It’s 10:30 on a cloudy, cold-for-July morning – jacket weather, we call it here in New England. Groups of people mill about inside and outside The Craft Beer Cellar on Commercial Street in Portland’s Old Port. Some hold coffee cups, some from Starbuck’s, some from Dunkin’s and our local Coffee by Design. But coffee preferences don’t divide us, as we all have one thing in common: we are waiting for Don Littlefield to appear to get us on the Maine Brew Bus for a tour of the newest craft breweries in the Portland area. Beer, the great diplomat.
This is a special tour: we will be visiting five breweries that either have just opened or that are not quite serving to the public. Don has connections, knows a guy, see? He actually knows a lot of guys and women behind the great local brews we are about to taste. And Don likes to share this with anyone who is willing to ride with him on Lenny or Mabel, the lime-green buses that sport the Brew Bus tag line: Driving You to Drink Local.
The day’s lineup: Dirigo Brewing Company in Biddeford, Foulmouthed Brewing in South Portland (lunch stop!), Mast Landing in Westbrook, Lone Pine in Portland and a quick hop from there to Urban Farm Fermentory’s Gruit. We have “eaten our spinach,” as this is going to take all our Popeye strength and stamina to wend our ways around IPA’s, Pale ales, peanut butter stout, saisons, sweet fern gruit and the lunchtime poutine that I still dream about.
Tom and Molly Bull have partnered with Mark and Meesha Paulin to bring another craft brewery to up and coming Biddeford. In an old mill building overlooking a fantastic falls, Dirigo is so close to being finished and the beer a-brewing. We didn’t get to sample any of Tom’s lagers, because the licensing hadn’t yet allowed them to brew. But that didn’t dampen our group’s enthusiasm and well-wishing for this new place. We received pretzel necklaces to keep up our strength as the day passed, and even though they didn’t contain spinach, they were greatly appreciated. Tom was a co-founder and brewer at Bull Jagger’s which dissolved a few years ago. So if you miss that beer, you’ll be drinking Tom’s creations once more. Check their Facebook page for news of their official opening date.
Next stop: Over to SoPo for an early lunch. As we pulled into Foulmouthed Brewing’s parking lot, Don quipped from the driver’s seat, “This isn’t open to the public yet, so if anyone tries to sneak in behind you, just say “no.”” We laughed, but sure enough, a car stopped right behind us, a couple got out and started toward the door. Don had to give them the bad news, which from the looks on their faces, didn’t go over well. Yet another reason to get on the brew bus for exclusive opportunities.
Can you say Poutine? Sorry. Okay, we started with the beer. Back in the brewery, which is a completely reconstructed concrete-block gas station, long abandoned and now jazzed up and classy, we started with Garbage Pale Ale. Founders/brewers Craig Dilger and Bill Bugoski describe it as an American Pale Ale brewed with whatever the hell we had laying around. In this case: Golden Promise and Maris Otter malts with gobs of Crystal and Centenial Hops. Craig told some stories about the brewery’s start. The former gas station had been abandoned for quite some time before they bought it and began renovations. Ironically, they found empty beer cans of a non-alcoholic variety and empty egg cartons. “We thought, why the heck make boilermakers with non-alcoholic beer?”
[Aside: Not quite a boilermaker, but I was intrigued enough to look up “egg in beer” and found the following conjecture:
Dewdroppers, Waldos, and Slackers: A Decade-by-Decade Guide to the Vanishing Vocabulary of the Twentieth Century (2003) by Rosemarie Ostler lists it under the forties: egg in your beer: too much of a good thing. What do you want, egg in your beer? was a common retort to pointless or unjustified complaining since in the wartime world either an egg or a glass of beer alone should have been a sufficient luxury for anybody.
At any rate, it was a virtous breakfast for champions for some poor soul who had to seek shelter.]
Lunch: Smoked bacon BLT’s that went way beyond any BLT I’d ever had. And did I mention the poutine? I have a connection to the Franco American community, and although my mother-in-law made toutiere, she never made poutine. I know I’m mostly Irish (and a wee bit French) because there is nothing I’d rather have than mashed potatoes covered in gravy, except now I’m adding French fries with gravy and melted cheese to that list. We each got a flight of Bill and Craig’s brews: Garbage Pale, Dark and Foamy, Knightvillain and Iron Goddess. Were we in heaven?
