Since last summer, there’s been a growing buzz surrounding Bangor-area breweries. Every time I scroll through my Twitter feed it seems like there’s a hip beer event, an innovative beer release or a new brewery opening in Maine’s third largest metropolitan area.
As summer approaches with her siren song of road trips, Bangor’s burgeoning brew scene is the perfect destination for craft beer lovers. Whether you want to brewery hop before the Phish concert at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion or make a stop on your way to Acadia, a lush craft beer experience awaits.
On a brilliant day in April, I hopped in my car with my wife and 10-month-old son and zipped up I-95 to explore the anatomy of one of Maine’s most vibrant beer scenes.
After the two-hour drive from Portland, our first stop is the new brewery and tasting room of Geaghan Brothers Brewery across the bridge from Bangor in Brewer. (For humanity’s sake, I’m suppressing all brewing/Brewer puns.) Though GBB has been brewing since 2011 in its Bangor brewpub, its Brewer facility began beer production last June and the tasting room opened in October. This expansion saw a 12-fold increase in output.
The Brewer tasting room has an inviting warehouse-chic feel with concrete floors, warm woods around the bar and a great view of stainless steel brewing tanks. In warm weather, a garage door swings open, making the room feel spacious. On my visit, Ryan Power, one of the head brewers, takes me through Geaghan’s approach to American-style beers.
Their flagship Smiling Irish Bastard is an American ale with a spicy, clean citrus flavor. Their X2 double IPA is a superbly hopped beer, gushing with tropical fruit flavor from the use of seven different hops. Even the Bangor Brown ale has a striking hop bouquet.
After saying our goodbyes to the Geaghan Brothers crew, we head down the road to Blank Canvas Brewery. Located in a small brick building on Center Street in Brewer, Blank Canvas is a nanobrewery run solely by Stephen Genthner. Don’t be fooled by the small brewing system; Genthner knows how to brew superb craft beer. A former brewer at Allagash, Genthner explains that he is not a hop-forward brewer; instead, he likes to play with different ingredients to bring out unique flavors in his beer.
He pours me a Sidamo Brown Ale brewed with Ethiopian coffee beans. This beer is a rich symphony of coffee and caramel notes. Next, I sample the Maine Made Pale, an American ale brewed with all Maine-sourced ingredients. This beer scratches two of my strongest itches: It’s a delicious pale ale and it’s 100 percent local.
If you visit in the summer, be sure to try the Rhubarb Kolsch, a local favorite. The Golden Cranberry Witbier is also a satisfying summer beverage.
Before leaving Brewer, we stop at Mason’s Brewing Company, on the Penobscot River directly across from Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion. When I visit, the 6,000-square-foot brewery is still under construction, but standing in the half-built brewpub, it’s clear owner and brewer Chris Morley has a grand vision. The long bar is constructed from deep amber woods and bourbon barrels. The outdoor patio is sprawling.
The now-open brewery features a number of craft beers from farmhouse ales to American ales to stouts to porters. Its brewpub offers an elevated tapas menu and thoughtfully crafted beer.
Our Brewer beer tour now complete, it’s time to make the 10-mile drive to Orono – first stop, Orono Brewing Company.
Founded in 2014 in the basement of a former Mason’s hall, Orono Brewing Company features a lineup of artfully crafted beers from brewmaster Asa Marsh-Sachs. The tasting room is a cozy space boasting a long bar, snug benches along the wall and a record player spinning eclectic tracks.
The beer at OBC is very impressive. When you visit the Main Street brewery, I’m confident you’ll agree. Its flagship beer is White Nitro Cream Ale. This drinkable ale is served on nitro and has the silky mouthfeel often found in stouts.
For my palate, Marsh-Sachs’ hoppy pale ales and IPAs are what make OBC a standout brewery. Kablam! IPA is a volcanic eruption of citrus aroma and flavors while touting an extremely clean malt bill. Work your way through a flight to get the true feel.
Our final brewery stop is a short walk away at Black Bear Brewery. First opened in 1995 as a small brewpub, the brewery has evolved over the past 20 years both in scale and brewing styles.
Black Bear has a welcoming, New England-style pub vibe with dark woods, a large open seating area and dartboards. Like many brewpubs, Black Bear features a wide range of styles.
As I work through a flight, the most striking beer is the Demon Stout. This classic stout boasts robust chocolate and roasted notes, and pairs nicely with the tasty pulled-pork slider that Moe’s BBQ supplies on Wednesdays.
For our last stop on this day trip, we drive into Bangor to have a final beer at Nocturnem Draft Haus. Known by some as the “Novare Res of the north,” Nocturnem is credited by most locals as opening up this area’s palate to the subtleties of craft beer.
As my wife, son and I lounge on the couches in the back room at Nocturnem, I’m already planning my next trip to the Queen City of the East to wade in the deep waters of this thriving beer destination.
IF YOU GO/QUAFFS TO WATCH
WHERE: 34 Abbott St., Brewer
HOURS: 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday-Friday, noon to 7 p.m. Saturday
MY PICK: X2 Double IPA (8.3 percent ABV)
WHERE: 71B Center St., Brewer
HOURS: 3 to 8 p.m. Friday, 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday
MY PICK: Sidamo Brown Ale (5 percent ABV)
WHERE: 15 Hardy St., Brewer
HOURS: Newly opened, check masonsbrewingcompany.com or call 989-6300.
WHERE: 20 Main St., Orono
HOURS: 3 to 10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 3 to midnight Thursday-Friday, noon to midnight Saturday, noon to 7 p.m. Sunday
MY PICK: Kablam! IPA (6.7 percent ABV)
WHERE: 19 Mill St, Orono
HOURS: 3 to 10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 3 to 11 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 to 11 p.m. Saturday
MY PICK: Demon Stout (4.9 percent ABV)
WHERE: 56 Main St., Bangor
HOURS: 3 to 11 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 3 to midnight Thursday-Saturday
ON DRAFT: Impressive lineup of beers from Maine and beyond