THE OTHER BEERVANA
America is flanked by two Portlands, one in Oregon (see page 58) and one in Maine; two lighthouse beer destinations, two beacons of brewing. Oregon’s Portland is known as Beervana, say there’s a Beervana on each coast because Portland, Maine, is a must-visit beer destination.
Great beer cities have certain features in common. They’re usually built on the foundation of some long-standing brewers, alongside a drive of new breweries that are typically established in regenerating neighborhoods, with most opening their doors so you can drink the beer where it’s made. There’ll be at least one classic or legendary pub that’s been around for decades, probably creating the city’s early interest in beer or at least giving people the beer they didn’t realize they wanted yet, and then there’ll be some standout pubs and bars that sell beer from all over the town, state, country, or world. Add good food, easy accessibility and travel, and a strong community feeling, and that’s how beer-city destinations pull you in. Both beery Portlands have all these things. Here’s the important stuff to know about the one in Maine.
Where to Drink in Portland, Maine Photo Gallery
The classic brewers include Allagash (see page 9), Shipyard (86 Newbury Street, Portland, Maine 04101), and Geary’s (38 Evergreen Drive, Portland, Maine 04103), the latter two specializing in Britishstyle beers.
There are more than a dozen new or newer breweries that you should definitely try and get to. Bissell Brothers (4 Thompson’s Point Road, Portland, Maine 04102) produce some exceptional beers in the Zeitgeist but I think you can safely style of New England IPAs. Their Swish DIPA is sensational, a wowing beer that’s fresh and tangy like juice, intensely aromatically hopped, slick and smooth and satisfying to drink, with a fullness of body that pushes the juicy hops forward, then, importantly, leads to a clean and dry finish (something that’s often missing in this kind of brew). Bissell’s current location is their second home, as they started out in the space left vacant by the Maine Beer Co. (see page 12) when they moved to nearby Freeport. These two breweries are Portlandimportant for an additional reason: the brewing space they once used is across the street from Allagash and that industrial complex now has (at the time of writing) three breweries: Foundation, Austin Street, and Battery Steele (all at 1 Industrial Way, Portland, Maine 04103). All are open to the public, but have limited hours, so check ahead before visiting—you’ll want to go to these breweries when you visit Allagash. It’s a beer hub on the edge of town and also close to Geary’s.
Downtown Portland has the rest of the best breweries and it’s possible to walk or get short cab journeys or ride-shares between them all— opening hours aren’t consistent, so check ahead before visiting. Liquid Riot (250 Commercial Street, Portland, Maine 04101) is an essential stop by the waterfront in the center of town. It’s a huge corner brewery, distillery, and restaurant—the food is good and the beers are varied and very tasty. Oxbow Blending & Bottling (49 Washington Avenue, Portland, Maine 04101) is a cool space—a big, open drinking area in an industrial unit. They have barrels and also a space to blend the beers, but no brewkit there (that’s an hour north-east from Portland). Beers include the excellently hoppy Luppolo dry-hopped lager and a range of Saison-inspired beers, including Farmhouse Pale Ale, which has fruity hops meeting fruity-spicy yeast. Rising Tide (103 Fox Street, Portland, Maine 04101) is an industrial space that’s popular with locals. Their Ishmael is a good Altbier-ish kind of Amber that makes a nice change from all the IPAs you’ll have been drinking.
For something a little different, go to Urban Farm Fermentory (200 Anderson Street, Portland, Maine 04101). They make beer, cider, mead, kombucha, and jun, all on a small scale and all using local and foraged ingredients. Some beers are hop-free, while others contain Maine-grown hops; they use kombucha and jun cultures in some of their beers, while the fruits and spices in the beers are all handled subtly. It’s a fascinating exploration of fermentation and you shouldn’t skip it.
Across the bridge in South Portland, there’s Foulmouthed Brewing (15 Ocean Street, South Portland, Maine 04106). I didn’t love their beers or the food—I think I went on a bad day, as a lot of the locals said I should go. Fore River Brewing (45 Huntress Avenue, South Portland, Maine 04106) was one of the places I didn’t manage to get to, as was Bunker Brewing (Unit D, 17 Westfield Street, Portland, Maine 04102), which is out near Bissell. And, almost opposite Urban Farm Fermentory, is Lone Pine (219 Anderson Street, Portland, Maine 04101), which opened soon after I visited.
The classic pub in town is The Great Lost Bear (540 Forest Avenue, Portland, Maine 04101), which is, for me, the quintessential old American beer bar, the kind of place that’s the complete opposite to bare bricks and back-bars lined with identical tap handles. This pub has old brewery neons, mirrors, and signs on the walls, old beer cans, and lots of knick-knacks and tat collected over the years; it has the right kind of darkness, over-friendly service (edged with a little I-don’t-actually-care), music from a couple of decades ago that you know all the words to, TV screens that never shift from the sports channels, bellybusting bar food, lots of different spaces (meaning you can hide in the back somewhere or head to the bar and sit next to a local for a chat), and all accompanied by 70-odd draft lines, mostly from Maine. The Bear has been an institution since 1979 and you have to go.
Bissell Brothers have earned an enviable reputation for impressive IPAs.
The go-to geek bar is Novare Res Bier Café (4 Canal Plaza, Portland, Maine 04101), which is hidden down some backstreets and feels like a bunker. It has a lot of Maine drafts and many guest brews, including some lesser-seen European imports. The bottle list is excellent if you love Belgian and Belgian-style beers, including some of the hard-to-find Allagash catalog. I preferred drinking in the King’s Head (254 Commercial Street, Portland, Maine 04101) and at the Mash Tun (29 Wharf Street, Portland, Maine 04101) for their local beer ranges, cozier spaces, and less nerdy atmospheres, so head to those for a different and—for me—better experience.
Portland is famous for its great seafood. J’s Oyster (5 Portland Pier, Portland, Maine 04101) is a little shack by the water, old-timey, well worn by locals and tourists, and an institution in town. There are oysters, of course, but get a lobster roll with an Allagash White for a proper Portland lunch. Across town is Eventide (86 Middle Street, Portland, Maine 04101), the modern evolution of the seafood shack, which has a list of oysters from both Maine and other states, served with a flavored ice. Their decadent lobster roll is like a buttery sponge topped with brownbuttered lobster and there are a dozen local beers on tap.
Portland, Maine, is definitely a destination for beer lovers and it has all of the attributes you could want from a complete beer city. I still can’t make up my mind whether I prefer the beer beacon of Portland in Oregon or Portland in Maine, though I do crave Allagash and Bissell beers and wasting hours in the Bear after having amazing seafood for lunch…
Maine Beer Co.
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