It’s New Year’s Eve, and we’re driving into downtown Augusta. On purpose.
We’re not lost. We’re not headed to a central Maine dive bar to shoot Jaeger bombs. We’re in search of craft beer. In Augusta? Yes, in Augusta, at the newly opened Cushnoc Brewing Co. on Water Street in one of the stately, though long underutilized downtown buildings.
In the 13 years I’ve lived in Maine, Augusta’s Water Street has felt like an overlooked gem. The buildings are historic and beautiful. The Kennebec River drifts southwards only yards away. The State House is up the road just beyond the rotary. For years, this street has been an abyss of antiquated businesses and dive bars, with a few exceptions.
That’s why the opening of Cushnoc Brewing last October had me at full attention. Finally, someone was investing in one of the most promising streets in Maine.
Social media has been abuzz about the beer from this new brewery, so my palate was tingling as we parked on Water Street next to an outdated vacuum cleaner shop.
As soon as I walked into the tasting room and restaurant, a wide grin spread across my face. The team at Cushnoc Brewing did it: They brought the authentic hip vibe of the craft brewing revolution to downtown Augusta. Beautiful patina tin ceiling tiles lined the back of the bar. A wood-fired pizza oven blazed in the corner. Handcrafted wood benches arranged family-style stretched across polished concrete floors. A neon sign on the wall proudly purred: “Born on the Kennebec.”
Yes, yes, hell yes.
Anxiously, I walked to the bar, almost forgetting the group I’d come with. Scouring the list of five house-brewed beers on draft, I looked up at the bartender and ordered a Gigantic Dad Pants, a New England double IPA.
From the first sip, it was clear that this New England IPA was not a derivative mess like many of the cloudy wanna-be IPAs breweries are pushing out to join the haze craze. Gigantic Dad Pants offers of a luscious bouquet of hop aroma with notes ranging from juicy tropical fruits to dank cannabis undertones. The flavor is vibrant and clean with mango, pineapple and more cannabis. There’s no bitter finish, just more juicy hops. It pops a kick at 7.8 percent, but it was New Year’s, so I had two before our stay was over.
Next I ordered the Belgian IPA, Eternal Golden Eagle. After one sip, I thought, this is what it would taste like if an Allagash White made sweet love to a Patina Pale Ale from Austin Street. It offers funky spice notes from the Belgian yeast and hefty citrus fruit flavors from the American hops. Again, the finish was clean, and no off flavors tinged the palate.
Finally, I ordered up a Kresge, a Kolsch-style ale I’ve been hearing a lot about. At 4.8 percent, this beer pours a light gold and gives off gentle notes of fresh bread. It’s easy-drinking in the best way possible: refreshing flavor and clean finish. I can see this being a summertime staple if it finds its way into cans.
A friend gave me a sip of Oliver’s Opus, a 10 percent American strong ale aged in bourbon barrels with maple syrup. This was the only beer that didn’t hit the tongue just right. The flavors were a bit jumbled together — perhaps more time aging in the barrel would allow the flavors to really sing.
The pizza was spot-on, wood-fired pie. A bite of the Mill Park Pie — roasted butternut squash sauce, shaved Brussels sprouts and balsamic drizzle — followed by a sip of the complex Belgian IPA really hit the spot.
It gives me so much pleasure to write this next statement: Head to Water Street in downtown Augusta to dig in to some truly well crafted ales in an ultra hip setting. I can’t re-read that sentence without smiling.
featuring a diverse lineup of craft beers and wood-fired pizzas
WHERE: 243 Water St., Augusta
ON DRAFT: On my visit, the draft list included five diverse house-brewed beers, including a New England double IPA, a Belgian IPA and a Kolsch-style ale, along with four guest taps
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
MORE INFO: cushnocbrewing.com
OTHER BEER HAPPENINGS
5:30-8 p.m. Thursday, 53 Washington Ave., Portland. eventbrite.com
Science of Gin is a great event for gin geeks, science nerds and all-around fun-loving folks. Hosted by the Maine Science Festival and Project Login, Science of Gin features cocktails made with gin from Hardshore Distilling Co., as well as a tutorial on how the Hardshore distillers use science and the scientific process to craft their gin. I’d encourage all aspiring distillers and even brewers to attend this event. The best spirits and beer are made by talented distillers and brewers who respect the science behind the production of booze.
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, 237 Main St., Norway. On Facebook
If you love artfully crafted, barrel-aged blended beers, get to Norway Brewing Co. for the release of Little Bear. This beer has been carefully crafted over the past year and a half, and it’s ready for release. Little Bear is a blend of two batches of blueberry beer brewed with native wild yeast. The first batch was brewed in the summer of 2016 with blueberries added in secondary fermentation, then aged in pinot noir barrels for a year. The 2016 batch was blended with last year’s batch and bottle-conditioned for four months. That is superb commitment to the contents of one bottle of beer. The release is first come, first served, so stop by Norway Brewing on your way to Sunday River or Mount Abram this weekend.