Adventures on the East Coast: Portland, ME
In mid-July, Craig took a trip to the East Coast. He picked up his buddy Ed (from the Night Shift Barrel Society show) in Boston and they hit 4 areas on their travels. This is their story.
For more in depth discussion about some of the beers from the breweries below, check out our Mostly ME show.
Stoneface Brewing Company
Small and having no taproom, Stoneface is still a must stop in the area. Four beers are “on tap” from which you can get 2 oz samples of each for free. Merchandise and a cooler stocked with their beer for take home purchase complete the customer area. The brewery surrounds 75 % of the customer area and you can take a peek as to what they’re doing through the windows.
Denise was manning the desk while we were there, and she was extremely knowledgeable about the brewery and their operations. Peter, the owner, eventually came out and chatted a bit about some of their challenges (hop shortages) and what they had sitting in the barrels (their RIS in rum barrels). On tap were a wheat, their APA (dry hopped with Citra and Amarillo), India Red Rye Ale, and the Stoneface IPA, along with a sample of their Porter. Standouts for me were the dry-hopped APA (nice hoppy profile integrating well with the base APA), the IPA, and Porter (nice and roasty with some coffee and chocolate present). I will definitely be asking for more from them.
One of the better tours I’ve been on. Paul, having previously given tours at Alaska Brewing Company and New Glarus, was well informed about Allagash and their history as well as being an entertaining tour guide. The first part is a standard brewery tour, but things get really interesting when the tour gets to the original Allagash brewing facility, which is where their sours are brewed and the barrel aging take place. Inside of the barrel aging area are four taps, where you get four generous pours of their beer. Allagash White, Dubbel, Speciale Blonde, and Midnight Brett were on, and the Midnight Brett was something else. No fruit whatsoever used in the brewing process, but a huge amount of black cherries on the nose and taste made it a beer I asked if I could buy a bottle of; of course, bottles were not available for that one.
After repeated bothering, Paul acquiesced to taking the group out to the coolship, probably because I’m awesome (or maybe because we were the last tour). In a shed out behind the huge outdoor fermenters, the coolship was much smaller than I imagined, possibly because it fit snugly in the shed. The windows were opened and had a screen, mainly to keep the bugs out and let that lovely micoflora in.
The tour was longer than expected (about an hour), but totally worth it. See if you can get Paul and tell him I sent you.
Novare Res Bier Café
We ended our night here, and I’m glad we did. Ed was immediately taken back to his time spent in the Netherlands/Belgium with Novare Res being basically hidden behind stores on the main street, underground, and sporting brick pillars to hold it up. Dimly lit, you could tell you weren’t actually in Belgium as their music choice definitely leaned towards late 70s punk (heard The Clash and Sex Pistols amongst others), which was a bit odd at first, but it melded nicely over time.
Their tap (30 of them) and bottle list was a lovely blend of US (Ballast Point, Dogfish Head), local Maine (I was able to have Bissell Brothers’ Diavoletto on tap) and overseas (Weinhenstephaner Hefe, Paulaner Hefe). The bottle list had both the depth and breadth suiting a bar of this quality, with the notable exception of their lambic page, which had the dreaded “ask your server what we have currently,” to which I usually get, “We’re all out.” I asked anyways, and, to my surprise, I got an actual list as an answer.
We heard a majority of the list, but the I couldn’t make out the Drie Fonteinen bottle mentioned over the music. Luckily we happened to be sitting right across from the case, and I descried something I didn’t think I’d see – Framboos (5 of them, to be exact). Upon asking for the price, I was quickly quoted $55, with a “Let me check.” Turned out to be $70, underneath my $80 threshold I set in my mind, so, after discussing with Ed, we split the bottle. It was worth it, although it could use a little more time to get more jammy (like a 2011 Framboos I had about a year ago), at which point it would be a steal.
If you’re ever in Portland, Novare Res Bier Café is a must. They do also have outdoor seating (like most bars do), but the indoor seating is a very unique experience here in the states.
Expectations Not Met
Oxbow Bottling and Blending
First of all, it was unlabeled and we would’ve have never found it without the address. Hell, we had the address and almost didn’t find it. Parking in the area was confusing. While a nice space, complete with bar, picnic tables and barrels taking up most of the space on the side, it feels like almost every other brewery that decided to put a taproom in the corner of its brewing facility.
I don’t know if there was an event or something, but their draft list was half-filled. Their food options included an enticing three cheese plate, except for the fact that they only had one of the three cheeses available. That happens, but if it does, please erase or cross them out from the board listing them as an option. We did get a little more of the one available cheese, but that incident was symptomatic of the overall feeling of the place – something was missing. I had planned to spend a good hour or two there; we had a few tasters (which were very good), bought our bottles, and were on our way.
