Thursday April 17th 2014

Historic meets alcoholic: Maine Cocktail Tours

By: Shannon Bryan

Neil Dow didn’t do Portland’s cocktail scene any favors. That teetotaler ran the booze right out of Maine with his not very martini-friendly “Maine Law” back in 1851.

Once prohibition was rightly repealed, the liquor poured back into Maine (we’re pretending people abided by the law, which many didn’t. Fight the man, Maine!) It came back in shots and flasks, and then it came in piña coladas. And the people were happy.

But it’s taken a long 160 years for cocktails to become a local craft – something more complex than the apple martini of our twenties. Something created, not poured from a half-frozen bag and tinted a painfully artificial red.

Local Noah Love believes the time for craft cocktails is here. The Portland native is the founder of Maine Cocktail Tours, a walking tour of Portland bars that highlights our city’s alcoholic history. And yes, there will be cocktails.

“The food scene [in Portland] is exploding. The craft cocktail scene is right behind it,” said Love. “It’s a natural progression. The cocktail scene not only accompanies it, it becomes its own thing.”

Slated for its inaugural tour on May 1, Maine Cocktail Tours will lead small groups for thirsty and curious cocktail fans through the streets of Portland. The tour will begin at City Hall, where that Father of Prohibition Neil Dow once kept a stockpile of rum, much to the dismay of local citizens. (Okay, they were probably more than a little dismayed. Rum Riot, anyone?)

It’ll meander down to Commercial Street, “where the city started,” said Love, and where a rum-seeking passerby might buy a swig of rum from a flask hidden in a local’s boot.

And along the way, the tour will stop inside five Portland bars and taverns to appreciate the journey booze has made in this city. And they’ll appreciate it by drinking it.

Love thinks people are ready to appreciate the evolving craft of the cocktail itself, too.

“Everyone’s getting interested in trying better bourbon than, say, Jack Daniels,” he said. “They’re paying attention.”

Even cooler, the cocktails served on the tour will be the bartender’s own unique creation – often a cocktail not typically on the drink menu, meaning tourgoers will get a drinking glimpse into cocktails that other people never get. The bartenders will also have a chance to talk about their craft, their cocktail, and anything else they’d like to share to a captive and contentedly drinking audience.

Love is keeping quiet about which watering holes are on the official tour, but he said the stops could range from Grace Restaurant to Sonny’s (so many infusions!) to Andy’s Old Port Pub (a hidden cocktail gem, according to Love).

And while the regular tours will be geared toward tourists (remember the tourists?) he’ll also host twice-monthly Shaker Nights just for locals.
Shaker Nights will be less about the history and more about what’s happening right now in our own bar backyard.

“We’ll let the bartenders experiment on us,” said Love. “Maybe we’ll shake up a bar,” and show up unannounced.

Tourists and locals alike will drink – legally and in public – and they will be happy.

Take that, Neil Dow.

The Tours

2.5-hour walking tours, beginning at City Hall and stopping at five local bars. The cost is $49 and includes all drinks (and wisdom). Drinks won’t be full-sized, to help keep tourgoers from– ahem – over-appreciating and making bad “I’m on vacation” decisions.
Tours will run 1 pm and 4 pm on Fri, Sat, Sun and 4 pm Mon-Thur, beginning on May 1
FMI: www.mainecocktail.com and on Facebook