuated with the loud rumblings from herds of Harley’s. We were excited to not only be getting away from the bikers, but also to be entering Maine because it meant the start of our own personal Lobster Fest.
Despite being waylaid by road detours, we found Sunday River Brewing in the crook of Mayville Road and Sunday River Road. The first thing we noticed was the large deck attached to the red-roofed white building. It was slightly humid out and I was still a bit leery of biting little bugs, but sitting outside was the logical place to enjoy the sunny sky.
We ordered their 6-beer taster set, which included a blonde, alt, IPA, and porter, plus two seasonal beers, a red and a brown. The beers were all highly carbonated, including the brown and porter; something that admittedly distracted me from the usually robust flavor of those two styles. We accompanied our brews with our first meal of Lobster Fest — lobster roll and lobster fritters.
Thinking about our romantic canoe trip on Kezar Lake, we continued south to Center Lovell to check into our B & B — the Center Lovell Inn and Restaurant, an establishment that has been featured in Everyday Rachel Ray and Martha Stewart Living. The large 19th Century house located a short distance from the lake, is romantically New England with its large screened porch. The interior is decorated with family antiques, creating a casual and welcoming atmosphere. We wouldn’t fully experience the warm hospitality of innkeeper Janice Sage until later, however.
First, we explored the area in search of canoe rental options. Disappointingly, we couldn’t find any. We did locate the “town beach,” but as Chris explained to me, town beaches are for the exclusive use of residents. People looked like they were enjoying themselves as kids with water wings splashed in the water and teenagers swam out to floating platforms. It reminded me a lot of my summers spent in Twain Harte.
Thwarted in our efforts, we moved onto our next plan for the day; a visit to the world famous Ebenezer’s Pub. Believe me, this was not a second-choice activity, as we already had plans to visit the place named as the #1 beer bar by both Beer Advocate and RateBeer.
The first thing that struck us about Ebenezer’s, and probably adds to its cache and charm, is the location. Situated down a dirt road in the woods, the view from inside Ebenezer’s is of a golf course. Unexpected, I know, but it didn’t detract at all from the remote roadhouse feel. It was late afternoon when we arrived and the only thing happening was a staff meeting. We sat outside on the screened-in porch to play a game of Scrabble. (As a native Californian, I was quickly becoming both aware and appreciative of the protective value and comfort of screened-in porches.)
The beer menu created excitement with the likes of Wild Pannepot, Cantillon Gueuze, and Petrus Aged Pale Ale. Much to Chris’ delight, there were a number of sours available and he didn’t hesitate to indulge himself with a Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour and Mestreechs Aajt. The only critique I would offer was that a fair portion of the beer offerings weren’t quite right for the warm, humid weather. This included an impressive selection of aged barleywines (Sierra Nevada’s Big Foot 2002-2004, Rogue’s Old Crustacean 2007, Old Marley 2006 and 2007) and stouts (Old Engine Oil, Porterhouse Plain). However, with 35 taps and an extensive bottled beer selection, there is bound to be something for everyone and every type of weather. I, for example, drank local with a refreshing Allagash White.
Chris and I also shared a cone of frites (which were perfectly cooked and oh so scrumptious) with house made mayo before continuing our Lobster Fest. No sharing where the lobster was concerned, we each ordered our own lobster roll. As you can see in the picture, it was basically one whole, intact lobster tail coated ever so lightly in mayo. One of the best lobster rolls we’ve ever had and we’ve had quite a few.
Chris and I could have easily kept going and remained at Ebenezer’s for hours on end. However, we were driving. We ended up making a fairly early night of it, which left us refreshed the next morning.
Having made our meal reservation the day before, in the morning we were treated to the most awe-inspiring breakfast I’ve ever had. The colorful beauty of the presentation was no ruse and it tasted just as good as it looked. Tasty, perfectly cooked bacon was hidden under two large slices of french toast, while a mountain of fruit topped with a pansy flower was both eye catching and fresh. Just one look at the picture above and you’ll know what I’m talking about. (Although Chris had already eaten his pansy flower when he snapped the photo) Janice, the innkeeper, served us with a happy demeanor and broad smile. It was a refreshing way to start our day and we appreciated her hospitality tremendously.
