Everybody at Geaghan’s Brewery is a happy camper. From Lisa Sturgeon, the communications manager, to Ryan Power, the head brewer, to the rest of the crew. They all sported big grins when I visited recently.
And why shouldn’t they be smiley and happy? They work at a brewery, they make beer, they work for beer, they drink beer for work! They have the best jobs on the planet, I swear.
A fresh batch of beer was brewing when I ducked into Geaghan’s new production facility in Brewer. Mmmm, beer. Hops, malt, grains. The smell of good beer. I was in heaven.
Geaghan’s is one of close to 70 stops on the Maine Beer Trail, along which you’ll find Maine’s best craft breweries and brewpubs, plus plenty of good food and fun company.
I traveled up to the Bangor area to do some exploring at Field’s Pond Audubon Center in nearby Holden, where several miles awaited. The snowshoeing was tremendous and the cold air refreshing, both of which contributed to a serious thirst and hunger. Geaghan’s was my chosen respite.
(Read my recent introductory story about the Maine Beer Trail and hiking here: Fun hikes, good brews along the Maine Beer Trail).
Shiny stainless steel tanks, hoses, pipes, dials, switches, cases stacked high, bottles clanking. Smiling Irish Bastard was today’s product, and lots of it. To be kegged or bottled, that’s what this place is all about. Pretty much all the equipment I was looking at was manufactured right here in Maine. Very cool.
Across the Penobscot River in Bangor, that’s where Geaghan’s brews the beers that run through the taps at the bar, Geaghan’s Pub, my next stop.
A tour of the Brewer brewing hub was on tap, but before we could get very far I was directed to the stainless steel bar, which serves as the tasting room when it’s open (Thurs and Fri nights from 5-9, Sat 12-7). A glass of Smiling Irish Bastard was thrust into my hand and all then was well with the world.
I raised my glass in deference to the beer gods, clinked glasses and thanked my hosts, and drank up. Mighty fine it was indeed.
Smiling Irish Bastard is one of 16 craft offerings at Geaghan’s right now. The Bastard is an American Strong Pale Ale, copper-colored, moderate on the maltiness, and a hint of grapefruity flavor. More that all that, it’s really good.
MEET THE BREWER IN BREWER
Ryan Power has the look of an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, young with a scruffy bearded face. He could’ve been any one of the hikers out on the trail last year with me on the way from Georgia to Maine (“Beerman,” A.T. GA to ME 2015). Power has been brewing beer since he was 17. Now 25, he’s moved up from assistant brewer to head brewer here at Geaghan’s. Good work mistah.
“From grain to glass, it takes 16 days + 1 to make the ales,” said Power. “For the lagers, it’s 35 days + 1.” The one day is for bottling. Today is a hectic day, noted Power. “We’ve had a pump down.”
As many times as I’ve read about it and taken brewery tours, I’m still woefully ignorant of the brewing process. The bottom line for me is that I just love beer. Any beer. All beer. How and why and where is good stuff to know, but I like to focus on the more important part of the process: drinking the beer.
Standing up on a platform amid three 1,800-gallon stainless steel tanks, Power made it easy for me. “This one is hot. This one’s cold. This last one is the finished beer.” OK, that much I can understand.
Geaghan’s started up this Brewer operation last May, Lisa Sturgeon noted. “In only seven months we’ve gone statewide with our distribution. It’s a big accomplishment.”
Craft beer accounts for 9% of beer sales in the U.S., according to Sturgeon, so there’s plenty of room for growth. “The beer community is very friendly and real supportive.”
Craft beer got its start in 1986 when David Geary started brewing in Portland. The industry took off through the rest of the 80’s and through the 90’s. Business leveled off and even dropped after that, but in the last five years, craft brewing has seen a resurgence, with more and more brewers coming online and more of us getting out there and enjoying good beer. And Geaghan’s is good beer. No wonder then before we left Brewer, my wife sidled up to the register with a case of Smiling Irish Bastard. Nice!
MORE BEER AND SOME GOOD FOOD AT GEAGHAN’S PUB IN BANGOR
Over in Bangor I got to meet Geaghan’s assistant brewer, Donny Larrivee, who was busy working on a batch of Rye Ale. This part of the brewing operation makes all the draft beers.
“Winter is our play season,” said Larrivee. “We like to experiment.” Hence the Rye Ale today.
Asked what was the most popular of Geaghan’s beer, Larrivee said “Smiling Irish Bastard.” Yep, I’d vote for that too. The most popular draft? “The Refueler,” a smooth American-style wheat beer.
Larrivee brews one type of beer each day here, 155 gallons or 5 barrels’ worth (there’s 31 gallons in a barrel, 15 ½ in a keg).
Upstairs in the pub, Sturgeon, me, my wife, we settled into a booth. It’s been quite a few years since I’d last been in Geaghan’s Pub, which a really warm and comfortable place to enjoy a beer or two and some good chow.
The menu has all the pub food you could want, from apps to salads and soups to burgers and sandwiches to desserts. We decided on a couple orders of buffalo chicken wings and a flight of beers each.
Turns out, these were no ordinary chicken wings. They were, in fact, the best I’ve probably ever eaten. Boneless and lightly-breaded, these things were like crack. I couldn’t keep my fingers out of the basket.
I don’t know what was in the sauce, but it was damn good. If and when you go, ask for the “preferred wings” and you’ll get what I had. They’re not on the menu, you’ve got to request them. That said, I’ve got to figure that any of the sauces on the wings will be good, because the chicken itself is that delish.
On my flight of four tasters I enjoyed another Smiling Irish Bastard, for one. This was followed by an Old English IPA, a Lineman Pale Ale and a Bangor Brown. Mmmm. No complaints here.
Geaghan’s Pub has been a Bangor mainstay with a touch of an Irish flare since 1975. Geaghan Brothers Brewing Company began operation in 2011, brewing a full lineup of American-style beers. (And since St. Paddy’s Day is near, check out this story on other suggested hikes and Irish pubs: Whiskey in the jar’s worth a long hike).
VISIT, DRINK GOOD BEER, EAT UP, TAKE A TOUR, BUY SOME COOL BEER STUFF: Geaghan’s Pub & Brewery, Bangor and Brewer, 945-3730
EXPLORE THE MAINE BEER TRAIL: Download the Maine Beer Trail map and brochure here and have fun!
FIELD’S POND AUDUBON CENTER, 989, 2591
For more good reading on hiking and the Maine Beer Trail, go here: Hiking: On Maine Beer Trail, favorite pastimes collide.