Right now, I am sitting in my living room in a chair, with the small window-unit air conditioner aimed squarely at my back. The fact that my hair is blowing in my face as I am trying to type doesn’t phase me – at least the air blowing at me is cooler than the air in the rest of my apartment.
So, when a friend came up to hang around in Portland for a visit this past Sunday which was just as hot, I knew that my usual routine of aimlessly wandering around the Old Port wouldn’t do.
After a delicious lunch at Duckfat, we decided to turn towards the Bayside neighborhood, since I knew Urban Farm Fermentory (UFF) would be open for tastings that day. On a normal day, this would have been no problem at all. However, as the hill crested and flattened, we began to wilt in the heat. Though high-spirited, our pace continued to slow as we oozed down the street. When we walked in, we were greeted by a friendly employee and a few folks waiting to take a tour. However, it was just as hot inside as it was outside.
I listened, trying not to be distracted by my sweating, as the tour guide told us about the brewery and the process of making Kombucha (fermented tea) and cider. There were cutting boards with large pieces of chaga around, and the walls were painted in colorful hues. Everything also seemed to be in a state of flux. In a few months, UFF will be expanding over to a bay next door, which will then divide the brewery’s cider side from its Kombucha side. While I was fascinated to learn about the process (each batch of Kombucha is started from a previous batch’s starter, which inoculates the symbiotic bacteria/fungus arrangement that does the work of fermentation) I admit I wasn’t paying much attention. The heat overwhelmed my ability to listen to details.
We were given a tasting at the end of the tour, and got to try a few test batches, including one brewed with Tarragon. The savory taste of the spice lending just something different to the usual tartness, in really a special way. Since it is just a test batch, it’s unsure whether that particular one will be brewed again, but it was unanimous among those of us tasting it that it probably should be brewed again. I also enjoyed their blueberry, which tasted almost like a blueberry soda or lemonade to me. I picked up a container of the Rhubarb Kombucha for later, and my friend bought (and later enjoyed) the tarragon filled into a growler.
Growlers and bottles in hand, we called for a ride back to my place to contemplate our next move. Suddenly, a revelation. Maine Beer Company has a new tasting room in Freeport. “And I bet they have great air conditioning,” I promised.
They did. And it was gloriously chilly.
The new tasting room is just south of Exit 20 from 295 (turn as if you are going to see the “Big Indian” or go to Buck’s Naked Barbecue and it will be on your left very shortly after the turn). The atmosphere in there is clean, efficient and – thankfully – cool. Long wooden benches grace the left side of the room, and a large slate bar is the room’s most prominent feature. The tap handles are hand carved totem figures. They add an interesting touch to the room, especially because they are rather unfortunately aligned so that the patrons at the bar look at the butts of them when they order beer.
However, after letting ourselves just stand there in the air conditioning for a minute, we decided to share a sampler of the 8 beers they currently had on tap. In addition to their well-known lineup (Lunch, MO, Mean Old Tom, Peeper) they also had on two collaboration beers, as well as a pilot brew.
“Collaboration Time II” was an American Saison, and was a partnership with Bluejacket Brewery in Washington DC. Bluejacket is a soon-to-be born brewery lead by Megan Parisi – formerly of Cambridge Brewing Company notoriety. The dry saison was interesting and slightly outside of what I would have expected for the style – but very interesting none the less. I wish Bluejacket luck – and hope that I’ll get another opportunity to try their beers a bit later down the road.
“Collaboration Time III” was the result of Nogne O brewery being in town for The Festival a few weeks ago. Another saison, this one had a bit more yeast forwardness – the “spicy” notes of the saison came through very clearly. I enjoyed this one, too. Out of Norway, Nogne O distributes their beer on a limited basis in the U.S., and if you are looking to grab some of their other beer, you can pick it up at Bier Cellar and other places in Maine that stock international beer.
While I’ve already sung the praises of MO and Lunch, I’d say that going up to the tasting room on any day should be a treat. First, there’s probably a few of their regular beers that you might want to revisit. But there are also always either pilots or one-time beers to be had that are worth trying. In this case, I lucked out to be there on the weekend they had on the fruits of two collaborations with other breweries.
We sat, laughing, and sipped our samples while happily lingering in the air conditioning. If you are looking for an easy diversion or a reason to leave your hot apartment, consider Maine Beer Company’s tasting room in Freeport your official reason.