As a side note: our Ebenezer’s server had informed us that Janice makes the most amazing oatmeal cookies with dried cherries, and white and dark chocolate chips. Janice vowed to make us some for our next visit.
Between Center Lovell Inn’s welcoming hospitality and phenomenal breakfast to Ebenezer’s amazing beer selection, Lovell proved that even the most rural of locations can easily compete with large urban centers in offering excellent goods and services. It could be said that the area not only leveled the playing field, it held a distinct home advantage. Now that’s what I call “Lovelling the playing field.”
Our hike above Stowe was only a warmup for the main hike of our trip, New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington. Prior to our trip, I researched the trails that lead to the the highest peak in New England and surmised we probably didn’t have the time nor the stamina to reach the top. But the network of trails below the summit looked like they provided plenty of opportunities to enjoy the most famous of the White Mountains.
The day dawned the nicest of the trip with only a few clouds in the sky. We parked at the Cog Railway base station and purchased a trail map in the gift shop to guide us on our hike. Merideth and I looked over the map. From our starting point, we only had two trails to choose from. We decided the Ammonoocuc Ravine Trail, at 2.4 miles, looked like the perfect hike for us. The deciding factor was that the trail terminated at the Lakes of the Clouds hut, a reminder of the Alpine beginnings of Hike-n-Beer.
Hike-n-Beer originated on our first Alpine adventure, a hike above the Königsee in Bavaria. Merideth and I walked for over two hours on this quite vertical trail. When we reached a clearing, I saw a small building with a beer sign on it. To good be be true, in fact this little restaurant served simple plates of bread and cheese but more important, beer. It was a special moment as two of our passions were married.
The Ammonoocuc Ravine Trail started out innocent enough, lulling us into a false sense of ‘this is going to be a piece of cake.’ We strolled through the forest, with the trail having a gentle and easy up slope. As we checked out all the flowers, streams and waterfalls, Merideth and I pondered whether the hut would have beer. We joked that the hut would probably have beer, but our choices would be Bud or Bud Light. That’s the same as having no beer at all we surmised.
About halfway into the hike, the trail changed drastically. The gentle slope turned steep. The soft forest floor trail turned to boulders. Our pace slowed dramatically as we scrambled over the boulders, criss-crossed the Ammonoocuc River and took frequent breaks. The saving grace was that we were still protected from the sun by the forest cover.
Despite the change, we were still chipper enough two thirds into hike to detour 100 yards off the trail and check out the Gorge with it’s awe-inspiring view and waterfall.
The last section of the hike was the hardest where the trail follows the river up the steep face of the hill. Adding to the difficulties of this section was we were no longer under cover of the trees and feeling the full force of the sun.
Two and a half hours after setting off from the Cog Railway, Merideth and I finally reached the hut. We were both exhausted. Sitting in the hut dining room, we quickly tried to rehydrate and eat our snacks. There was no beer.
We still had to get back down the mountain. I couldn’t picture myself going back down the trail we came up. And it wasn’t just because I hate going back the way I came. The pounding we would take didn’t seem like much fun. So we plotted a course across the face of the mountain down a trail that would hopefully be easier.
The trail across the face was certainly easier but still strewn with boulders. In our tired state, this type of hiking took a lot out of us. We couldn’t just walk with our normal strides. We had to concentrate all the time and place each step carefully. The route took us within 1/2 mile of the summit. Part of me wanted to make a go, but I knew that was a stupid idea.
We finally reached the Jewell Trail, our link back to the Cog Railway base station and our car. Probably 75% of it’s 2.6 mile length was exactly the type of descent I was trying to avoid by going back down the Ammonoocuc Ravine Trail. Scrambling down rocks and boulders, our bodies ached after each step. Plus, legions of bugs constantly harassed us every step of the way.
