Hidden behind The Shop, the new oyster bar on Washington Avenue, Maine Craft Distilling makes you feel like you’ve walked into somebody’s backyard – minus the grass.
Adirondack chairs, a cornhole setup, fire pit, flowers, and a large grill help to make the environment casual and relaxed; the outdoor portion flows easily into the large interior. The main room has several communal tables, a visually stunning timber-backed bar, lots of space and a semi-private room off to one side which looks like a sauna, without the naked Finns. There’s even a small stage for live music.
The day before my friends and I visited Maine Craft Distilling, it had released brand-new cans of Blueshine Lemonade, so naturally that’s what we ordered. A sparkling drink that combines Blueshine (its original blueberry liquor) and homemade lemonade, it was the perfect way to welcome the gorgeous spring weather. Each can is $8, $1 of which goes to Full Plates Full Potential, a Maine nonprofit that works to end childhood hunger in the state.
In addition to the Blueshine Lemonade and another canned sparkling cocktail, the Maine Mule (rum and ginger), the menu also features the other spirits distilled on site: Alchemy gin, Black Cap vodka, Chesuncook (a botanical spirit made from carrots), Queequeg spiced rum, Ration rum and Sprigge gin.
Maine Craft Distilling offers tours and tastings and sells full bottles of all its products. The beautifully-crafted bottles are prominently labeled as having been “distilled in Portland, Maine,” making them an excellent present when visiting friends in other states.
In a welcome acknowledgment of the fact that not everyone wants liquor, there’s also a small selection of wine, craft beer on tap, its own apple brandy and a decent amount of unexpectedly good food (ranging from $5 to $12) prepared by a real chef. For $10 and under, there are several cocktails starring the house spirits, such as the cucumber- and habanero-infused Maine-garita.
As far as the food goes, the bartender won me over when, after telling me that they had run out of the ham that would normally come on my $7 sandwich, asked whether it would be okay if he just put extra bacon on it instead. Extra bacon? Be still, my beating, cholesterol-ridden heart!
But the real star of the non-alcoholic part of the show was the $5 order of fries, a large basket of ultra-thin potato strips seasoned and cooked to perfection. Had I been feeling more adventurous, I might have ordered the Korean chili fries, one of a handful of Korean-themed menu items. Other menu items include chowder, salad, deviled eggs, fried tofu, ribs, a burger, a few sandwiches and a kimchi hotdog.
I’m already looking forward to returning, with my eye on that carrot-based botanical spirit. After all, carrots are supposed to be good for eyesight, right?
WHERE: 123 Washington Ave., Portland
PHONE: (207) 699-4477
HOURS: 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; noon to 9 p.m. Friday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday
AMENITIES: Outdoor seating, live music, on-site distillery and retail sales, good food options, and (drum roll, please) a large parking lot with free parking
BOTTOM LINE: A great place to learn about distilling, spread out for a lazy brunch, pretend like you have a backyard, and listen to live music in a non-concert setting.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes
Angie Bryan is a former diplomat who is enjoying getting acquainted with her new home in Portland, one cocktail at a time.