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.


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…

First Time in Bangor

Last fall, we heard from my cousin Kerrie. She wondered if Merideth and I wanted to be involved in an inaugural beer festival that her organization, the Greater Bangor CVB, was putting on in June 2013. Already planning to be in Maine around that time, we readily agreed to be part of the first “Tap Into Summer”.

It was an jarring early start to Friday’s activities. At 6:30am, Merideth and I found ourselves outside Portland’s NBC TV station, one of Maine’s biggest, trying to find the buzzer on the door that was right in front of us. As we waited in the lobby for what would be our first ever live TV appearance, I regretted those last beers at Novare Res the night before.

Early morning TV in Portland promoting Tap Into Summer!

At the appointed time, we were ushered into the studio, put around the Bistro table set and mic’d up. Sensing a bit of nervousness on our part, the host was cheery and helpful. And like the pros were are, Merideth and I banged out a pretty darn good interview! [Watch it here] Despite not feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, it felt great being on TV not only promoting the festival but talking about the joys of beer travel.

If an early morning TV show appearance had one upside, it got us up and going. After a quick return to our hotel room to do a radio interview and organize ourselves, we were on the road to Bangor. Of course, we planned a few brewery visits along the way.

Our first stop, Penobscot Bay Brewing, was in the coastal town of Winterport. Arriving a few minutes before their 11am opening time, we were greeted very warmly as we stepped out of our car. Turns out Mike Anderson, owner and one of the organizers of the festival, recognized us, probably from the festival poster up in the tasting room. [An amusing aspect of the day would be seeing the festival poster everywhere which had our picture. Nothing boosts the ego like seeing your picture in the toilet. Someone even tore out our picture as a keepsake. Or they were tired of seeing us]

Sampling the Penobscot Bay brews…

While Merideth was mesmerized by the shopping possibilities, I focused on tasting the Penobscot Bay beers. We started out with one of the best beers of trip, Humble B, a light-bodied lager made with local honey and ginger (soon to be made with local ginger as well). It was the perfect beer for the warm, somewhat humid day. Other highlights were the Sorachi Ace Pilsner and Mountain Man Double IPA. Mountain Man, a 2nd anniversary beer for Nocternum Drafthaus in Bangor, had a powerful hop nose but a wonderful subtle flavor that even non-Hop-Head Merideth appreciated.

Thanks to Mike showing us around the impressive operation. Brewing, winemaking, baking, catering; they do it all in Winterport. Be sure to try the Stout ice cream if you visit!

From the coast, we turned inland towards Skowhegan. Oak Pond Brewing, located down a country lane off a country road, was housed in a converted chicken barn. The original Oak Pond dated from the mid-1990s with the current owners, the Chandler family, purchasing the then defunct brewery in 2003.

A bit off the the beaten path…

To fit into our somewhat busy schedule, we had arranged with brewer Adam Chandler an earlier visit than their normal tasting room hours. After quick introductions, including meeting owner / employee  / mother Nancy, Adam poured us through his Oak Pond lineup.

There were six beers to try and Merideth appreciated that the flight included two lagers. Our favorite of the two was the Laughing Loon Lager, Oak Pond’s interpretation of a Munich-style Dunkel. On the ale side of things, White Fox Ale, a spritzy brew with nice hop notes was my star. Merideth liked the Nut Brown Ale with its subtle toasted character.

Towards the end of our Oak Pond visit, we got a message from Kerrie asking if we could be at Geaghan’s Pub in 45 minutes to tape a TV interview. Already our planned next stop, we wrapped up our visit, thanked Adam and Nancy for their hospitality and headed towards Bangor.

Need to make a quick choice before the TV interview…

Geaghan’s Pub had been a Bangor institution for years. Two years ago, they added a brewery to the mix,  Geaghan Brothers Brewing. Located right at the edge of downtown Bangor, the pub/brewery was very easy to find.

This was a hectic stop. We finally met up with Kerrie who we hadn’t seen in four years. While the TV guy was setting up, we chatted with Andy Geaghan, Kerrie and Dan, the festival PR person. No time for a sample flight, I ordered Smiling Irish Bastard, a 6.00% ABV very West Coast-style Pale Ale. Merideth went with Pub Ale, their 4.35% ABV English-style Pale. I have to admit I was pretty skeptical about an Irish pub adding a brewery but the Geaghan brews were excellent, one of the highlight breweries of the whole trip.