Six and a half hours after departing, we made it back to our car. We covered over seven miles and ascended then descended 3,000 feet. The difficulty of the hike ranked up there with any we have done in Alps.
We really needed a beer after such an effort on the trails. Unfortunately, the beer portion of Hike-n-Beer was a half hour drive away in the town of North Conway. The anticipation for that first beer was excruciating.
Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewing Company was located on the main highway that goes through the town. Our chief worry as we parked was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals started in a few hours. Would the bar already be too packed with eager Bruins fans?
Much to our relief, the bar was crowded, but nowhere near packed. We grabbed a high table away from the noise that had a nice view of the countryside and mountains.
Like two people who had been stranded in a desert, we quickly ordered a taster set of the house brews. There were seven beers in the set. The first two, Hoffman Weiss and Violet B’s Blueberry, were both very refreshing brews. The Hefe had that really nice banana/clove aroma and flavor. However, like many American Hefeweizens, the Weiss was under-carbonated for my tastes. Violet B’s had a subtle, dry blueberry taste. However, the strangest beer had to be the Czech Pilsner. It had the familiar Pils flavor at first but had an overwhelming marijuana finish. The best beer was Bear Peak Brown, one of the best Brown Ales we have ever tried. It had a wonderful nuttiness to it.
Over dinner and pints, Merideth and I relived our day on Mt. Washington. Despite the difficulty, it was an amazing day. While we disagreed on the enjoyment level, this hike will go down as one of the classic editions of Hike-n-Beer.
Monday started off with our first hike of the trip. To get to the Stowe Mountain Resort, we took a beautiful drive along a curvy, tree-shrouded road. The scenery was amazing, with the lush green forests being broken up only by the occasional homestead and craggy boulders.
Our hike originated at the Midway ski lift and followed up the steep ski runs. Of course the point of downhill skiing is to go down. So it made sense that I felt like we just kept going up and up without any flat reprieves. At the top, the view of the wide valley was breathtaking. However, the bug population obviously liked the view as well and their numbers seemed to increase exponentially the higher we ventured. After a few inhaled bugs, we decided to make our way back. The black diamond run called Hayride was a tad too vertical, so we made our way down and around the slightly less steep intermediate runs.
Several hours of heart-pumping hiking certainly deserved a reward. While one of our favorite things to do is hike in the Alps and reward ourselves with beer afterwards, in Vermont we did the next best thing; have a post-hike beer at the Trapp Family Brewery.
The Trapp Family resort is operated by the von Trapp family, whose earlier generations were the inspiration for the movie The Sound of Music. Not surprising, the brewery produced German-style beers. Their line-up included a Vienna Lager and Dunkel, in addition to a dry-hopped unfiltered beer. Our favorite, however, was the Helles, which paired nicely with our meat and cheese board served with fresh homemade bread.
The brewery, located down the mountain from the main lodge, was quaint, with cozy seating inside and a deck out back. Unfortunately, they were remodeling and rather than the sound of music, we heard the sound of power tools. Even so, the whole thing was reminiscent of our Alpine hiking adventures, which made us very happy inside. Also located at the brewery is the bakery, which had some decadent looking chocolatey things. We resisted the desserts, however, and waited for Vermont’s must-do attraction: the Ben & Jerry’s factory.
Chris scoffed as I insisted on partaking in the most Disneyland-like of Vermont activities. But I knew he wanted to go, too. We arrived to find a school bus-load of middle schoolers who had just finished a factory tour. I patiently waited in line for 25 minutes as the pre-teens flitted about excitedly. I noticed that most rejected their free small ice cream included with the tour for monstrosities like the Vermonster, a 13-scoop sundae served in a plastic bucket.
