Portland, OR has a pretty solid reputation as a craft beer city, but the North East has their own Portland that has been making a name for itself in craft beer. All the way up the East Coast we had been hearing a good amount of buzz about Maine’s Portland and it’s craft beer scene. It was our next stop after some R&R in Kennebunkport and we were ready to hit it hard! Here’s a look out at what we did:
The Great Lost Bear
This was a great craft beer bar with a supremely delicious cheeseburger. I mean Maria was talking about this burger for days and we ending up going back for more. It also helped that the bear was showing soccer on the big screen during both visits. The first being a Sporting KC game and the second being the thrilling Women’s Olympic semi-final vs Canada. The bar includes a great selection of local breweries as well as your standard craft staples. We were informed that TGLB actually acts as an unofficial tasting room for Allagash since the brewery itself has a tasting room but can only give samples a couple of times a day with tours.
We parked near the Bear and headed downtown to see what was happening. We had heard Novare Res was the place to be if you love craft beer and it lived up to the hype. The menu was a 10 page encyclopedia of beer with a large import section and a taproom that featured over 30 taps of some rather unique brews. The place was crowded as Mumford and Sons had just held a concert downtown. This created a very hot and crowded bar area and made our decision to retreat to the patio much easier. We tried some local drafts while destroying all challengers who approached the corn hole game.
After several rounds of domination we overheard some hashing songs and realized we were sitting next to Portland hashers the whole time. We found out about a hash in a couple days and decided to attend. Once again our visitors center came through.
Our first day trip into downtown Portland brought us to Gritty McDuff’s. It inhabits a busy section of the downtown shopping district and fits in quite well as it has kind of a tourist vibe. The brew pub takes up two first floor buildings and has basement seating that shares space with the brew system. We had a couple of beers, but nothing knocked our socks off. As we made conversation with the bar tender we found out that there is not great story behind the name Gritty McDuff’s, other than that the owner’s thought it sounded good. My imagined scenario of a pirate named Gritty landing in Portland an going on a bender is still more entertaining I think.
At this point we were getting hungry and debated between pizza and Philly cheese steaks. It turns out there was a highly recommended pizza joint up the street a couple blocks which was closer the Philly spot. It ended up being a great decision as the gourmet pizza’s were amazing, the bar tender was super friendly, and they had a good selection of craft beer.
Sebago Brewing Co
The downtown version of Sebago brewpub lives in the bottom floor of the Hampton Inn on the edge of the Old Port District. It’s just off Franklin Arterial, a main street, and lies between Gritty’s and Shipyard Brewing which are both a couple blocks away, so they are all very bikable. We stopped in for quick sampler tray of their beers and were a bit overwhelmed as we were given 8 beers while also trying to make it to Shipyard before they closed for the day. The brew pub had a nice modern feel to it. The bar itself was set up facing a a big running window that looked out on the main street which made for good people watching. Alas we spent more time than anticipated at Sebago and Shipyard was closed. It would have to wait for another day.
Allagash Brewing Co
We set up a tour time at Allagash prior to ur visit since they only do tastings for scheduled tours, which is apparently the law in Maine if you are not a brew pub. The brewery is located in an industrial warehouse district that actually hosts 4 breweries in a 1 block radius. The tasting itself felt a little like a wine tasting where everyone was being very quiet while drinking their beer samples. The beer itself I thought was good, but Maria isn’t a big fan of Belgian’s in general (beer not people) so she wasn’t blown away by any of them.
The tour was pretty quick and when it was, it was over. You could either leave or buy beer and merch from the gift shop. After leaving we got a text from our friend Steve Bradt, head brewer at Free State Brewing, who out of the blue asked if we were visiting Allagash? Apparently one of the Allagash brewers noticed the Free State sticker on our bumper and sent him a picture text to see if he knew anything about it. As if there is another brewery visiting RV that represents Free State at every stop. Small world.
Bull Jagger Brewing
Bull Jagger is one of the aforementioned breweries in the same warehouse district as Allagash. It was so close we just walked 100 feet or so from where we had parked at Allagash to check it out. Bull Jagger is a small outfit that doesn’t actually have open hours or scheduled tours. Fortunately, we had been in contact with them and they didn’t blink and eye when we stopped by unannounced. In the down time between brewing a batch of their Pilsner they showed us around the brew house.
It turns out, Matt Johannes, one of the brewers is Kansas native and had led a semi nomadic lifestyle before the brewery by traveling around the world as a stage hand for Disney on Ice so we immediately got along. They were super nice in taking time to talk about the brewery and the Portland craft beer scene in general. In the end we were able to exchange some Kansas beers for a couple of their bottles before we called it a day and headed back to Cabela’s for a night of parking lot camping.
It took several days but we finally made our way back downtown to visit the big guy in Maine, Shipyard Brewing. This is a huge facility and we learned that it needed to be because they do a ton of contract brewing. They produce Gritty’s bottled beer (the brew pubs still brews on site), all of Sea Dog’s beer (they actually own the brand now) and produce all of Peak Organic’s products. The last part is apparently quite a hassle to make sure that the beers are organically produced when every other beer they make is not. It reminded me a lot of the Point Brewery in Steven’s Point, WI.
The tour itself consisted of a 10 minute video, seeing the bottling line, and a tasting. The beers weren’t anything out of world and I probably won’t buy a case of anything I sampled, but it is always interesting to see big brewing set-ups and how different it is from the little guys who are make small hand crafted batches.
Our final stop wasn’t actually in Portland but a about 35 miles away in Lewiston. Baxter Brewing has made a big splash in the area largely due to it being the only brewery in the North East to can all of it’s beers. We were able to meet Baxter founder, Luke Livingston, and got a quick tour and some history from Chris Cavallari, the retail store and tour coordinator. I have to say that all of their beers were superb and was probably the best all around stop on our tour of the area.
After spending a week in the area we had to move on, but will never again assume someone is talking about Oregon when they mention Portland and craft beer.