“500!” is the latest episode of One Pint at a Time.
Our trip to Maine in October was the last of three successive quickie beer trips. Focusing on Portland, Maine’s largest city and brewing center, our goal was try a bunch of local beer, eat a lot of lobster and to reach the 500 brewery milestone. In our two day trip, we visited Maine’s craft beer pioneers as well as some of the newcomers.
So enjoy our first adventure in Maine…
For all the episodes of One Pint at a Time go to beergeekTV.
After our night (and early morning) at Novare Res, we were a bit slow to get moving on Saturday morning. I felt better than my little Spring Peeper but unfortunately, there was no sleeping in for either of us. We still had two more breweries in Maine before we headed back to Boston for a beer festival.
Our first stop, Shipyard Brewing’s production facility in Portland, was a big one for Merideth. I had been to Federal Jack’s, Shipyard’s original location in Kennebunkport, in 1995. Therefore, according to our rules, the Portland location didn’t count for me, but it did for Merideth. Once she tried their beer, she would be only two behind me.
It was a bit touch and go for moment. Shipyard was not a ‘drink first’ tour. It was a ‘watch a 20 minute commercial and then go see the bottling line first’ tour. Compounding our anguish was the tour guide. I am sure she is a really nice person, but she was bouncing off the walls. It didn’t help Merideth’s aching head.
We finally made it to the tasting room. Export Ale was first, followed by Chamberlain Pale Ale and then Old Thumper. Merideth was looking pretty green so we ended our Shipyard tour. But Merideth did catch one up on me.
A short drive down I-95 brought us to our second stop of the day, Run of the Mill Public House in the town of Saco. Housed in a beautifully restored old mill, exposed wood beams, wood floors and brick walls really added a nice feel to the brewpub.
I knew Run of the Mill was the sister brewery to the Liberal Cup but it was my understanding that they had different brews. Not true. Per our rules, it couldn’t count on the list. On the plus side, I did get to try the wonderful Tarbox Cream Stout which was out during our stop at the Liberal Cup.
We jumped back on I-95 South and our Maine visit was over. Within a short time we were back in Boston.
The original plan for our Boston evening was to visit a couple of our favorite places such as Cambridge Brewing, but when the chance to go to a beer festival on the final night of our trip arose, we couldn’t pass it up. After a quick dinner at the Barking Crab with a high school friend, we soon found ourselves in a trendy section of Boston’s South End standing in line for Beer Advocate’s “The Return of the Belgian Beer Fest”. Believe it or not, this was our very first beer festival on the East Coast. Not that we were worried or anything. We’ve been to punk shows on the East Coast so I figured we could handle anything the East Coasters could throw at us at a beer festival.
The session lasted three and a half hours so we had to work quickly. The obvious strategy was to try beers that we can’t get on the West Coast. So, what was my first beer? Lost Abbey’s Duck Duck Gooze. In my defense, we don’t get Lost Abbey in our beer backwater so it might as well have been an East Coast beer.
We quickly got back on the right track, trying our first ever beers from Haverhill Brewery (Haverhill, MA), Ithaca Brewery (Ithaca, NY), Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project (Cambridge, MA) and White Birch Brewing (Hookset, NH).
Plus there were brews from our favorite Boston breweries, such as Hophop, a Belgian-style Golden Ale from Harpoon and Biere du Gourd, a French Farmhouse Ale made with pumpkin from Cambridge Brewing. My favorite beer of the night: Brute from Ithaca Brewing, a Golden Sour Ale.
Just like at GABF, the time went quickly during our one session. Before we knew it, we were in a taxi on our way back to the airport hotel for a bit of sleep before our early morning flight back to San Francisco the next day.
I have to say we were pretty impressed by “The Return of the Belgian Beer Fest”. In the age of having to survive some of the mega beer fests, it is always nice to find a smallish manageable beer festival. No lines, plenty of personal space and good beer is what all festivals should strive for. Cheers to Jason and Todd for a fun time. It was a great way to end a wonderful trip.
We gained three breweries on the first day in Maine leaving myself at 498 and Merideth at 495. We had five Portland breweries on our itinerary for Friday. Thus, if all went well, we both would reach 500 on the same day. How romantic!
Our first stop on Friday was Maine’s newest brewery, Maine Beer Company. A partnership between brothers David and Dan Kleban, I learned about Maine Beer Co. from my contact at the Brewers Guild.
Located in an industrial park down the street from Allagash, we were at the door of the brewery bright and early for our 10am appointment. Finding David Kleban inside, he proceeded to give us a walk around the brewery and explained a little about Maine Beer Company.
The current brewery is tiny; three one-barrel kettles and one seven-barrel fermenter. After months of tweaking the recipe, their beer has been available since July. Well-received by the Portland beer community, it is now available throughout the area. The success of their rollout will hopefully lead to a larger capacity brewery in the near future.
The Kleban brothers’ desire was to make a beer that they like and hopefully, others would as well. Currently, they have one regular beer, Spring Peeper Ale; a Spring Peeper being a type of local frog. To say this beer was the surprise of the trip, would be an understatement. Bottle-conditioned, well-balanced with a nice hop aroma, Spring Peeper was Merideth’s favorite beer of the trip. I ranked it up near the top, too.