I enjoyed my share of Scoop Shop exclusives Chocolate Therapy (chocolate ice cream with chocolate cookie chunks and ribbons of chocolate pudding) and Sweet Cream and Cookies, while Chris opted for the Stephen Colbert AmeriCone Dream (vanilla ice cream with fudge-covered waffle cone bits and swirls of caramel). In the midst of this most pleasurable of activities, the rain began to fall causing people to run for cover. We remained at our outside picnic table under the protection of a large umbrella finishing our treats and watching the confusion.
We still had a few more breweries on our agenda for the day, so as soon as the last spoonful of ice cream was eaten, we were off to The Alchemist Pub and Brewery in Waterbury. With its dark interior and unusual artwork, The Alchemist has the feel of being in an eccentric mad scientist’s laboratory. The frequently changing eclectic range of beers add to the experimental feel. While we were encouraged to order 12 ounce samples, we opted for a slightly smaller taste of several beers.
Like beakers in the scientist’s lab, our tasters included beers of all colors, tastes, and aromas. Chris went straight for the hoppy Holy Cow, a session IPA at just over 5% ABV. He followed this with Wild Child, a sour that the brewery says is not for the “weak of heart.” I started with the Celia Saison, which I didn’t realize was gluten-free when I ordered it. Made with sorghum and dry-hopped with Amarillo hops, it was a bit on the band-aid side. They brew dark beers as well, including Pappy’s Porter, a roasty American porter, and Mortal Sin, an India Dark Ale. In the end, however, our favorite was Shut The Hell Up, an American mild brewed with Simcoe hops. STHU was a true session beer at 3.3% ABV. This beer proves that bold character can still be achieved without a high alcohol content. Lew Bryson would be so proud.
The next morning we hit the road for New Hampshire, but we had one more stop to make before leaving Vermont: Rock Art Brewery in Morrisville. This small brewery in a small Vermont town became famous when Monster energy drink went after them for trademark infringement on a beer they named Vermonster. (Funny that they didn’t go after Ben & Jerry’s who has a sundae named the Vermonster) Admittedly, this controversy heightened our anticipation, as we wanted to see what all the fuss had been about.
Only a week old, the brewery’s brand new digs were easily located on a main road (That is if the navigator is paying attention). Inside, the tasting room smelled of fresh paint and the last remnants of construction mess were getting wiped clean. Renee was a gracious and chatty host as she served us four brews, including their flagship beer Ridge Runner, a mild barleywine. Vermonster was not available for tasting but we couldn’t resist buying a bottle to take home. Renee not only gave us good conversation and tasty beer, she also gave us a suggestion that proved to be a Vermont bonus. She encouraged us to stop at Hill Farmstead brewing, even though they were not open for tasting on Tuesdays.
With a name to drop when we arrived, we happily drove to the remote Hill Farmstead in rural Greensboro Bend. We passed a colorful field of yellow flowers and multiple farm houses on our drive down the bumpy dirt country road. While we found it without problem, their website advises visitors to look at Google maps, as “you *will* get lost.” With some trepidation, we approached the barn where a guy was moving kegs. While he started out by saying that he didn’t really have the time to do a full tasting with us, our gift of Pliny and Blind Pig helped to change his mind. Not wanting to disrupt his work too much, we concluded our visit within twenty minutes, including tasting several beers like Edward (American pale ale), Florence (wheat saison), and Abner (imperial IPA), and purchasing a few bottles to take home. At Hill Farmstead the beer was phenomenal and the hospitality welcoming. Many thanks to Renee for encouraging us to stop by and Owen who took time out of his busy work day. Hill Farmstead was definitely the crowning jewel of our Vermont beer tour.
We left Vermont having added nine breweries to The List. For our first ever visit to the state, we were impressed with not only the people and the scenery, but also the beer. While we found out about it too late, we encourage you to discovery your own beer adventures by checking out the Vermont Brewery Challenge. In the meantime, I’ll be pitching a new motto for the Vermont Brewers Association. Vermont: where the hills are alive with the sound (and smell) of beer