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.
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]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.