Portland, Maine was never really on my list of cities to check out. But after multiple instances of the town coming up in conversation, as well as various articles and blog posts boasting its hip food and beer scene combined with islands, coastal towns, mountains and lighthouses, it seemed like and interesting place to check out in the early beginnings of the fall season. That plus only a 5 hour car ride and AirBNB that was the entire floor of an apartment and half the price of any nearby hotel further sealed the deal. So my girlfriend and I decided to drive up the east coast and venture to the “less hip” Portland.
The experience was everything I imagined it would be and more, with so much to do and places to see that we didn’t come close to crossing everything off our list in our 4 days spent there. But what I want to talk about here are the breweries, one of my primary reasons we went up there. And the scene did not disappoint. Aside from the proper breweries I will discuss below, there were multiple craft beer stores with enormous selections of bottles and cans (even some local Queens favorites!) as well as restaurants and bars boasting quality drafts and bottles, many with beers exclusively from Maine. All in all we went to a total of 6 breweries in our 4 days there, pretty impressive in my opinion, considering a few others like Austin Street and Foundation were only open on the weekends and we were there during the week. I listed them in the order we visited, and you can probably easily see what my opinion was for each
Rising Tide – Our first brewery stop was in East Bayside, which we were calling the Bushwick of Portland, and ultimately where our AirBNB was, so Rising Tide was very easy to walk to. Had an open space remimding me of Finback or LIC Beer Project here in New York. We did a quick flight of 4 or 5 of their beers. Nothing stood out too much, they had a lot of ales and ambers which I’m usually not the biggest fan of, but everything was very drinkable and we enjoyed hanging out there.
Liquid Riot – This was our last stop after hitting up Rising Tide, neighboring Maine Craft Distilling (highly recommended to check out), Eventide for dinner (which we went back to for lunch the day we left and only has local Maine beers on tap, including ones from the aforementioned breweries that weren’t open), and Novare Ries Cafe (considered the best beer bar in Portland which I would argue against unless you value bottle selection over draft list). This was technically a brewpub, so not the proper brewery location which is outside the city, but had multiple beers on tap. We were already a few drinks in as you could probably imagine at this point, but plowed on through since this was so close to Novare Ries and only a $6 Uber ride home. Standouts here were “Sour Trouble” and “A Beer Has No Name,” the latter an Imperial IPA that was one of my favorites during the whole trip. Unfortunately neither of those were being sold in can or bottle form, and I didn’t think a growler would keep going back to New York.
Allagash – This is about a 15 minute drive from the city center and also arguably the most famous brewery in Maine, focusing on Belgian beers and Farmhouse ales (again, not my favorite styles). But they offer a free tour (be sure to schedule in advance), that comes with a free tasting of 4 of their beers. We quickly discovered from an employee at one of the craft beer stores that you don’t actually need to go on the tour, you can just get a chip to exchange for a flight of beer, all free. So we got to try their Saison, House Beer, Tripel, and Sixteen Candles. Again, none really stood out for me and I had tried most of these at one point or another, but after we got chummy with the bartender he let us try “Farm to Face”, a sour made with peaches. Easily my favorite of the group, and not just because we felt cool that they let us try the “secret” beer.
Maine Beer Company – These guys are technically in Freeport, but still only about a 20 minute drive from Portland, so we decided to head there after Allagash. Maine Beer is probably considered the best brewery in Maine, at least by outsiders. They continuously release quality IPAs and a few other styles, with distinguishably but simple packaging and branding, and maintaining sustainability and philanthropy into their business model. We decided to do the “All In” which consisted of a flight of all their 8 drafts in 5 ounce pours. With me driving and my girlfriend not wanting to black out, we didn’t come close to finishing the flight. Again I had tried many of these before, and was a little disappointed there wasn’t anything super rare or unique in the bunch, but loved being able to try “Lunch” again and discovered an IPA simply called “Another One.” I decided to buy a bottle of “a tiny beautiful something” since it wasn’t on tap and could bring home, but when I saw it a week later in my local Astoria beer shop, I got a little upset in discovering how readily available it was.
Bissell Brothers – I don’t think Bissell Brothers was on my original list, as I didn’t know a lot about it, and it wasn’t open until Wednesday. However, I quickly learned after mingling with locals that this was a must see. And were they right. The space is about 15 minutes outside of the city by car (or an awkward half hour walk which we inevitably did). The space had a similar feel to Rising Tide but much bigger, with their logo displayed everywhere, even on their speakers. It’s supposed to be the letter “B” in a circular formation, but to me it looked like the symbol an EDM artist would have. As for the beers, these easily were my overall favorite. IPAs were hoppy and juicy, what I’ve come to love most over the years, an we even got to try and brand new stout called “Umbra”. We loved this place so much that we came back again on the day we left and pick up a 4 pack of Lux, their Rye IPA and my favorite of the ones we tried. Not sure where this originated, but their focus is cans, only sold at the brewery, similar to my local favorites Other Half, Finback and LIC Beer Project. Both times we were there, numerous people simply drove up to the parking lot, stopped in to buy a case (usually mixed as there was a 2 or 3 pack limit for each style), then hop in their car and leave. It’s easy to see that these guys are slowly establishing themselves as one of the most buzzed about breweries in the area. Can’t wait to see if and when they distribute in New York.
Oxbow – Seeing as Oxbow was less than a two block walk from our apartment, it was inevitable we would end up here at some point. Farmhouse Ales/Saisons are the standard here, and some of them pretty damn good. They see some distribution down in New York. While they didn’t have my favorite beers of the trip, it was definitely the best space overall. Open but intimate, hipster-ish but not over-doing it, just a cool spot. They typically have local food trucks at night and have occasional themes (when we went it was Wu-Tang Wednesdays).
To sum up, when people think of the top craft beer cities in the country, east coast Portland rarely would come up. But their beer scene is growing rapidly, and definitely worth a trip if you want to try some quality brews, many of which you can’t get anywhere else.