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Shannon Bryan

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Posted: August 21, 2013

From here to beer: On tour with The Maine Brew Bus

Written by: Shannon Bryan

Photo by Claire Jeffers

I couldn’t wait to get on Larry.

I also couldn’t wait to tour a few local breweries and sample mead and rum, chaga chai and the Trashmaster. And I couldn’t wait to meet the good people behind some of Portland’s best alcoholic beverages.

But the pronouncement about Larry (aka the Maine Brew Bus) was what my fellow tourgoers chuckled over, which was mildly embarrassing for me, mostly because the bus’ name is Lenny.

The Maine Brew Bus tour guide Don Littlefield, in the green shirt, gives us a heads up on where we’re going.
Photo by Claire Jeffers

Thankfully, the bus was out of earshot. Our Local Pour Tour with The Maine Brew Bus had started at The Thirsty Pig on Exchange Street, and we were sitting outside in the early spring sun, making introductions over samples of The Thirsty Pig’s flavorful sausages. There was the Sweet Italian sausage with caramelized onions and roasted peppers, paired with Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown. There was the Beef Stroganoff sausage with dill and onions, paired with Dogfish Head’s Aprihop. Samples were passed, eaten, and drunk in delicious succession.

Photo by Shannon Bryan

We could’ve happily spent the afternoon on that patio, but distilleries and fermentories awaited. And Lenny was growing restless. So onto the little green bus we went.

Photo by Shannon Bryan

It’s been years since I last rode on a school bus. And I’m pretty sure the school buses of my past never, ever dropped me off in front of a brewery (sure would have been a nice surprise if one had). It’s rumored that Lenny used to ferry kids to and from schools in Kennebunkport. In a way, he’s still in the educational transportation business – except now he conveys scholars of beer, mead, hard cider, and rum.

Like these people:

Photo by Shannon Bryan

Our next destination: Maine Mead Works, where locally sourced honey is made into wine.

Photo by Claire Jeffers

Ron from Maine Mead Works walked us through the offerings – the Semi-Sweet, the Dry, the Lavender, and the Blueberry. Their continuous fermenting process, he said, makes “a lighter, cleaner, more drinkable mead.”

Photo by Claire Jeffers

We also met the Ram Island Lavender Lemonade – a mix of mead and lemons that drinks like summer. The stuff was popular at last year’s Mumford & Sons concert on the Eastern Prom. According to Ron, they poured 3,000 lemonades in two hours. I can certainly taste why. Now they’re bottling it (saving us from having to mix the Lavender Mead and lemonade ourselves) so keep an eye on store shelves. Or go buy it at Maine Mead Works. Or Novare Res.

I went home with some Ram Island Ice Tea – also occasionally called as “crack tea,” as Ron noted. It lasted two days before being consumed on my deck. I went back for more. Crack tea it is!

(If you prefer you drinks in cocktail form, there are mead recipes!)

Photo by Shannon Bryan

Next stop: Bunker Brewing. Brewer Chresten Sorenson greeted us inside the small Bayside brewery. The garage door was open to the outside and the samples of Trashmaster, 122 Coffee IPA, and Munjoy Mild (“The easy drinkin’ season beer) flowed freely from the taps.

Photo by Claire Jeffers

Just over a year old, Bunker’s thriving, making four times as much beer this year compared to last. And there may be a collaboration with Oxbow in the works.

Photo by Claire Jeffers

On to Urban Farm Fermentory and the pleasures of hard cider, kombucha, and chaga chai, which is fun to say.

Photo by Claire Jeffers

It’s all spontaneous (aka, wild) fermentation and locally sourced ingredients at UFF. The kombucha is wonderfully peculiar and easy to get along with. The hard ciders are tart, and the Dry Cidah is “a manly type of cider,” according to UFF’s Neil Spillane. And thanks to the joys of fermenting in small batches, each batch is unique, just like its drinkers.

Claire Jeffers photo

“I’m so excited to find this place,” said Patty Littlefield, who bought as much kombucha and cider as her arms could handle.

Final stop: New England Distilling, where inside a warehouse a distillery has risen. Maybe it’s his family’s distilling history, maybe it’s something he cultivated on his own, but Ned’s enthusiasm for distilling is contagious.

Photo by Claire Jeffers

Ned poured samples of Eight Bells Rum, the “Holland style” Ingenium Dry Gin, and a name-not-yet-revealed rye whiskey (it’s in the barrels now, on the shelves in a few months). And he introduced us to the still – a magical-looking copper construction that looked like it might grant wishes. For Ned, it seems it already has.

Ned described the process – the heads, the hearts, and the tails; the barley; the thumpers (They’re my favorite part of the still, so I talk about them a lot,” said Ned).

Photo by Claire Jeffers

With our heads filled up from our fermented education – and maybe a little fuzzy on account of all that sampling – we boarded Lenny one last time. Our tour guide Don Littlefield regaled us with brewing-related trivia on the way back to The Thirsty Pig, where we’d all go our separate ways, clutching our purchases of mead and rum, all a little wiser for the ride.


Maine Brew Bus

Riding Lenny is always a part of the tour. Where he’ll take you is up to you:
York County Bounty Tour: $75, Run of the Mill, Funky Bow Brewery and Beer Co., Federal Jack’s
The Casco Fiasco Tour: $75, Allagash Brewing, Rising Tide Brewing Co., Sebago Brewing Co., The Run of the Mill
Local Pour Tour (the tour highlighted in this post): $75, The Thirsty Pig, Maine Mead Works, Bunker Brewing, Tandem Coffee Roasters, Urban Farm Fermentory, New England Distillery
Beast of the Yeast: $60, The Thirty Pig, Rising Tide Brewing Co., Maine Craft Distilling, Urban Farm Fermentory
Sunday Funday Field Trips: $39, see website

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Photo by Shannon Bryan

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