There’s something very beery happening in central Maine right now.
One of the things that makes Maine interesting is the contrast between its capital city, Augusta, and the largest cities: the cultural differences between its inland communities and coastal hubs.
At the beginning of Maine’s craft beer revival in the early 2000s, there was a swath of cities in the capital region left out of the beer boom. Many craft breweries chose the Portland, southern Maine or Bangor areas first, probably to chase the younger residents that would be most interested in their new styles of craft beer. Breweries began popping up in cities and coastal towns, all the while leaving a conspicuous hole in the map along the Interstate 95 corridor.
Augusta was without a brewery. And while Auburn is home to a Gritty McDuff’s Brewpub and the Liberal Cup is has been the pride of Hallowell, little new had joined the area – until recently.
This month, Auburn’s brewery count has been doubled with the addition Lost Valley Brewing Co. Located at the Lost Valley Ski Area, it opened at the beginning of March with literal fireworks – the first keg to kick was sent down the hill to celebrate (and over a jump, no less) on skis with flares attached. While their ski-themed beer supply was drained a bit after this first night, they hope to have their tanks and kegs refilled soon.
Lost Valley joins Gritty McDuff’s, Baxter Brewing Co. and Bear Bones Beer, creating a cluster of choices for beer fans. They are also buoyed by Craft Brew Underground, a friendly new beer bar in Auburn offering a broad bottle list and hard-to-find drafts, and The Vault, a wine and beer bottle shop in Lewiston that is brimming with cans of local beer.
Move up the highway a bit further and you’ll get to Gardiner, which is now home to its first brewpub, Two Gramps. This quirky brewery and restaurant opened this fall and has quickly become a place for local music as well as local beer, hosting local musicians nearly every week.
A bit further still, we arrive at Augusta. What used to be the center of the dead zone for craft beer has been transformed by the addition of its first brewery, Cushnoc Brewing Co. When I went to Cushnoc’s opening in October, I was impressed by the number of locals that came out, and those that came to thank the owners for taking a risk – for rehabilitating a building in the middle of the town, for creating a community hub where there wasn’t one before. The beer here, too, has stood up to scrutiny thus far, and has been both creative and solidly brewed. If you are feeling adventurous, order a Propelled by Gravity, a tart beer with peaches and apricots. If you want to fall in love with a go-to beer, get to know the Kresge, a Kolsch that’s drinkable all day long.
If you continue up the highway, you’ll reach Waterville, which, until this month, was also lacking a brewery. When I told a girlfriend that lives in Waterville that she’d soon have Waterville Brewing Co. in her back yard, the first word out of her mouth was, “Finally!” Waterville Brewing has been open on Fridays and Saturdays for the past few weeks, but check the hours on its Facebook page, as they are likely to change as the brewery fully opens up. With a few other beer-related projects rumored to be in planning (but not confirmed), Waterville might be on the way to building its own cluster in the same way that Lewiston/Auburn has.
While the coast-first brewery development may have served breweries at the outset, craft brewery audiences are becoming broader. People outside of the 21- to 35-year-old age bracket are looking for new opportunities to try new food and drinks, and find new places to socialize and bring their families. These missed communities are finally getting their chance to have these new experiences, thanks to five new breweries that have opened in the last six months. It appears that central Maine is on its way to getting its craft beer wishes fulfilled.
For me, as I updated a map of Maine’s ever-growing brewery scene, it felt satisfying to finally drop some pins in the heart of this region. I’m sure that feeling of satisfaction pales in comparison, however, to the local residents who are having the first sip of beer made in their own neighborhood.