This TV interview was taped so we felt less pressure. Any flubs hopefully would be edited out. I ended the interview encouraging the festival attendees to come chat with us about beer travel. Adding we would even talk hockey as long as it was about the San Jose Sharks elicited a somewhat condescending, ‘our team is in the Stanley Cup final’ chuckle from the bar crowd watching.

TV interview complete, quick brewery tour (Thanks Jason!) and our pints done, we quickly moved on to our next stop.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s Gettysburg sword…

Some amazing things have happened to us through beer travel. I think we have a new number one experience. Knowing that I was a Civil War history buff, Kerrie had arranged a visit to the Bangor Museum and History Center where Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s Gettysburg sword is on display. Not only did I get to see the sword that the colonel of the 20th Maine used on Little Round Top on July 2, 1863, I was able to hold it. Rubbing my finger on the spot of the scabbard where a Confederate bullet struck it 150 years ago was a powerful moment. Tears came to my eyes. I can’t thank my cousin enough for that special experience.

We finished the afternoon with one more live TV interview. Our busy first day in Bangor concluded with a lobster and mussel dinner at Kerrie’s house (thanks to Kerrie’s husband Andy for the excellent food!). Exhausted from our red eye flight, little sleep and so far always-on-the-go trip, we retired to our hotel room pretty early to rest up for festival day.

Breakfast in an important meal on beer festival day

Saturday morning donned overcast as we headed back to Geaghan’s Pub for breakfast and a few pre-festival brews. There seemed to be a few other groups pre-gaming at Geaghan’s plus a number of families out on a Saturday morning. I half expected someone to come up to us and exclaim “I recognize you from the toilet!” but Merideth and I were able to enjoy our breakfast in peace.

I think the beer gods, realizing that I had a long day ahead, made sure the higher ABV Smiling Irish Bastard was out. I joined Merideth and ordered the session Pub Ale.

A huge plate of food, eggs, ham, bacon, toast and potatoes plus a couple of beers later, Merideth and I were ready to tackle the inaugural Tap Into Summer.

The festival was held right along the waterfront in two expansive tents. Fifteen Maine breweries were on hand to pour beer in a VIP and regular session. Food, from a local BBQ outfit, was included during the VIP session and for purchase after. There was even free ice cream with donations requested going to a local charity.

The Bangor Festival really lucked out with the weather. A few drops of rain at opening time didn’t deter the eager beer drinkers. This was the only rain on the day. Apparently, at the Whoopee Pie Festival (Yes, you read that correctly) about 40 miles west of Bangor, it rained heavily.

A great crowd for the first ever Tap Into Summer!

We had our own table where Merideth signed copies of her book, Teachings from the Tap. It was an enjoyable afternoon talking beer travel with the Mainers and even a few Canadians who made the journey across the border. Most pleasing to us were the people who came up just to thank us for our support of Maine beer and the Bangor festival.

There were several breweries we were familiar with like Baxter, Geary’s, Sebago and Gritty’s, plus the ones we visited the previous day. Others, like Andrew’s Brewing, Sheepscot Valley and Kennebec River were brand new to us. Merideth’s first beer of the day was her favorite from our travels from the day before, Humble B from Penobscot Bay. I went with Geaghan Brothers Glide, a 6.5% ABV Single Hop IPA making its debut during the VIP Session. An all Columbus brew, Glide would be my go-to beer on the day and my vote for beer of the festival.

A happy festival attendee…

Other beers that caught my fancy:

  • Mountain Man – Penobscot Bay Brewing
  • Cask IPA – Sea Dog Brewing
  • Frye’s Leap IPA – Sebago Brewing
  • Bear Naked Black Lager – Kennebec River Brewing

Post-festival, we ended up at the nearby Sea Dog brewpub with Kerrie, her husband Andy, some co-workers plus a few volunteers to wind down and celebrate. In the end, this portion of our trip wasn’t just about seeing family and helping out. For two days, we felt part of the greater Bangor beer community, doing all we could to make the inaugural beer festival a success. Congratulations to everyone who worked much harder than we did to make Tap Into Summer! a great celebration of Maine beer.

View all our Bangor and Festival images…


Quick Stop in Portland

“So you’re going to Portland?! I LOVE Oregon!”

“Yeah, we do too, but we’re not going to THAT Portland…”

Our Portland tradition…

This trip, we headed to the East Coast. And our first day’s agenda had us doing a quick afternoon in one of our favorite cities. Yes, THAT Portland.

