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Tom Atwell

Tom Atwell is a lifelong Mainer who retired after 37 years at the Portland Press Herald. He kept the fun parts of his job, writing columns about gardening and beer. He has been drinking beer for about 50 years, and was always looking for unusual beers even in the 1960s – when they were hard to find. For the past four years he has been writing What Ales You during a time when the beer scene in Maine has been booming. He does not, however, take all the credit for that.​

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Posted: July 3, 2014

Stoo’s tasty beers lure fans to Sunday River Brewpub

Aside from a few other Bethel restaurants that buy keys, the pub is the only place to drink the brews.

Written by: Tom Atwell

Sunday River Brewpub has been in operation since 1992, with the same brewer since 1997, offering mostly traditional beers, some of them with a twist.

The brewpub is the only place you are likely to have Sunday River’s beer, although brewer Stewart Mason says he occasionally sells kegs to other restaurants around Bethel.

I stopped in for a flight of the five beers available during a recent fishing trip and was reminded of why I stop by whenever I am in the region.The pub has a seven-barrel brew system with a 14-barrel fermenter, which serves the pub’s customers while also providing the occasional sale of a keg.

“I sell everything I make,” Mason said. Quite a bit of the beer goes out of the brewery in growlers, which sell for $12.50 for the contents with a $5 deposit on the container.

He said he has a list of regular beers that he makes and occasionally branches out to make something new.

The five beers available when I visited were a Pilsner, an alt, an IPA, a porter and a maibock. The alt, IPA and porter are regulars on the menu, while the Pilsner and maibock are newer offerings.

Mason, who mostly goes by Stoo, said the IPA is his best-selling beer.

This is an old-style IPA, with a strong malt flavor and fairly hoppy, but nowhere near as hoppy as the West Coast IPAs that dominate the market now. It has a nice amber color and a good head, a fairly heavy body, and comes in at 5.8 percent alcohol by volume.

Mason said he has a double IPA in the works, which will be more in keeping with modern styles. He has named it Mollyockett’s Revenge, after an Abenaki healer and herbalist who established close relations with European settlers in the region in the 18th and 19th centuries. Mason said he keeps a picture of Molly Ockett in the bar, just to keep on the good side of her spirit.

Black Bear Porter, at 6.2 percent ABV, is a good, rich porter, with a lot of chocolate flavor in the malt and a little bit sweet at the end.

The alt, at a bit above 4 percent ABV, has a rich and malt-forward flavor, just a bit of a hops bite.

The Pilsner is a more modern beer, and Mason is pleased with it. At 4 percent ABV, it qualifies as part of the trend of flavorful session beers. It is crystal clear with a pure white head, has a lot of hops flavor and finishes absolutely clean. It is a perfect beer for having a few with some food after a hard day of skiing or just sitting on the deck after a day fishing or paddling the Androscoggin River.

The maibock is a good representation of the style, flavorful and refreshing with a good bit of maltiness.

The food at the brewpub goes well with the beers, and is largely sourced locally. The bratwurst I had for lunch was made locally, Mason said.

The brewery is busiest during ski season, but also does quite well in the middle of summer. In 2013, the pub closed for a while right after ski season but reopened for the summer. This year it remained open through the slow season.

Sunday River Brewpub is owned by the same people who owned Stone Coast Brewpub in Portland. Mason worked at Stone Coast before going up to Sunday River to become head brewer there. Sometimes the Stone Coast beers will reappear on the tap lines at Sunday River.

Mason said he sometimes thinks of expanding the brewery and bringing in a canning line – which would please beer lovers who seldom travel to Bethel.

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