One of the first things I learned as a transplant to Maine is that if you plan to live here year-round, you should find some kind of hobby to occupy your winter and to keep you moving. Some of us like to take ambling snowshoe walks through the woods, others get their thrills zipping down Maine’s mountain peaks on skis or snowboards. Luckily for those of us who enjoy these winter activities, the craft beer scene in Maine has grown side-by-side to our local resorts, with several mountains featuring slope-side breweries, brewpubs or craft beer bars.
The newest brewery added to the ski scene is Lost Valley Brewing Co.,which opened at the end of February last year. Its beers are brewed on site at Lost Valley, you can get a flight served on a paddle made from up-cycled skis and local music is regularly scheduled every weekend the slopes are open. This month, Lost Valley debuted its first stout, called Apres Ski, which was met with rave reviews from Lost Valley skiers.
The longest-running brewery/ski area combination is Sunday River Brewing Co., which in 1992 opened a brewing facility and restaurant right at the resort entrance. The beer is a mix of old-school English and German-style beers, with a few newer styles getting added to the mix seasonally. Among its regular lineup, the Sunday River Alt, an altbier that is classic in a good way, is a personal favorite. Not heavy, it nonetheless packs a hearty flavor that’s very easy to like and reminds me of where craft beer came from. I was surprised to find that, in addition to the beer and full restaurant menu, the brewery makes fresh donuts in house, which, if you catch them when they are freshest, are a warm, fluffy treat that hits the spot on a chilly day.
If you are driving to Sunday River Brewing from Portland, there is another stop worth making even before you get to the mountain. Right on Route 26 in Norway is Norway Brewing Co., perfectly situated for a leg-stretching break. The cozy, family-friendly brewpub offers a rotating selection of creative beers and beer-inspired comfort food. Beer can be purchased in growlers, four-packs or large bottles (for limited releases), so it can go with you to your final destination. I first sampled its oatmeal coffee stout, Mr. Grumpypants, at a Maine Brewer’s Guild event in 2016, and it was memorable. Its a coffee stout without being overly coffee-flavored, and the oatmeal brings a nice richness and thickness to the blend.
If you’re headed to Sugarloaf, there are great options along the way, as well as on the mountain. If you head up via Farmington, Tumbledown Brewing Co. is an easy stop. Located on Route 2 in a small plaza, it looks unassuming from the road. But inside, there are pours for tasting, growler fills and cans of certain beers. When I stop in to grab beer to go, I make a beeline for the flagship Tumbledown Red. There’s a serious lack of nice red ales in the craft beer scene lately, and Tumbledown’s is solid and worth sharing. It’s easy to like, malt-forward and just comforting in its flavor profile.
If you travel to Sugarloaf by getting off I-95 in Waterville, before bailing to the more rural roads, you can embark on a little side adventure in Skowhegan at Bigelow Brewing Co. The route there is scenic, but slightly challenging in the winter with its dips and hills, so it is best to leave your sports car behind, if you’re heading up in snow. The tasting room and brewery were built in a former barn, and on a frigid night, it looks like a beacon and a warm haven. Its canned beers have been showing up in distribution lately, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find them a bit closer to home.
Sugarloaf has always boasted a couple of fun and interesting spots for an aprés-ski beer but has had a bit of a renaissance lately in terms of quality. My first impression of Sugarloaf’s relationship to beer was the Bud Lite sponsored Reggae Festival that happens in late spring, where spring skiers gather for a music-and-beer-filled weekend. But look more closely, and you’ll find better beer. The Bag and Kettle brewpub is once again making its own beers and serving a standard brewpub lineup that has a little of something for everyone. Shipyard also maintains a brewpub inside of the Sugarloaf Inn. In 2017, Hunker Down joined the mix. It’s a comfort food restaurant owned by Portland-based duo of Jason Loring and Mike Fraser. The partners own several restaurants, both together and separately, mostly in the Portland area, including Nosh and Slab, both known for a great craft selection.
On the way or on the mountain, craft beer abounds for you to add to your winter adventures.