My last stop of the day is my first brewery stop in Maine at Tributary Brewing Company. Tributary sits on the end of a strip mall in a residential area. The bartender at the Smuttynose taproom told me that the brewer from Portsmouth Brewery is now at Tributary and brought his recipe for an epic Russian Imperial Stout that he made at Portsmouth Brewery called Kate the Great. However, he could not use that name and so the Tributary’s Russian Imperial Stout is called Mott the Lesser.
Tributary has four beers on and so I order up a taster flight. The taproom has a modern feel to it that is still cozy. They are most definitely dog friendly, so be aware that there are four-legged patrons there, too. Locals tell me that Tributary makes some incredible beer with local supplies. Todd Mott, their head brewer, is somewhat of a New England legend and so I am curious to see if the beers can live up to the hype. One of my favorite things about visiting breweries is learning about new craft beer styles that are either new or not familiar to me. The lineup at Tributary has a few things that I know well in the Pale Ale and Wit, but also a Biere de Miel (never tried before) and an Oyster Stout (only had a few times), so I will be giving my palate an education. The Pale Ale has floral and citrusy flavors along with a crispness that is awesome in the summer time. This beer is approachable and has a nice malt balance to make it a delicious Pale Ale. Pale Ales can sometimes fall by the wayside as far as standing out in the crowd, but this is a fine iteration of the style. The Wit has a vibrant golden color and also is refreshing with the deftly distributed flavors of coriander and orange peel. This finishes dry because it has a fair amount of wheat in the grain bill. The Biere de Miel is something totally new to me. It is in the Saison family and it is brewed with local wildflower honey. There is a unique sweetness to this from the honey and the beer is stronger (8.5%ABV) than a typical Saison. Because of the higher ABV, there isn’t a typical floral and herbaceous nature to the beer, however, I am enjoying it because it has more booze and sweetness that still manages to be refreshing. The Oyster Stout is a variety of Stout that I am learning more about on this trip. While still being smooth and velvety from the malt, the oysters give this beer a mineral quality that I feel balances out the flavors quite well. I continue enjoying my flight and observing the taproom crowd. As I am looking around, I see a lot of people chatting and Tributary seems to have a nice local following. The taproom staff is friendly and helpful in their descriptions of the beer. I would love to stay for a full pint of the Oyster Stout, but I have to get a few more miles in to get to Portland tonight and check in to my Airbnb. As I walk to the car, I am cautiously optimistic about the other Maine breweries I plan on visiting. If they are anything like Tributary in regards to uniqueness and balance, I am in for a treat.
I check into my Airbnb and head to J’s Oysters for a late dinner. I find that not only does this place have a cool divey feel, they also have some nice beers on tap. I order a D.L. Geary’s Summer Ale and it is nice and refreshing. I check the time on my phone and it says time for oysters so I order up a dozen and then an order of mussels. I am sitting at the bar and the clientele is very much a crosscut of age and gender. Some youngsters on a date to my right and a few cougars to my right. It is Thursday night and people are gearing up for the weekend. The aroma of fresh seafood is still intoxicating and I know that in a few weeks, this olfactory delight will be just be a distant memory when I am back in the Midwest, the land of Tater Tot Casserole. They oysters are smaller than other ones I have had, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are still little gifts of briny goodness from Poseidon. The mussels are excellent and pair extremely well with the beer. I am relaxing and enjoying being a fly on the wall to other people’s conversations. Being able to get lost in the shuffle is good sometimes, even for an extrovert like me. I settle up and realize that it is raining like mad; Mother Nature has apparently started some extra-strength diuretic. I make it back to my Airbnb and attempt to fall asleep and the humidity and lack of a fan make that easier said than done.
I wake up the next morning and the humidity seems to be a bit tamer and that is a saving grace. I have a full day planned and set out for Freeport, ME, and the Maine Beer Company. I arrive there and the day is perfect; sun is shining and there is not a cloud in the sky. The rows of solar panels outside are a sharp contrast to the immaculate whiteness of the building itself. I walk in and there are already plenty of people here. I snag a table at the far end of the taproom and then head up to the counter to order my flight. Knowing the
ambitious itinerary of the day, I elect to ask the taproom attendant to set me up with the 4 beers that best illustrate what Maine Beer Company is all about. The tasting boards are a chic black chalkboard squares with with room for four taster glasses. Above the bar, there is a colossal collection of old cans and I even saw a Hamm’s up there with all the others. This homage to americana and beer history is a stark juxtaposition to the modern feel of the brewery. The taproom attendant gives me a nice variety of tasters and I head over to the table to begin the tour of flavors. What I notice before I even take a sip is that these are visually stunning craft beers. I think that the boards really accentuate the exciting colors of their offerings.
