Spring is for reawakening, both of your beer palate and your sense of adventure. If you’re just starting to familiarize yourself with the Maine beer scene, there are a few essential spring brews to try, so why not make a trip of it? Here are three of the state’s must-drink spring beers and some nearby activities to round out a visit to the breweries.
PEEPER, MOOSE AND A BIG INDIAN
The beer that is named after the little tree frogs that signal the onset of spring with their tiny chirps immediately comes to mind. Peeper, a light and soft pale ale, was Maine Beer Co.’s first offering when it opened for business in 2009. This fresh beer is available in 16.9-ounce glass bottles throughout the state and at the brewery in Freeport, which continues to expand as demand for all of its beer grows each season. While sometimes taking second fiddle to the company’s hoppier beers, Peeper is still a favorite for its delicate use of hops and slightly peppery finish.
Though known for its retail stores, Freeport is also home to a few unique sights that are a bit out of the ordinary. The most photographed spot at L.L. Bean’s flagship store is probably by the giant boot outside its doors, but another noteworthy sight is the full-sized moose battle playing out in the camping section. The display, named “The Final Charge,” was put together by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife after two moose were found with antlers hopelessly stuck together after a battle of bashing heads. The life-sized re-creation of their battle allows visitors an opportunity to get a real sense of size of these sometimes-not-so-gentle giants.
Even larger than the battling moose is a roadside attraction that is hard to miss – the Big Indian. Located on Route 1, where a trading post once stood, the 40-foot-tall painted wooden statue looms proudly over the town. The Big Indian is a relic that harkens back to days of the family road trip – where one would set off armed only with a Gazetteer to find new adventures.
THIRSTY BOTANIST, GARDENS AND AN AQUARIUM
While not strictly a spring beer, Boothbay Craft Brewery’s Thirsty Botanist is a fitting complement to the blossoms of spring. Thirsty Botanist is an IPA available both at the brewery’s taproom and brewpub, called Watershed Tavern, and in four-packs of 16-ounce cans. The beer is a celebration of hops, with sweet, grasslike notes in its fresh aroma. Strongly flavored yet pleasantly floral, this beer goes down easier than you’d imagine, and the beautiful label art builds on the bursts of freshness and flavor. The primary bitter beer ingredients, hops, are, in fact, flowers of the hop plant, so it seems only appropriate to consume them while thinking of the bountiful blooms of springtime.
In Maine, there’s nowhere better to experience everything that could possibly bloom than at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. A stroll through these meticulously cared for gardens will make even the keenest gardener swoon with envy. Luscious blooms drape over the easily navigable paths, and programs and activities help keep visitors of all ages engaged. This is the perfect time of year to visit, as different plants and bulbs make their appearance from week to week. If you have a favorite plant that you wish to admire, you can even check the Botanical Gardens’ website for a calendar of when said plant may be at its peak.
If your sinuses recoil at the thought of that much pollen in one area, continue further down into the village of Boothbay Harbor for a walk around a slightly less allergen-provoking visit. The Maine State Aquarium opened for the season this weekend with exhibits that include a tide-pool touch tank and a collection of unusually colored lobsters (including blue) that have been donated by the fishermen who have collected them.
BALMY DAYS KOLSCH, MONHEGAN AND PUFFINS
As the bouquets of plants come to life, so do the small towns on (and off) the coast of Maine. Monhegan Brewing is home to a brewery that has just opened the doors to its tasting room for the season and features a lineup of treats for the intrepid visitor to the island situated 10 miles from shore. A particular favorite (and a flagship) from Monhegan Brewing is the Balmy Days Kolsch, celebrating the ever-warming weather in the spring and summer months. This beer takes the traditional German style of Kölch – a clean, slightly nutty thirst-quencher – and adds a layer of additional hops on top for a bright punch. After the boat ride and a short hike across the island, this will never taste better and should be an annual spring ritual for anyone willing to make the passage.
While the trip to the picturesque island in and of itself is a worthy activity, spring is also the best time of year to book a seabird tour to peek at Atlantic puffins making a stop on the coast to breed. This little bit of ecotourism is fun and educational for bird watchers or just those that enjoy learning about ecology. Several tour companies operate out of New Harbor and Boothbay, offering close-up views at a respectful distance.