Where to go – and where to skip – if you have less than a day to check out Portland’s craft beer scene.
It is easy to miss some of the best beer in Portland if you only go by what you’ve heard about. Due to the insulated nature of our state – most breweries (especially the crop that have opened in the last three years) keep their beers in Maine or New England, and many are on-premise or growler only, which doesn’t make it easy for non-locals to find them. The places or beers that out-of-state visitors have heard of are a combination of those that have a) been distributed the farthest, b) have been in existence the longest, or c) are the most sought after or talked about. That doesn’t necessarily mean that those are the first places that should be on a visitor’s list, however.
If you have less than a day to check out Maine beers while in Portland – here’s your cheat sheet:
Rising Tide Brewing Company has a great spot that, in a way, paved the way for other small businesses to start claiming a stake in the once-troubled neighborhood. They almost always have a food truck outside when they are open, too, which is a great way to start an afternoon of beer fun. Next door? A distillery – Maine Craft Distilling. Around the corner? Bunker Brewing Company, Urban Farm Fermentory and Tandem Coffee Roasters. This nexus of businesses (I think there might even be a cupcake baker back in there, too) is a great window into what’s happening in Portland, for beer and other hand-crafted edibles and drinkables.
This area is not in the “Old Port” and isn’t walkable from downtown, but is very worth a 15 minute trip out there (Heck, we even have Uber in town now so it’s even easier to get out there). Allagash Brewing is the star of the show there, and does both great tours and has a classy sampling room. Across the street is the new class of breweries – Bissell Brothers Brewing, Foundation Brewing and Austin Street Brewery – all different enough that it’s worth visiting all three. And they’re feet apart from one another in the same complex. Newly added to this mix, just around the corner is D. L Geary Brewing Company’s new tasting room, which is a great place to get a taste of Maine’s craft beer history. New, old, and big all in one place. It’s a microcosm of the whole scene right now.
Now I’m not talking about not trying the delicious Peak beers – but you need to know a key fact: Peak Organic does not have a physical location that can be toured/visited. Take it off your list.
The Shipyard brewery, though well known, should be skipped as a stop while you’re in town with precious time because it lacks a real tour (it’s a video), and the beer is widely available around town, so you will have opportunities to drink it if you want to. The brewery is a popular stop for tourists because they’ve heard of the beer, but if you are in town for the day there is definitely more you can get out of the same amount of time.
There are many breweries just outside of the state or farther away from Portland that show up on tap in town – and it saves a couple of hours of driving to track them down. The upside? Lots of choice, and the bartenders know the beer well. The downside is you might fall in love with a beer from the middle of nowhere that you can’t take home. My favorites spots for local tap selection: Little Tap House, The Great Lost Bear, Salvage BBQ, The Thirsty Pig and The King’s Head Pub. While there, look for some of our best out-of-town brewers like Oxbow Brewing Company, Gneiss Brewing Company, Banded Horn, and Marshall Wharf.
Maine Beer Company Lunch and Bissell Brothers The Substance are arguably the most talked about beers in the state, and very hard to get a hold of even for locals. If you’re yearning for these beers and seriously want to get them, you might have to do a little research. Bissell Brothers posts on their Facebook page when a batch of cans comes in, but it rarely lasts more than a few days. Your best bet to find that semi-reliably is to go to The Thirsty Pig instead, they almost always have it on tap. As for Maine Beer Company – they’ve moved to Freeport (20-25 mins north of Portland), but their bottles are available in Portland in limited quantities. Stay tuned on their media as well for when Lunch is released – it is not a year round beer. Protip: MO, which is more widely available, might be even better than Lunch. Also, as a footnote, The Alchemist – Heady Topper has never been legally available to purchase in Maine. Sorry!
There are three brewpubs in the Old Port: Gritty McDuff’s, Sebago Brewing Company and Liquid Riot Bottling Co. (which also distills and makes house cocktails). All three offer a chance to get a good meal to refuel after an afternoon of exploring – paired with a beer, of course. Gritty McDuff’s lineup is made of classic beers and has some classic pub food to go with it. Sebago Brewing Company also bottles their beer, but at the brewpubs you can get some interesting small batches, too.
Postscript: Why isn’t Novare Res Bier Cafe on this list? Find out.