On the first weekend in April, the weather was finally warm enough to encourage me to venture out of the house with my jacket unzipped. To take full advantage of the first “faux spring” day, I decided to spend it at some of Maine’s thriving tasting rooms, treating myself to a little tour.
As my Uber driver turned onto Industrial Way to drop me off, I heard him utter a low “wow” under his breath. His car slowed to a crawl as happy people – with beer, kids and dogs in tow – crossed the street and lingered in conversations beside their vehicles as they tossed their newly-purchased goods into their trunks. I was used to that sight but always envisioned that type of scene happening at the peak of a summer holiday weekend, not on a day where the dirty snow piles still lingered at the corners of the parking lot.
I made my way to Battery Steele, where I ordered a sample of Nine Worlds, a farmhouse ale that was brewed with a specialty Norwegian yeast, with juniper and lemon balm added. As I took the glass out to the small outdoor seating area, I took in both the beer and the scene around me. The lemon balm in the beer was prominent and made me think of happy sunny days (go and catch it on tap in the tasting room if you can).
Around me, there were adults ranging in age from their early 20s to their 60s. If I had to estimate, there were probably at least 300 people at various breweries in the cluster just hanging out at Battery Steele, Austin Street, Allagash, Foundation and Definitive at that moment. Some were obviously locals – friends hanging out a favorite spot. Others talked about where to go next and what recommendations they’d received before their visit to Maine. Among them, there were also children, from the stroller-bound and arm-carried ages to those that were independently playing games. An abundance of large dogs made up the remainder, with most of them lounging underneath outdoor picnic tables as their owners chatted and sampled beer.
I am an advocate for breweries that have family- and dog-friendly spaces, and I think they are a great place for healthy social interactions of all kinds. However, a combination of adults, games, dogs and children can be challenging to navigate and manage anywhere; add alcohol to the mix, and there’s an even better chance that things can get chaotic, unpleasant or unsafe. As these numbers steadily increase toward summer, it’s worth doing our part to keep these places healthy and friendly.
As humans, we’re naturally inclined (whether we’re aware of it or not) to mirror the behavior of others around us. It is a survival instinct, really, but one that affects our daily interactions. A famous psychological study found that people are more likely to litter in a place that already has litter on the ground. So how do we keep these tasting rooms great, positive places to be when they get busier and busier each season? As local patrons of these tasting rooms, we can contribute to the atmosphere being models for first-time visitors.
There are little neighborly gestures that can go a long way. Inviting someone to sit at a large table that still has a bit of room or holding the door open for a family to enter a brewery can make it feel like you’re encouraging new people to participate in the beer community. Talking to strangers is fun, and I’ve met some amazing people because we happened to share an adjacent seat.
In the tasting room, I returned my used glassware back to the tasting room counter. Yes, there are tasting room employees that are tasked with doing that, but if you clean up one thing on your way out, others might also pick up the napkin they dropped or just take a second to look back at the table before heading out.
As a newish dog owner, I’ve been enjoying the privilege of being able to bring my fluffy Pomeranian pup with me to some tasting rooms, but I understand that his behavior is my responsibility. Unpredictable, loud and kid-filled environments can be difficult for nervous dogs, and having a stressed out dog can lead to unpredictable (and sometimes negative) outcomes. I hope that other dog owners would evaluate each tasting room in terms of what’s safe both for the patrons and what’s a happy time for their dog.
Lastly, let’s all watch out for overindulgence and safety. The beer samples may be served in smaller sizes, but it is still possible to get buzzed or drunk after a few hours of touring tap rooms. Make sure you’re securing a ride after enjoying the best of Maine’s beer. This month, Portland was named among the top 25 best places to live by U.S. News and World Report. If there was a list of best places to spend an unseasonably warm April afternoon drinking beer, I think it deserves the No. 1 spot – and I think we can all help to keep it that way.