Chowdah, Lobstah and Bee-ah

Not sure why we started keeping track of the breweries we visit. It’s not like either of us are obsessive list freaks. But back in the early 90s, we decided after visiting a few dozen breweries to keep a list. The pace the first 15 years was a bit leisurely. In that time we visited 300 breweries. But with the frenetic pace of the last several years, we were on the brink of reaching the 500 milestone.

A cat boat in Belfast harbor
A cat boat in Belfast harbor

In planning our trips for this year, we knew it was going to be sometime in 2009 when we reached 500. But when we finalized this Maine trip back in April, it was hard to predict that the Pine Tree State would be where we reached this lofty plateau.

It was only after our Germany trip in July that the ducks looked like they were lining up. Given our love for New England, we were pleased that Maine was the location for our special  moment. A redeye from San Francisco had us in Boston early Thursday morning and we quickly headed north to Maine.

The focus of the trip was Maine’s largest city, Portland. However, the first day’s itinerary was comprised of three breweries located west and north of the city.

Brays Brewpub in Naples, ME
Bray’s Brewpub in Naples, ME

First up was Bray’s Brewpub in Naples. Located on the shore of Long Lake, Bray’s is housed in a charming 120 year-old farmhouse. They must do a fairly good business during the season, as evidenced by a nice sized beer garden with it’s own bar.

We settled on a slow start for the day by splitting a taster set of six brews. With its small-town New England atmosphere, Bray’s was one of those places that I really wanted to be good. But unfortunately, the beer didn’t match up to the cozy feeling of the place.

Enjoying a Ex Wife Extra Bitter on cask at the Liberal Cup
Enjoying an Ex-wife Extra Bitter on cask at the Liberal Cup

With our taster set finished, we were back on the road heading northeast towards Maine’s capitol, Augusta. Our destination was the nearby town of Hallowell, home of the Liberal Cup brewpub. In my planning for this trip, I was told by someone at the Maine Brewers Guild that the Liberal Cup shouldn’t be missed on our beer trip to Maine.

Located on the main drag of Maine’s smallest city, the Liberal Cup had a nice small town feel. The bartender was chatting with friends as we took our usual seat at the bar.

Ordering a taster set, we were pleased to find the beers much more to our liking. Despite two of the five selections being lagers, there was a very English feel to the brews. Being a cask fiend, I ordered a pint of Ex-wife Extra Bitter, a decision I didn’t regret. Merideth chose the Alewife Ale.

We chatted with the bartender as we enjoyed our beers. I also tried a bowl of their fish chowder, which I found very tasty. We could have spent much more time at the Liberal Cup but we had people to meet at our next stop so we moved on.

The lobster haul in Belfast
The lobster haul in Belfast

We headed to Belfast, a quintessential coastal New England town. Belfast was also home to Marshall Wharf Brewery and it’s sister restaurant and pub, Three Tides. After we arrived, we took a quick walk down by the docks breathing the fresh salt air and watched some lobstermen unload their boat. Lobster was the second thing we came to Maine for and it was good to see it had to travel only a few yards to get to the plate.

Tug Pale Ale at Marshall Wharf
Tug Pale Ale at Marshall Wharf

Early for Three Tides, we went into the brewery tasting room located next door to the restaurant to try the beer. Given the amount of boating/beach supplies in the tasting room, I gather they do a fair amount of business during the season supplying vacationers with everything they need, including growlers of craft-brewed beer.

There were four beers to sample in the tasting room ranging from a Pale Ale to a Stout. Their IPA was called Big Twitch. The woman tending the taps described it as “their light IPA.” We got a big kick out of this as Big Twitch came in at 9% ABV. However, their Imperial IPA available at Three Tides, Cant Dog, only registers a mere 10% ABV. The star of the show was Pemaquid Oyster Stout. Pemaquid is a nearby peninsula known for its mussels and oysters and 10 dozen Pemaquid oysters go in each batch of the Oyster Stout. And yes, I do think the oysters give the brew a briny character.

My 98 point play
My 98 point play

We met my cousin Kerrie and her husband Andy for dinner at Three Tides. While we waited for the pair to arrive, we ordered some beers and started a game of scrabble. During these compressed trips, we haven’t had time to enjoy our passion.

Merideth took control of the game pretty early with her play of  words containing the letters J, Q and Z. I sensed that it wasn’t my day until suddenly the scrabble gods smiled upon me. I played all my letters on a triple letter score. 98 points!  I took a commanding lead but it was all for naught. Kerry and Andy walked in after my brilliant play and we quit the game.

Oysters and Oyster Stout
Oysters and Oyster Stout

Chatting with Kerry and Andy we settled in and ordered food. I’m not a big beer-food pairing guy but the pairing of fresh local oysters and Oyster Stout was heaven for me.

Merideth enjoyed her lobster and Illegal Ale-ien, a 6.7% ABV Kölsch/Wheat hybrid. Andy, a native of Maine, was a little frustrated watching a Californian wrestle the meat out of the lobster shell. After a few minutes of  watching Merideth try to figure out the tail, Andy offered to help with some instructions. In no time, Merideth had the tail meat out and dipped in drawn butter. That was a good lobster!

Like our visit with Kerrie and Andy almost two years ago in Portsmouth, NH, this was way too short. But we had a bit of a drive back to Portland, so we parted company.

Cantillion Iris at Novare Res Bier Cafe
Cantillion Iris at Novare Res Bier Café

We arrived in Portland a little before 9pm and despite taking a redeye, we still had some life in us. We checked into our hotel and walked to Novare Res Bier Café.

Set back from a main street in the Old Port, Novare Res was a bit hard to find but well worth it. Entering its cave-like bar, you immediately get the feeling that you are in some place special. This feeling was confirmed after perusing the large and impressive beer list.

We hooked up with the crew of, Caleb, Corey and Josh. Over a few beers including  Cantillion Iris, Stone Vertical Epic 2009 and the Brooklyn version of Hopfenweisse, we talked about the Maine beer scene. It was a fine ending to a good first day in Maine.