This week, Novare Res Bier Café is celebrating 10 years of pouring beer in Portland’s Old Port. While this may seem like a small milestone, it is particularly impressive in the context of the rapid turnover that characterizes the restaurant and bar industry. In 2008, the idea of a bar exclusively devoted to beer – and hard-to-get beer at that – raised some doubting eyebrows.
The name “Novare Res” means “to start a revolution” in Latin – and sums up exactly what founders Eric and Julie Michaud set out to do.
Novare Res’ atmosphere and its relationship to beer is obviously inspired by the beer cultures of other countries. It borrows from the serious, yet welcoming feeling of beer bars in Belgium, the convivial and open beer gardens of Germany, the dependable deference for beer granted in the pubs of the United Kingdom, mixed with the feeling of family of a great neighborhood bar in the U.S. But what ties together these disparate threads is their respect for the beer and the desire to delight and expand their customers’ palates.
Standing out from many other bars at the time was the obvious intention to invite drinkers out of the comfort zone of the safe and predictable pub. The initial beer list featured little locally-made beer, focusing instead on building a broader portfolio of available beer from across the U.S. and abroad for curious beer drinkers to explore. An even riskier financial move (that has since made them world-renowned) was to amass an extensive amount of specialty beers in bottles and kegs to offer nearly any style of beer a customer is interested to try.
Nearly immediately, the connections and relationships the Michauds had cultivated with other breweries was obvious to patrons. Novare Res became, and remains, a customary spot for brewers to visit or meetup when they pass through town, and the first place in Maine that brewers – especially from abroad – look to release their imported beers.
Today, the bar is a key spot for beer-related happenings and features both the best of beer from away, as well as a dedicated local tap section, curated intensively by the staff.
The week-long anniversary celebration will feature a special lineup of beer, including more than 14 collaborative beers created with breweries across the globe. Staff from Novare Res, as well as its sister restaurant/distillery/brewery Liquid Riot, have participated in collaborations and invited in brewers from across the globe on occasion, but the list of collaborations that will be pouring for the anniversary party is staggering in its breadth and diversity.
Novare Res and Liquid Riot staff traveled to Belgium with bags of Maine ingredients to incorporate into several different beers. Maine-produced maple sugar, after being subjected to multiple screenings to make sure that it was not some kind of illicit substance, was brought in for use in two beers. I had the opportunity to preview the beer brewed with De Struise Brouwers named Randolique. This Belgian Tripel was brewed with both the maple sugar and Maine oats, then aged in bourbon barrels – with coffee. While that sounds like a lot going on, the Randolique somehow makes it all work. The coffee is in the aroma and at the finish, and tastes neither boozy nor heavy. The finish is also on the dry side, making this a very drinkable beer, despite its complexity.
Another fun international collaboration that involves Maine ingredients is Whole Lotta Bluebs, a collaboration with Brouwerij ‘t Verzet. This takes a bold and tart Oud Bruin style of sour beer and pairs it with an unlikely companion, wild Maine blueberries. The beer, which is a bright red color, retains the tart punch of the Oud Bruin but mellows out the end of it with a subtle blueberry kick. Leave your blueberry pie expectations behind – this one is all tartness, and unique compared to all the other blueberry brews I’ve ever sampled.
Other collaborations will include a custom blended beer comprised of five barrels of rarities from Allagash Brewing Co., aged beers, sours and more. In addition, there will be beers brewed with local breweries including Foulmouthed, Oxbow Brewing, Maine Beer Co., Orono Brewing Co. and Marshall Wharf.
The bar is tucked in an alleyway off of Exchange Street, and its best to just direct people unfamiliar with the bar there and tell them to head down the alley with the Key Bank sign. Don’t try to plug its official address (4 Canal Plaza) into a GPS or you may inadvertently be directed to a warehouse in Westbrook. In warm months, you’ll know you’re in the right place when you turn the corner to hear the din of people drinking, laughing and playing cornhole on the large outdoor deck.
Whether it is your first time at Novare Res, or your 100th, it is worth your time to stop by for this. This anniversary is a celebration of relationships, from owner to breweries, bartender to patrons and brewer to brewer. To be at the heart of those relationships is revolutionary, and is well worth raising a glass for.