Next stop: Another mill town that cleaned up its act is Westbrook. The smell from the paper mill used to be oppressive, and that’s being kind. The odor is gone now and Westbrook has welcomed its first craft brewery, located in a gigantic building where tires were once made. The adorable thing is that Ian Dorsey and his partners set up a 1 barrel brewing system in an over 10,000 square foot building. But this is a wise move, because the way this beer economy is growing, the guys won’t have to move again. Well, at least for awhile. Lots of room for expansion.
They’re already up to a 2 barrel system that is doing a nice job of producing Broad Arrow Blonde and Gunner’s Daughter Peanut Butter Stout, among others. I liked the Blonde, but hands down, the most popular beer we tasted was the Gunner’s Daughter, causing a stampede to the counter to buy crowlers (32 ounce cans) of it. Don had to go back in and wrangle the crowd back to the bus to keep to the schedule. Get down to Westbrook and visit Ian and his partners and brewers Neil Frederick, Dylan Webber, Mike Capen and Brewery Ambassador MacKenzie Bolon.
Whew! Back to Portland to visit Tom Madden, co-founder of Lone Pine Brewing in East Bayside, aka Yeast Bayside because of all the breweries there. Brand spanking new, this place is, in a pink and green building that most likely will stay that way. I was trying to take photos of Tom telling us all about how they started, but he was waving his hands around so much, I almost gave up.
But the enthusiasm that spills off these dedicated brewers is, well, contagious, way better than Popeye’s spinach by a long shot. (If you are asking, “who the hell is Popeye,” I’m going to cry. Means I’m old.) Back to Lone Pine. Tom poured out samples of the following, which even this late in the day were slurped up gratefully by the crew:
Portland Pale Ale // American Pale Ale; Don Saison; Brightside IPA // American IPA: Maine Maple Sundae // Breakfast Brown Ale.
The beers are being served on draft all over the area. Get on their website and look at the beer finder toggle. Crazy good.
End of day, back on the bus to drive about fifty feet to Urban Farm Fermentory, which has added a beautiful bar/tasting room in the past year or so. Huge and a bit industrial in a good way, with a living room nook, great mandalas on the walls and ambient light (my kids think I’m a mole because I’m always dimming the lights.) it’s more than inviting.
We are led to a room adjacent to the bar, which houses Gruit, UFF’s brewery. Gruits are traditionally brewed without hops, but Jason, the wizard from Canada who is co-brewing here, told us, “We are experimenting with some hops.” Aha! Pushing style guidelines, eh? Well go right ahead, everyone else is doing it.
These are funky brews, very un-beer-like, to restate what some of our fellow tour goers said. But they are interesting and cool. Using many ingredients that are foraged locally, Jason and his crew are making gruit with such things as sweet fern, dandelion and about 20 other herbs and flowers. Yes, rosa rugose is in there too. Don’t forget the kombucha and cider UFF produces. My favorite is the ginger root. Good for the tummy, after too much poutine. Okay, I’ll stop.
Don drives our happy yet weary crew back to the Craft Beer Cellar and we trickle out of the bus to our various destinations. I schlep my beer buys back to my car and drive 80 miles home. I prefer to buy the beers to try later, so I can safely drive after the tours. Most of the tour goers are staying at hotels in the Portland area, a wise choice. And a safe one. Chalk up another win for the Maine Brew Bus!
Here are the details for your own beer bus tour and in all fairness, I give the other two bus tour companies I know of:
Maine Brew Bus: www.themainebrewbus.com Office Phone: 207.245.1940
Maine Beer Tours: www.mainebeertours.com Phone: 207.553.0898
The Growler Bus: www.thegrowlerbus.com Phone: 207.307.6666
Dirigo Brewing Company: www.dirigobrewingcompany.com Phone: 207.838.2838
Foulmouthed Brewing: www.foulmouthedbrewing.com
Take Out / Bar / Restaurant: 207-618-6978; Brewery / Business Office: 207-618-6977
Mast Landing: www.mastlandingbrewing.com
Lone Pine: www.lonepinebrewery.com Phone: 207-468-4554
Urban Farm Fermentory/Gruit: www.fermentory.com Phone: 207.773.8331