On a trip to Asheville, North Carolina, five years ago, I took a photograph of a small sign tacked to a fence in a small up-and-coming neighborhood that simply said “Breweries” in its center, with arrows radiating around it in all directions. It seemed almost more of a metaphor than the directional sign it was intended to be.
I was astounded, at the time, to find six breweries in close proximity thriving in adjoining properties without conflict or apparent competition. But the same sign could now easily be installed on Portland’s Industrial Way.
What used to be a quiet neighborhood of office suites and light commercial warehouses has turned into a bustling and growing collection of breweries that attract thousands of visitors each week. While it may now seem like an obvious location to do some quick beer tourism or to spend an afternoon quenching your thirst, none of this would have been imaginable a short while ago.
A little history: The first brewery to seek residence in the area was also the first modern craft brewery in New England. D.L. Geary Brewing Co. incorporated in 1986, paving the way for all the breweries coming after it, and is still brewing in its original location. Allagash Brewing Co., pioneers in brewing Belgian beer styles, joined the neighborhood in 1995. Following that, there was a relatively quiet period as both breweries grew to meet the demand of their customers, but neither installed very much in the way of public-facing infrastructure.
In 2009, Maine Beer Co. took up a bay in a multi-unit, one-story building just across the street from Allagash. The following year, Rising Tide Brewing Co., another nanobrewery, took the space behind Maine Beer Co. in the same building. Both of these breweries have since left to find larger spaces, with Maine Beer moving to Freeport and Rising Tide starting a cluster of its own as the first to move into the East Bayside area of Portland.
Today, five breweries – Geary’s, Allagash, Foundation Brewing Co., Austin Street Brewery and Battery Steele Brewing – coexist on Industrial Way, which can easily serve as classroom for someone wanting to understand the Maine beer landscape. For those people, here’s my recommended syllabus:
Start with a nod to the trailblazers at Geary Brewing and enjoy a taste of Hampshire Special Ale. Once only brewed “when the weather sucks,” this is now available year-round, and remains a classic example of how English-style beer can be mastered.
When you arrive at Allagash you may have a hard time deciding what to order. If you want to continue to acknowledge the beers that had the most nationwide impact, then you can’t skip the White. For me, this is a beer that simply hits all of the marks – it is flavorful, interesting, and always impeccably executed. If you’re in a more daring mood, try any of the wild or barrel-aged offerings that are on tap in the newly-expanded tasting room.
Across the street at Foundation, there is never a shortage of style diversity, but for this walk through Maine’s brewing landscape, I recommend a taster of Epiphany. This flavorful and tropical double IPA put Foundation on the map and was among the first breweries to embrace the trend of emphasizing flavor over harsh bitterness that is more traditionally associated with hoppier ales.
Swing around to the back of the building to visit Austin Street Brewery and, if you are in the mood for something darker, reach for a taster of the Six Grain stout. The richness of this milk stout is intensely satisfying and stands out as a memorable drinking experience, especially in the winter.
Finally, round out your journey with Battery Steele, named by Rate Beer as Maine’s best new brewery of 2017. These brewers are producing what the newest beer-loving generation is after – the hazy and dry-hopped fruity IPAs. I recommend sampling an Avalon, a dry-hopped IPA, to get a true sense of what this formerly bitter style will evolve into in the near future.
If those choices aren’t enough, this spring, these breweries will be joined by newcomer Definitive Brewing Co. which plans to open in the building next door to Foundation, Austin Street and Battery Steele.
If the speed of turnover, growth and newcomers continues at this pace, this syllabus may rapidly become obsolete, which I think is a pretty good problem to have.