There’s a lot more to Maine beer than what’s going on in Portland. A lot. But how do you visit and check out what’s going on in craft beer when the breweries are all so spread out, and trend towards rural, hard-to-reach locations? Well, you get a few friends together and you plan some day trips. I’ve put together some combinations that are do-able in a day – and can make for some fun beer adventures. This post is the first in a series of four, which will post every other week on Fridays.
Warning: Some of these trips involve a significant amount of driving in-between locations. Because drinking and driving is never a good idea, I strongly recommend that you bring a designated driver with you to ensure that you are enjoying this adventure safely.
Total stops: 3 - Round trip mileage from Portland: 53 miles
There are more reasons to visit Freeport than to take your picture in front of the L. L. Bean boot – and it has turned into a little hub of interesting beer and alcohol related stops. This trip has three stops, two in Freeport and one a few minutes north in Brunswick. As a bonus, the Amtrak Downeaster services both cities, so you could also try taking the train for a change of pace.
Hours: Open from 11am – 1am 7 days a week
On a nice spring day, what more could you want to do than to drink some beer and eat some pub food outside on a deck in the sunshine? Located right on Route 1, the Gritty McDuff’s offers both with no fuss, no pretense, and at a pretty reasonable price. Each of the Gritty’s locations do a little brewing, and this location is responsible for the 22oz bottles of seasonal beers. However, occasionally there are interesting variations not available in the bottles on tap here, so that’s something fun to watch out for. You might want to start off your beer journey with a little food as well. The wings here are pretty dang good, and so are the sweet potato fries.
Tips, tricks and notes: Always ask what’s on cask. Usually they’ll have both the casked version and the regular version available – I love ordering them side by side and trying to tease out the differences.
Hours: 12-7pm Tuesdays-Saturdays, 12-5pm Sundays. Closed Mondays
Now that you’ve had a few brews and some food, it’s time to take a little trip down the road to Maine Beer Company. This space, which replaces their previous location in Portland, was built just for the tasting and brewing of their beer. They’ve managed to create an effortless tasting space – with community tables, slate sample trays, and a “just right” size. They also have a couple of board games and Jenga on hand, which is a fun way to pass the time while sampling the brews. They usually have their regular beers on to be tasted as well as a few pilot or collaboration batches. They have a few snacks on hand, but usually I just stick with the beer. There are no tours to speak of, but you can peer down into the brewery from the tasting room.
Tips, tricks and notes: Go for the pilot batches. These can sometimes turn into the hard-to-find one-off releases – and you’ll be ahead of the crowd with some advanced information. Slightly risky – I mean, you can’t predict what they’ll come out like – but have you ever tried a Maine Beer Company beer that wasn’t at least a high quality beer? Me neither.
Hours: Mondays – Wednesdays from 3:00 – 11:00pm and Thursdays-Sundays 11:30am – 11:30 pm
I discovered this place when it used to be “The Lion’s Pride” but not many people I know have made the short trip to Brunswick to visit Ebenezer’s Brewpub. I drove past it one summer day in July and decided to stop in. I was greeted by a huge variety of beer and super knowledgable staff. My favorite thing other than the beer? The Belgian frites. So. Good. So when they announced that they’d be turning into a brewery after a couple years of trying, I was all for it – as long as they kept the fries. They have. The new brewery (Lively Brewing) features several different beers on tap at a time (last time I was there, there were 6 different beers) and span several styles. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed some of their hoppier beers, as well as an excellently executed Extra Special Bitter or ESB. While it may be a bit challenging to predict what they will be brewing on any given visit, the pride that they have in their beer is obvious.
Tips, tricks and notes: If Michael LaCharite (the brewer) is hanging out behind the bar, ask him what he recommends. He’ll glowingly describe his favorites (which probably are a majority of them) but is also very keen to pick brews that you may enjoy . If you are unsure about ordering a beer, ask for a small taste, and they’ll provide a sip for you to make up your mind.
The three of these stops combined shows off different aspects of Maine craft beer – a well-established part of Maine beer history, a successful brewery that continues to expand, and a newly-opened brewpub celebrating the best of beer and food. If you’re in the mood to tour some Maine beer, these stops should certainly make your list.