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.