Once scarce, tasting rooms and tap rooms that are open to the public have become a part of Maine’s craft beer drinking culture.
A few years ago, when I started to tell people about how amazing Maine’s craft beer was, people from the West Coast would scoff at me and say, “Maybe, but you don’t even have any tasting rooms. You’ve got a long way to go on craft beer culture.”
I admit to being dumbstruck and thinking, “What’s a tasting room?”
By tasting room (or tap room), my friend meant a part of a brewery where you can get samples of beer, maybe a snack, and enjoy the beer. It’s not a a bar (most can’t/don’t serve full sized pints), it’s not a restaurant (there may be snacks, but no kitchen), and it’s not a table at the end of a brewery tour with samples on it. It’s a social space – one where you can have several small pours of beer while chatting with friends or playing a game of Cornhole, one where you can try multiple beers without having to commit to a six pack or pint of each.
Now, five years later, the idea of the tasting room has spread to Maine and is alive and kicking. Yesterday, D.L. Geary Brewing – Maine’s Oldest Brewery – opened a tap room to encourage brewery visits and take a more active role in the beer tourism that is growing in Maine. I’m calling this year the “summer of the tasting room” because of a few key additions, and expansions – as well as the general acceptance that tap rooms are here to stay.
A flight of beers at Allagash Brewing Company.
A fresh taster of Maine Beer Company Lunch at their Freeport tasting room.
The summer lineup of SeaDog beers at the brewpub in Bangor.
A nearly empty taster of Honeymaker mead at their Bayside tasting room.
Pouring fresh beer at Austin Street brewing.
The owners of Austin Street Brewery waiting to share their beer.
The entrance to Baxter Brewing Company's Lewiston tasting room.
A cosy indoor space at Oxbow Brewing Company in Newcastle
Tasty Oxbow Brewing Company beers on tap at Oxbow.
Re-purposed barrels make up the furniture in the newly-opened Barreled Souls Brewery in Saco.
1. Freshness: The beer at a brewery taproom has made a journey of a few feet or even inches to get from the brewery to your glass. If that isn’t fresh, I don’t know what is. I love visiting tasting rooms as soon as new beers are released – especially hoppy ones because they are as fresh as I’ll be able to get.
2. Information straight from the source: Do you think an employee at Hannaford is going to crack open a beer and give me a taste to see if I like it before I bring home a six pack? Do you think that guy at the sketchy 7-11 (you know the one I’m talking about) knows what kinds of hops are in a beer? Of course not. If you want to geek out about a beer, either hit up your local craft beer experts or go straight to the source. If the brewery employees don’t know the beers they are pouring, then it’s time to reconsider that brewery.
3. Daylight: Drinking on a sunny Saturday afternoon is a completely different experience than drinking at a bar late on a Friday night. At tap rooms, patrons socialize, there’s no pressure to drink to excess, you’re usually not surrounded by loud or belligerent people, and can carry on a conversation without shouting. It changes the tone of drinking from, “Let’s drink, wohoo!!!” to “Wow, I really like this new hefeweizen.”
4. Meet new people: Want to meet more people with common interests? How about the common interest that you like good beer and you’ve traveled to the brewery to get it? Sounds like a conversation starter to me. For those that are shy, I’ve found that the least awkward way to start a conversation with someone over beer is the question, “What are you drinking?”
5. Dogs are (probably) fine: You can’t bring dogs into most bars, but there are a lot of brewery tasting rooms that will allow well-behaved pups to join you while you hang out over a few beers. With anything, though, be sure that you (and the dog) are courteous of other visitors.
Do you have a favorite Maine tasting room? Tell me about your favorites in the comments. Cheers!