Next it was time for my big moment: my 500th brewery. We headed 50 yards up Industrial Way to Allagash Brewing for the 11am tour. I imagined a huge party with our fellow tour members, people slapping me on my back, shaking my hand and buying me rare bottles of Allagash beer. But the tour ended up being only Merideth and myself.
Big plus in our eyes, Allagash was a ‘drink first’ tour. Our host, Kate, poured us beers from the regular lineup; White, Dubbel, Tripel and Four. While we were sampling we introduced ourselves and explained that Allagash was my 500th brewery.
Second big plus in our eyes, after we had sampled the beers, Kate asked us if we wanted to still take a tour. We often don’t but I wanted to see the barrels so we opted to take the quick spin around the brewery. The barrel rooms were certainly cool and awe-inspiring but the highlight of the tour probably was the antique bottling machine that they currently use.
Returning to the Tasting Room, Kate disappeared for a few moments. I had visions of her finding me bottles of the rare and long sold out Gargamel as something to remember my 500th. Or maybe she was grabbing me some Vagabond that was being released in three days and would sell out in two hours. Neither of those happened. When she reappeared, she was with Rob Tod, who congratulated me on my achievement. That was certainly a memorable way to mark my important milestone!
After Allagash, our task was getting three more breweries so Merideth could join me in the 500 club. Our first stop was Sebago Brewing. They have three pub locations in the Portland area but all the brewing is done at a production facility just outside of Portland in Gorham. For it to count on the list, we needed to go there. We arrived 25 minutes prior to our appointment but Tom, our guide and Sebago Head Brewer, was nice enough to start a tad early.
Our tour began in the break room where tap handles were conveniently located. We tried two beers here, an absolutely stunning Midnight Porter and my favorite, Local Harvest Ale. This beer used all Maine hops, a mix of wet and kilned. As a West Coast hop head, I thoroughly enjoyed Local Harvest Ale.
We then walked around the brewery, your typical production brewery tour. But Tom had one more treat for us. They had just blended a barrel-aged Imperial Stout. We sampled this not yet carbonated chocolate and coffee bomb right from the tank. Wow!
After Sebago, we took a break from brewery tours to visit the famous beer bar, the Great Lost Bear. On the outskirts of town, the “Bear” is located on the way to the Allagash-Maine Beer Company-Geary’s brewery triangle. Starting with eight taps back in 1979, 30 years later, they now have 65 including 15 that are dedicated to Maine beers. Five of those are “Allagash Alley”, permanent handles for the brews from three miles up the road. Our beer trip to Maine had to include this Portland institution.
The Great Lost Bear reminded me a lot of Falling Rock Tap House in Denver and it wasn’t just the ambiance and patina. Like Falling Rock, the Bear was the epicenter of their regional beer scene.
I took the opportunity to try one of the four cask beers available, Boothbay Bitter from Sheepscot Brewery. Located north of Portland, we were unable to visit Sheepscot due to scheduling conflicts. Thus, I was happy to have the chance to try their brew. Merideth was happy with her Spring Peeper Ale, a trend that she would continue well into the night.
From one piece of Maine craft beer history we headed to another, D.L. Geary Brewing Company. Brewing since 1986, Geary’s was New England’s very first microbrewery. Alan Pugsley, now part-owner of Shipyard Brewing, helped in the setup of the brewery and the creation of their first beer, Geary’s Pale Ale.
In helping establish the brewery, Alan Pugsley, brought in Ringwood yeast. In our short time in Maine, we heard quite a bit about Ringwood yeast. An English yeast that imparts a buttery/diacetyl flavor, Ringwood is very prevalent in Maine.
Steve, one of the brewers at Geary’s, was our guide for our brewery tour. The English theme continued with the brick-clad kettles to the open fermentation. The one beer we got to try was their Autumn Ale, a very nice beer.
After Geary’s, we headed back to the Old Port for Merideth’s special moment. Gritty McDuff’s, another chain of brewpubs in South Maine, was to be Merideth’s milestone brewery. The downtown location was Maine’s first brewpub.
We took our normal position at the bar and ordered a taster set. Merideth was disappointed. I thought it was OK. I think there was several factors that led to her disappointment. First, I think she was a little tired and, I dare say, a little cranky. Plus, Gritty’s is another ringwood brewery and I think we were a bit tired of that flavor.
Before you feel sorry for Merideth, she did reach 500 breweries the same day as the love of her life. That’s something to cherish. Plus, she gets to spend her birthday this year in Australia. Last year it was Belgium.
Visiting breweries was done for the day so we headed back to Novare Res. We went to have a few beers and to do some filming. The plan wasn’t to spend seven hours there celebrating our milestone. But it happened. While sitting at the bar, we noticed David Kleban come in delivering some Spring Peeper Ale. Merideth was excited because now she could drink her favorite beer of the trip.
After David finished his delivery, he joined us. A member of Novare Res pint club joined us but his name now escapes me. I think it might have been Andrew. If he’s reading this, please email me, so I can give you your due credit for a fun time.
Later, owner Eric Michaud joined us. A few beers later, including half an Old Rasputin XII spilled on my shorts (Thanks David!), we were closing the place. It was a great way to way to celebrate 500 breweries.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 portlandtaps.com, 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.