If you’re in Portland, you’re going to go to Oxbow Bottling and Blending regardless. But it could have been so much more.
Ah, the famed location of Kate the Great imperial stout (until Tod Mott left to form Tributary). I was very excited to finally be able to go here. Located in downtown Portsmouth, we just parked the car and were able to walk anywhere we needed to go (the 2 other places we visited, Thirsty Moose and Row 34).
Upon entering, we sat in the bar section, but not at the bar itself as there were not two seats. I saw the taplist on the chalkboard behind me and the taplist written above me, but since there were no descriptions for the beers on either, I asked for a paper taplist (which, I think, is a standard thing). I then got pointed – not rudely, but not nicely – to the taplist above (along with what I thought was a snide comment from someone at the bar to the bartender, but hey, whatever).
You know why you need descriptions of the beers written somewhere if you don’t have a paper taplist? Because I have no fucking idea what the hell Le Chat Noir is. I took French and know that it means Black Cat and I’ll guess it’s a dark beer, but is it a porter, stout, schwarzbier, or something else? Another beer was simply called Kriek. I’d guess a Belgian style of some sorts, but I shouldn’t have to guess what style of beer I’m getting. A few styles were listed on the boards (like their 5 C’s, an IPA), but overall it was an underwhelming experience. The “ok at best” beer I had there didn’t help. Overall, I was disappointed I wasted my time there and will definitely not be returning.
Oh. And we thought Le Chat Noir was a porter. Untappd said a stout. We said fuck it and left.
Only having one day in Portland
The Portland area is currently having a brewing renaissance. With Allagash, Oxbow, and Maine Brewing Co. already entrenched, so many other new breweries are opening their doors (or just about to). Stoneface. Foundation Brewing Company. Bissell Brothers. Austin Street. Deciduous.
With all these new breweries also comes a bunch of new, or better, beer bars in the area. When asking for recommendations on where to go while out there, I got so many different ones that some had to be cut. I’d say you would need at least 3 days to hit all the beer related things Portland and the surrounding area has to offer. Just make sure to go late in the week, as Foundation, Bissell Brothers and Austin Street were all closed while we were there on a Tuesday, which was a real bummer.
Row 34 Portsmouth
I was eagerly anticipating being able to try Deciduous Brewing’s first offering, Foreward (a dry-hopped American Blonde) while I was in New Hampshire. I checked their Facebook page and it said Row 34 in Portsmouth had it. So, after eating lunch we walked over to Row 34. We asked if they had Deciduous on tap, to which we got, “Who makes that?” After explaining, we were told they didn’t have it. So we left (to Portsmouth Brewing, unfortunately). Turns out they tapped it the next day. This story does have a happy ending, however.
Parking in Old Port
What a disaster. We must’ve looked for about 20 minutes for a spot. On a Tuesday. We didn’t mind paying metered street parking, but fuck those pay lots (of which there were a fair amount). So we had to employ Chicago/Boston tactics of concentric circle driving loops to find parking. We actually found something decent that was a bit of a walk (and the meters were off!) only to return to find that a very healthy bird of some sorts used the car as target practice. It was on the car the whole trip.
Sebago Brewing Company
We needed food and wanted to stay in the Old Port area, so we were intent on going to Sebago Brewing Company based on a few recommendations. First, it’s the hotel bar for a Hampton Inn, which was really odd (I think that was a first for me). Then two beers kicked (including one of their flagship IPAs I was told to get), but thankfully one was replaced with a delicious barleywine. The waitress took a very long time in between visits (bar wasn’t slammed at all), but I did get to watch a part of the home run derby. I would still recommend going there, but things were just – odd. (Sebago does operate three other brewpubs and has tours and tastings at their production brewery in Gorham, ME.)
Being stuck in the 90s
Ed and I decided to jam out to 90s tunes while driving about the east coast, but the Portland/Portsmouth area was more than happy to amplify that decision. Outside of one bar that was running a Pandora-like music video thing, no place we went was playing anything past 1999. Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn at Sebago (and other places). What we thought was the entire President of the United States self-titled album playing (which would’ve rocked) at Allagash on the tour turned out to be Lump and Peaches (twice). Stoneface jamming to a bunch of 90s hits in the brewery. It was a nice underlying note to the Portland part of the trip, but again – odd.
It also led to a funny moment at Sebago when “Stayin’ Alive” played and a kid, not older than 10 years old, started doing the Saturday Night Fever dance.
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