Next week the Maine Brew Bus will launch a new, free shuttle. The “Hop and Go” will circle the peninsula 4-7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays through October. Riders don’t need any sort of tickets or reservations, you just wait at one of the stops and hop on. The whole loop takes 30 minutes.
For the last two weeks, the shuttle tried a series of “dry” runs (get it?) to test the timing and to get drivers used to the routes. I hopped on one of those at Vena’s Fizz House around 4 p.m. and chatted with Bob Bartholomew, who works at Sebago Brewing.
“Tuesday and Wednesday is everyone’s dead time,” he said. “We’re hoping this will help out some of the local businesses. Once the locals realize what this is, it’s going to be really useful.”
The Maine Brew Bus usually charges $45-$75 for brewery tours (and that includes all the beer, food and tips), but this Hop and Go shuttle is a little different: the beer and food are not included and there is no official tour guide. However, the bus drivers are all knowledgeable and they bring you to several tasting rooms with people dedicated to informing visitors about the brews, if you’re interested in learning while you drink.
By the time we pulled into Maine Mead Works, the mead-makers had just started a tour, explaining how they ferment honey at the Washington Street location. There was also a tasting, including a spiced honey wine, lavender mead that hits you in the nose with its floral notes, and an ultra-drinkable semi-sweet wine that simply and effectively flaunts the honey.
Soon enough the green 12-seater was out front, ready for Rising Tide Brewing’s tasting room.
“The great part about going directly to the breweries is sometimes you get to try limited-run beers you can’t get anywhere else,” Bartholomew told me on the bus. I tried not to get too excited so I wouldn’t get too disappointed.
Rising Tide did not disappoint. The brewery on Fox Street had a new limited-release called CoSlab … a collaboration with Slab, a soon-to-open pizza and sicilian street food restaurant. Slab’s hummus is going to use oranges and deep-fried sage, so those ingredients were added to the beer-making process, which is juicy and has this great herbs-meet-hops flavor. The wheat ale will be a perfect match for pizza. Rising Tide will do only one run of CoSlab and it will be available at the tasting room and at Slab.
Generous sample pours of the Maine Island Trail Ale and other Rising Tide regulars (the malty Ishmael and light, banana-y Spinnaker …) left me a bit giggly by the time the Hop and Go shuttle made its way back to me.
The bus was headed to Bayside Bowl, Nosh and Salvage — all places I’ve gone to in the last couple weeks, so I opted to hop out by Slab and take myself home.
The Hop and Go shuttle will launch full-force Tuesday June 17 and Wednesday June 18. Two buses will do the loop, guaranteeing riders will never have to wait more than 30 minutes for the free brew bus. The company is trying to add more local businesses, but here is the planned route so far. It’s likely to change, so check for updates at HopAndGoPortland.com.