When you go to beer stores frequently, you notice when brands start to expand their retail footprints. This spring, I’ve been seeing a lot more brands from outside of Portland popping up on shelves in southern Maine. I don’t always take notice of this because there’s so much happening, but sometimes it is worth giving these breweries a second look.
One of the breweries that I’ve been seeing appear with increasing frequency has been Geaghan Brothers Brewing Co., a name that is familiar to Bangor-area residents but may be less so to those in Portland. Geaghan’s Pub, located almost directly across the street from the famous Paul Bunyon statue, has been open since 1975 (originally John Geaghan’s Roundhouse Restaurant). The family-owned and -operated pub has been serving up Irish-inspired comfort food in a friendly atmosphere for decades. It began brewing its own beer on site in 2011, which was available in the pub to order or in glass growlers to go. Like the pub’s food, the beer was accessible and simply done but quite satisfying.
Four years after the first pints of those beers flowed from the pub’s tap, Geaghan Brothers expanded into a production facility across the river in Brewer. The new space offered a chance to brew batches of beer large enough to distribute statewide and brew pilot batches on a smaller five-barrel system. By the end of 2015, its distribution spread. At first packaging in bottles, Geaghan Brothers switched to cans in the summer of 2018, installing the first permanent canning line of any brewery in the area. The brewery has since opened a tasting room next door to the Brewer facility to accommodate more visitors and serve limited food items.
The cans are what got my attention at the beer shop the other day, because the design is clearly communicating to a different audience than many of the trendier brands. Rather than flashy colors and references to pop culture nostalgia, the brewery has chosen to feature people and stories on its labels, bringing a bit of history and culture to its branding.
The Higgins Irish Red Ale was named after John Higgins (who is depicted on the label), an Irish-American soldier from Maine who fought in the Civil war. The label notes say that the beer is dedicated to Higgins and “all the brave women and men who stand up for what they believe in.” The red is a classic, with malts all over the taste and a level of bitterness that gave it a slight bite to back it up.
Smiling Irish Bastard is an American pale ale named after the Geaghans’ uncle, Bernie Welch, who smiles in a colorized photograph of him in a police officer’s uniform. Welch is described as a “legend in the Bangor Police Force,” and the beer is a salute to him and “all who protect and serve.” Though slightly thinner in mouthfeel than I was expecting, Smiling Irish Bastard has a really nice citrus note that is lemony and refreshing.
King’s Pine American IPA is probably the most modern of the hop-forward offerings, but doesn’t go for the hazy or juicy trend. Rather, it sticks with a piney undertone, and it brings me back to the first IPAs that I fell in love with – the ones that weren’t as extreme as the West Coast styles, but were not as malt-forward as the English styles either. Super straightforward and enjoyable.
My unexpected favorite of the bunch was the Stein Song, named after the University of Maine’s school song and featuring a black-and-white photo of a UMaine pep squad from way back. Described as a light lager, Stein Song is an incredibly satisfying and drinkable beer. It’s describe as Geaghan’s “lightest beer,” but it tastes far from the cheap, light stuff that I remember from college. Rather, this is what the beer we were drinking in college should have been – spicy, flavorful and crisp with a vanishing finish, so we’d want another sip.
Geaghan’s has embraced more classic styles as an alternative to all things trendy. I did get slightly nervous when I read on Twitter that the brewery was planning to do a collaboration with Raye’s Mustard – a family-owned mustard company from Eastport. Despite the fact that I’ve tried a delicious beer made with sauerkraut (thanks to a collaboration between Morse’s Sauerkraut and Odd Alewives Brewing Co.), I was relieved to discover Geaghan Brothers and Raye’s Mustard had gone in the opposite direction: to make beer-infused mustards rather than mustard-infused beer. The mustards, if you’re curious, are going to be available for sale on Raye’s website as well as at Geaghan’s locations and in special menu items in the pub.
There’s something just so refreshingly unfussy about all of Geaghan Brothers’ beers. To me, it’s the beer equivalent of comfort food or eating at your favorite greasy spoon. The flavors are familiar, the taste is comforting, and you have no doubt what you’re going to get when you order it. If you’ve been seeking a new go-to, these beers are in reach – now more than ever.