We started things off with a bite of lunch at J’s Oysterhouse in the Old Port area. A bit touristy perhaps, but no trip to Portland would be complete for us without it. We prefer sitting outside, but on this nice sunny day, everyone else did, too. Nothing could deter us from getting our afternoon off right, though, so seats at the bar suited us just fine. Besides, there could be nothing better than a lobster roll and Allagash White to get us ready for our walking beer tour of the city.

From J’s, Bunker Brewing was only a 20-minute walk into the East Bayside area of the city. Housed in a small red brick building, Bunker is a hidden gem. On the day we went, they had 3 beers to sample. However, our host informed us that they have brewed around 30(!) different beers in the 17 months since they opened.

Enjoying the Pils at Bunker

Our three choices were Holdfast Black Ale (nicely brewed with a heavy roast flavor), Black Pearl (a surprisingly mellow yet robust smoked oyster stout) and Machine, a tasty Czech Pils with a pronounced grainy/bready character.

The weather was sunny and pleasant, which made the darker beers tough to choose. We both enjoyed our Pils served in the ever-popular mason jar out on their deck. With such a deep recipe book, chances are you may not taste the same beers twice during a visit to Bunker and you’re bound to find one you like.

We highly anticipated our next stop, Rising Tide Brewing. They had expanded since our last visit to Portland in 2011 and it is now conveniently located right around the corner from Bunker. It’s always nice to see good breweries grow.

The new Rising Tide…

Our last visit included watching owner/brewer Nathan Sanborn standing over a large homebrew kit stirring his brew. We couldn’t sample the beer that time, which meant the brewery was not added to The List. We simply chatted with Nathan, bought a few bottles and left. During this visit all that would change!

We walked into the new brewery to see Nathan off in the corner of the good-sized warehouse peering into his kettle. What a difference 2 years can make! Rising tide had 6 beers going, including Daymark and Ishmael, the two beers we were already familiar with. Joining the line-up were Spinnaker (German-style Hefeweizen, 4.5%), Maine Island Trail Ale (American Pale Ale, 4.3%), Thing Two (a new pilot Roggenbier), and Zephyr (IPA, 7.2%).

Plenty to chose from at Rising Tide…

Tasting room manager, Stasia, was very friendly and helpful as we sampled the beers. I especially enjoyed Spinnaker and Chris, of course, leaned toward Zephyr. The Maine Island Trail Ale was also tasty and we bought a few bottles to bring home. The beer was described as a “hoppy American ale.” I found it to be a refreshing balance of malt backbone with accents of pine and citrus. The other great thing about the beer is that it celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Maine Island Trail Association, a group dedicated to combining access with stewardship of Maine’s wild islands. A portion of proceeds benefit the Maine Island Trail Association, so you can drink great beer while contributing to a great organization. There were so many exciting things about this visit to Rising Tide, but the most special of all is that it was finally added to The List, #808.

In’finiti Fermentation & Distillation

With a music duo and a food truck out front, it was hard to leave Rising Tide, but we scheduled a meet up with the guys from the Maine Brew Bus at In’finiti Fermentation & Distillation back in the Old Port area.

In’finiti is the sister brewery/distillery to Novare Res, the famed awesome beer café in Portland. There we hooked up with Zach and Don from the Maine Brew Bus, the original beer tour company in Portland. We discussed beer growth and politics over pints of In’finiti’s Mar-Gose-Rita (a traditional Gose) and their Belgian table beer. Both were very tasty. They also had the Blk Abt (Belgian Royal Stout), War Dark, and Rauchbier on, but without a taster set available we didn’t get a chance to taste these.


In’finiti feels a bit upscale and pretentious, but is still very comfortable. The décor is beautiful—from the shiny brew kit and distillery to the repurposed furniture. The food was also good. We were told we HAD to try the chicarrones, which, as basically fried pork belly bits, did not disappoint. I also got a taste of a green hummus-type dip with flatbread, which was also very good.

We especially enjoyed talking with the Maine Brew Bus guys and their significant others. Super nice guys, they are very knowledgeable about beer, Maine beer in particular, and Portland beer history, which I thought made for especially good beer tour guides. Be sure to check them out when you visit Portland.

After our time with Zach and Don, we were on the move again to the last stops on our quick trip to Portland.

