Several years ago, Maine’s midcoast had a noticeable void of craft breweries. At the time, I chalked this up to the extreme seasonality of some of the coastal towns, many of which close down except for essentials in the winter months, which would be challenging conditions for any new brewery. In the last two years, however, the map has rapidly begun filling up with spots in the tourist-based hubs.
The Bath and Boothbay areas in particular have shown growth, as several new breweries have opened with another on the way. In Boothbay Harbor, next to the historic footbridge that unites the east and west sides of the community, Footbridge Brewery has opened, just in time for the summer crowds. Originally constructed in 1901, the footbridge provides clear views of the boats in the harbor as well as a simple place for visitors or locals to take a stroll. At the very end of that path sits a small, cozy tasting room that opened earlier this month.
When I visited Footbridge Brewery on a foggy afternoon last week, they had four beers on tap that ranged from a soft and pleasant wheat beer named Winter Bush to a solid pale ale called Fisherman’s Thumb. The only one in the lineup I was not fond of was their Ovens Mouth, a jalapeño beer that I found too spicy. As I sat in the tasting room, a dark stout was being brewed, which enveloped the room with a lovely and comforting aroma of oatmeal and chocolate. Footbridge Brewing joins Boothbay Craft Brewery as the second brewery in the area, but it is the first to take residence in the harbor itself, nestled in among stores and restaurants with a view of the harbor.
Bath Brewing Co. opened a brewery and restaurant last summer and began brewing its own beer once its brewing system came on line several months later. Now it has established itself as a great spot for live music and fresh food, as well as a lineup of well-crafted brews. Bath Brewing had nine beers on tap when I stopped by, and they range from a set of hoppy pale ales and IPAs to the darker and more creative. A standout was the Long Reach Lager, a 5.2 percent ABV that servers recommend to those who profess to only drinking light lagers. Long Reach Lager is a good choice, because it has some flavors from the malt that will be familiar to big-beer lovers, but also has a bit more body and flavor than some watered-down light beers might. In my opinion, it should be just as attractive to craft lager fans. It finishes clean and refreshing.
On the more unusual side was the Hot Chocolate Porter, modeled after a Mexican-style hot chocolate with cayenne pepper added to the brew. The overall effect was a rich stout background with a hint of heat toward the end. Not a bad match for the gray, foggy day but probably not something I’d order after walking around the streets of Bath on a warm, sunny day. If you prefer to take the beer home, you can pick up a growler of any of the beers on tap. They also feature guest bottles, cans and taps, so you can sample beers from around the state and region.
Bath will soon be home to a second brewery. Bath Ale Works plans to open in the first quarter of 2020. Once it opens, one could easily spend a day or two (with a sober driver, of course) following Route 1 for a series of beer destinations. In Brunswick, you could begin your tour at Black Pug Brewing, take a jaunt over to Flight Deck Brewing and then stop on Maine Street at Moderation. Bath Brewing Co. would be a nice break for lunch, and then continue up to Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor, finishing at Boothbay Craft Brewing for a well-earned dinner. While in the neighborhood, you could swing a bit farther to Newcastle to the first Oxbow Brewing location, perhaps to take home some bottles.
In the days of prohibition, Route 1 was used to smuggle beer from Canada into the United States and from ships off the Florida Keys to points north. As these coastal Maine towns along Route 1 continue to add breweries, the route’s boozy reputation may become earned again, but for different reasons. This time, the pursuit of alcohol down the well-traveled path will be a more convenient, and certainly more legal, pursuit.