You can’t sample beer at all of the Portland-area breweries in one day, and for health and safety reasons, you probably shouldn’t try. But what you can do is pick a brewery neighborhood to explore – and spend some time getting to know one of several “clusters” in the Greater Portland area.
Industrial Way and Yeast Bayside are the biggest – and choosing between them can be difficult, especially if you have only an afternoon to spare. While some have the breweries in closer proximity than others, each can be viewed as its own distinct neighborhood with its own quirks and attitudes.
Perhaps the best known is Industrial Way, also known as Riverside. Industrial Way is a small street in the Riverside neighborhood of Portland that is nearly always abuzz with visiting beer tourist traffic. All in all, six breweries (Allagash, Battery Steele, Foundation Brewing, Definitive Brewing Company, Austin Street, Geary’s Brewing) are nestled together here, making the location an easy place to spend an afternoon sampling brews. In the summer, this area can be difficult to navigate as bachelor parties and large groups of friends make their rounds from brewery to brewery. Even in winter, patrons pop in and out of the breweries that range from the large Allagash Brewing Company, with multiple buildings and scheduled tours, to the smaller garage-like space of Battery Steele Brewing, where the entire brewery is on display all at once. New England Distilling also has a facility in the area, so adding spirits to the lineup is possible, too.
Why would you pick Industrial Way? If you want to go to Allagash – arguably Maine’s most renowned brewery – this is where you’ll have to start. Because the breweries are very close together here, often only across the street or around the corner, it is easy to walk among them. The downsides to this area are the relatively limited food options because of its industrial/office park location (though food trucks are common) and its relative isolation from the rest of what’s happening in the Old Port and on the peninsula. The parking can be particularly challenging in the summer, so if you go, an Uber, Lyft or taxi is the way to get there.
Back on the peninsula, another brewery neighborhood is nicknamed “Yeast Bayside.” It is really just the lower portion of East Bayside, but since there were so many products being fermented there, the nickname stuck. In Yeast Bayside are Rising Tide Brewing Company and its new neighbor, a second location of Austin Street Brewery; Goodfire Brewing and Lone Pine Brewing, which are back-to-back in the same building; Urban Farm Fermentory (which features beer as well as kombucha, mead and cider), and just up the hill is Oxbow Brewing Company’s Blending and Bottling, the satellite tasting room location to its main brewery. Beer-wise, you’ve got just as many breweries here as Industrial Way, thanks to the recent addition of Austin Street. Maine Mead Works and Maine Craft Distilling also call this cluster home, so there’s a more diverse selection of beverages available for multiple tastes.
A major benefit to spending the day here is that the area is close to the foot of Munjoy Hill. Washington Avenue has restaurants that are satisfying after a long day of brewery hopping, so sit-down dinners are an option if food trucks aren’t your thing (though many of the breweries regularly host those as well). The downside is that these are a little more spread out, though still walkable. Parking is challenging, but if you use the “park and ride” just around the corner on Marginal Way, it’s a safe place to leave your car while you explore the area.
If you haven’t been to East Bayside in a while, it is worth a trip back for a couple of reasons. First, Austin Street’s new facility on Fox Street (on the same side of the street as Rising Tide) is well worth checking out. In addition to having much more space to have a seat than its Industrial Way location, the brewery expansion means that there will be more beers on tap, and some that are exclusive to that tasting room itself. The walls are light-colored, and it is built to feel big and open. From the windows, you can see the parking lot and outdoor seating at Rising Tide, and all the way up Munjoy Hill. When I stopped in to check the place out, I had a special version of Austin Street’s Six Grain, a rich and chocolately stout that was given even more depth through barrel aging.
There are a few more clusters that could be explored in the Greater Portland area, but their breweries are just far enough apart that you’d need transporation in between. If you have a designated driver, its well worth it to also check out the Gorham/Westbrook area, which includes the triangle of Sebago Brewing Company, Yes Brewing and Mast Landing Brewery, or head to Libbytown, which is home to both Bunker and Bissell Brothers. But if you’re really looking to get the greatest taste of Portland’s breweries, it may be best to stick to the two biggest hubs.