Finishing the night at Novare Res

We swung by J’s again for our second lobster meal of the trip before ending our evening at Novare Res, an absolute must stop during any visit to Portland, Maine. We had yet to drink some Maine Beer Company beer, so a stop at Novare Res guaranteed that we’d be able to do so. We enjoyed a bottle of Another One and Weez, as well as several other tasty beers whose names I cannot recall right now. You know what beer travel is like and this was one of those blurred evenings…

We tried to make an early night of it, as we had come into town on a red eye flight and were operating on only a few hours sleep. With such an amazing beer list, that’s no easy feat at Novare Res, but we did manage to tear ourselves away from the bar at a reasonable hour. Besides, we needed our beauty sleep before our first ever live TV interview the next morning at 6:30am.

View all the images from our day in Portland

Kicking Off Festival Season in Paso

Due to a beer schedule conflict, we missed the inaugural Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival last year. Hearing many good reports from the first edition, Merideth and I didn’t want to miss the second installment. Mainly because we would never hear the end of it from Fran.

Glass waiting to be grabbed.

On a very warm early Saturday afternoon, Merideth and I, plus our friend Carlo, climbed out of our comfortable, air-condtioned vehicle at the Paso Robles Event Center. As we walked the length of the long line to find our spot at the back, we stopped and chatted with a few friends along the way. Despite the heat, the crowd was animated and chipper, patiently waiting for the opening bell.

These days, Merideth and I appreciate more and more a well-run, well-organized festival. For us, a hallmark of such a festival is how quickly the eager beer drinkers get to drink beer. About a half-hour before opening, the gates were opened, tickets were checked, programs and glasses were handed out. Once through we were held in a pen waiting for the top of the hour.

Like many people, we perused the program while waiting to be freed. With the heat, Merideth and I knew we were going to drink as much session beer as possible. Flipping the pages, we identified all the sub 5% ABV beers we might want to try.

The line for Dark Lord

A few minutes early, the festival opened. Like Christmas shopping mothers after cabbage patch dolls at Walmart, the crowd surged towards the Three Floyd’s booth at the back of the festival grounds. OK. I exaggerate a bit. It was more of a calm rush with an orderly queue forming. By the time we walked in, it stretched across the festival grounds.

I have to admit, I don’t get the Dark Lord mania (Yes, I have tried it). With so many great beers to drink, waiting in a long line in 100° heat for close to a fifth of the festival for one beer doesn’t make sense to me. There was one positive aspect of the Dark Lord craze for the rest of the festival goers. It kept a large number of people out of circulation. Once it blew, queues appeared for food and breweries that didn’t exist previously.

A lot good beer at
the Firestone Walker Invitational…

While in the pen, we also identified our first beer, Nebraska Brewing’s Apricot au Poivre Saison. Conveniently one of first booths, we quickly each had a pour of what would be my beer of the day. I love beers brewed with black pepper and spiciness of the Saison played very well with the pepper bite.

We spent the next couple of hours doing laps in the expansive festival grounds, coveting shade, misters and the big vineyard fans. Eating and drinking along the way, we would occasionally halt our wanderings to talk with friends. Recommendations for food and beer were usually exchanged and the typical response was “Is there a line?”

Here are some of my favorites beers at the festival:

  • Apricot au Poivre Saison / Nebraska Brewing
  • Zwickelbier / Trumer Brauerei
  • Paradise Road Pilsner /Figueroa Mountain Brewing
  • Saison / Funkwerks
  • Cabrillo Kölsch / Golden Road Brewing
  • Small Talk / Triple Rock Brewery
mmmm….. cupcakes….

The food maybe was the highlight of the day. Included in the price, the fare wasn’t your normal festival deep-fried and sugar-laden food. Local restaurants and caterers provided a cornucopia of wonderful small plates to enjoy while sampling the beers. Highlights included avocado ice cream, pull-porked sandwich, beer-infused gelato, Moroccan chicken lettuce wraps, and a yummy Paella. But the stars were the beer cupcakes, four flavors to choose from. Merideth and I tried all four, several times each I think.

A little past the half way point of the festival, we decided to call it a day. We were enjoying the beers, the food and seeing friends, but the heat was getting to us a bit. Admittedly, I was also tired of rubbing elbows with so many sweaty people. We traded the bustle of festival for the cool and quiet Barrelhouse Brewery tasting room.

We heard a lot of hype about the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival and kudos to Firestone Walker for living up to it.

View all the images from our day in Paso Robles…