Beertown, U.S.A.: Portland, Maine
July/August 2014 | By Carolyn Malcoun

The other Portland’s a beer destination in its own right.

Maine is one of those iconic summer vacation destinations. Mountains meet the ocean in the state’s dramatic landscapes, and beaches in the southern part of the state rival those on Cape Cod and points south. Take a surf lesson, kayak a rushing river into the ocean, or scavenge the tide pools; then, end your day with a fantastic Maine brew. Bars like The Great Lost Bear and Novare Res Bier Café have championed beer for years, and now there’s even more to root for: 13 breweries launched in 2013 and a staggering 16 more will fling open their doors this year. Sense the excitement and convivial vibe in the city’s tasting rooms, and strike at the chance to taste the East Coast Portland’s beer bounty.

Mama’s Crowbar
Every local brewer brings their special releases here, which means every local beer geek calls Crowbar a favorite spot. A cozy, cash-only dive, the place ain’t fancy, but the strictly American (and strictly excellent) craft selection takes on a certain charm beneath silver-leaf ceilings and Christmas lights. Two tips: The pianist takes requests for $1 on Tuesdays, and the super-short chain to turn on the bathroom light is hanging above you.

Rising Tide Brewing
It always feels like happy hour at this bright, industrial East Bayside brewery, where food-truck fare makes a nice base for classic styles (go for Zephyr IPA, a chorus of grapefruit, grass and pear) and seasonal one-offs. Feel extra-good when you order a crisp, hoppy Maine Island Trail Ale; proceeds support the preservation of 375 miles of Maine coastline.

Allagash Brewing
Twenty years later, this craft-beer pioneer is still making waves. Head to the big blue-and-white warehouse for a tour of the expanded facility including a new patio and “wild room,” where the impeccable sours age. Snatch up bottles from the Coolship Series—Belgian-inspired beers brewed on one of the country’s few koelschip vessels—and keep an eye out for Neddles, a summer sour aged in rum barrels from New England Craft Distilling.

1 Industri-Ale Way
There’s no name for the warehouse across the street from Allagash, so those in the know call it by its beer-ish address. Inside, start-ups Austin Street, Foundation and Bissell Brothers breweries have planted roots; if you’re in town on a Saturday—the only day they open their doors—you can hit the trifecta in one afternoon. There’s good beer karma here: The space already spawned Maine Beer Co. and Rising Tide.

Salvage BBQ
Claim a picnic table and get to work on super-moist beer-brined chicken, spicy house sausages and pulled pork, with a side of the best mac ’n’ cheese around and pie for dessert. Sixteen taps hit Maine’s finest—Baxter, Allagash, Bunker and beyond—and come in gallons and half-gallons to feed your crowd. Go Saturdays for live bands.

Maine Beer Co.
Twenty minutes outside Portland proper, the brewery’s crisp, minimalist tasting room reflects its austere, white-labeled bottles: There’s magic inside both. Head in for statewide standards like Mean Old Tom stout and brewery-only pilot beers like the hoppy red ale Pilot 4—now the regular Red Wheelbarrow. Locally sourced snacks are on hand for nibblers; bigger bellies should just order Dinner, the brewery’s cultish double IPA out at the end of July.

Pai Men Miyake
Chef Masa Miyake hauls the spoils of his Freeport farm down to this upscale, 12-tap ramen bar. Each month, the place sells thousands of bowls of its paitan ramen—pork belly, soy-marinated hard-cooked egg and ginger in a rich chicken-pork broth—though you shouldn’t sleep on the flash-fried Brussels sprouts tossed in fish-sauce vinaigrette, either. Rotating handles sync with the menu; watch for tap takeovers from Maine stars like Oxbow Brewing.

In’Finiti Fermentation & Distillation
The latest hit from the folks behind world-class beer bar Novare Res Bier Café is this Commercial Street gastropub, brewery and distillery. Sit beneath towering tanks and stills and dine on a fig-prosciutto pretzel-crust pizza and a Bier de Mars, crafted with locally sourced spelt and organic hops. Don’t leave without a nightcap nip of house white rum, bourbon, rye or oak-aged whiskey.

Bier Cellar
Portland’s best bottle shop is a family-run favorite. Scavenger-hunt your way through owner Greg Norton’s super-informative tags to assemble your perfect six-pack, or track down the man himself for spot-on recommendations. It’s also the only place in town you can pre-order growlers of Foundation, Austin Street and Banded Horn beers you can otherwise only get at the source.

Urban Farm Fermentory
An ode to all things fermented, UFF breaks the rules with flights of house-made and local-minded kombuchas, mead and spontan-eously fermented ciders that arrive with a large glass for mixing experiments. Once you’ve mastered a blend, sip it there, or get a growler to go. Feeling risky? Ask for a growler of sour cider topped off with habanero or ghost pepper kombucha.

Central Provisions
Impeccable small plates draw the dinner set and drink-all-day-ers to this rustic-chic Old Port gem: Summer eats like fluke ceviche with spicy piri piri, lime and cilantro are fresh and lovely, while seven taps rotate highbrow pours like Allagash Midnight Brett and Peak Organic Oak-Aged Mocha Stout at a dizzying pace. Pull up an upcycled, burlap-clad barstool and work your way through the handles via half-pours.

DAY TRIP: Mid-coast Maine
Hop on 295 North and get off at Route 1 in Brunswick. Stop for lunch at Ebenezer’s Brew Pub, sister spot to Lovell, Maine’s transcendent Ebenezer’s Pub & Restaurant, and where proprietor/beer guru Chris Lively works on his Lively Brewing batches. Pair the fried tomatoes with his peppery Lemon Haze Saison, and don’t sleep on the ESB. Hop back in your car and head up to Newcastle, home of Oxbow Brewing and its delicious farmhouse-style ales, which rank among the world’s best; grab whatever
liquid souvenirs you can in the taproom. End at Marshall Wharf Brewing. If the tasting room is closed, don’t despair—just walk to the brewery’s Three Tides brewpub next door, grab a seat on the deck overlooking Belfast Harbour and slurp just-hauled Pemaquid oysters while you watch day turn to night.

Published July/August 2014