I sit down at my table to begin tasting and start with the Pilot India Pale Lager. This is a style that is fairly new and underrepresented. When done well, like the Maine Beer Company version, it is a clean and refreshing beer with a nice hop finish. When I don’t like this style, it is because the clean and crisp nature of the beer get muddled with the hops. I am sure that might be an issue with fermentation, and so I typically avoid this style when I am picking. I am happy that it showed up on my board today because it is refreshing and really livens up my palate. The next beer is the Peeper, a Pale Ale. The hops in the Peeper are floral and citrusy. The hops in the taste are balanced and refreshing. At 5% ABV, this beer is a nice way to continue the theme in their beers of balanced and refreshing. Next up is Another One, a 7% IPA. I will never say that I am sick of IPAs, but I am trying a lot of them. Will I get to the point where they start to meld together and not be discernible to my palate and memory? If that is the case, it will not start today. Another One has much more pine and resin in the hop character. It finishes dry and that is a departure from the juicy and wet IPAs I have been having recently. The last beer on my taster tray is Lunch, a 7% IPA. This beer is in line with other East Coast IPAs I have been enjoying on my trip. Lots of juicy hops and smoothness make this a great example of why so many people rave about Maine Beer Company.
The taproom is hopping and filling up. A group of three people ask if they can join me at my table and I welcome them in. They comment that it looks like I am deep in thought and they won’t disturb me. I explain what I am doing and where I am from and immediately, Carrie, one of the ladies in the group says that she lives in Minneapolis. She is out here visiting her cousin (Tim) and another cousin (Kellie) came from Lexington, KY. We get talking and Tim is a riot. Our conversation is mainly about beer, but also about some of the other local gems. For instance, Tim is telling me about the Yarmouth Clam Festival which brings a huge throng of people to town of just under 5,900 residents. He said that already, there are chairs lined up on the street. Carrie chimes in saying that if that happened in Minneapolis, those chairs would be stolen. Tim is also extolling the virtues of a local soda called Moxie. Apparently, Moxie is a Maine institution. Tim says that I need to get one just to say that I tried it, even though I will probably only be able to choke down one sip. He is telling me about an online review of the drink that is quite hilarious produced by a gent who goes by the name of Little Peters. From the sounds of it, I might want to avoid this in order to avoid a digestive tract derailment. I am laughing and enjoying the company of these great people. A chance meeting like this only adds to my contentment because it reaffirms why I love travel. The craft beer is memorable and definitely a treat, however, what really charges my soul on the road is great conversation and laughter with new people. Tim, Carrie, and Kellie are great people and they are just like a pinball game of stories and anecdotes. I am sad to leave, but eventually I have to get rolling onto my next stop.
If you go to Maine for craft beer, Allagash Brewing Company has to be on your list. This brewery is a mainstay of their craft beer scene and sets the standard for Belgian and barrel-aged beers. They are best known for their Belgian White, which I have seen on tap everywhere throughout my trip. However, the craft beer portfolio is robust with other amazing things that don’t get as widely distributed as their flagship brew. They are located in a beautiful area surrounded by trees. Not thick woods, but there is definitely a nature feel to this area. Their complex is huge, and they are right across the street from several smaller breweries. They have a vast amount of outdoor seating and their taproom is spacious as well. Unlike most breweries, they have a set flight list that changes weekly. This is good because you get to try a couple of fun things along with their Belgian White. I wish that I could choose some of the other things that they have for sale in bottles, but you can’t always get what you want. I am not able to do the tour in lieu of being able to go to more places during my short time in Portland. The Belgian White is phenomenal. It lives up to the expectations that I have because of its extraordinary citrus flavors and effervescence. The esters from the yeast elevate the drinking experience and I feel like I have been transported to Belgium. The second beer in the flight is the 16 Counties, an honorable mention to the 16 counties who keep a rich tradition of farming alive and well in Maine. This Belgian Strong Pale Ale has a fantastic combination of grains comprised of barley, unmalted red wheat, and organic oats. The mouthfeel changes from sweet and smooth to dry and crisp. There are flavors of citrus, biscuit, and candy in the beer and it all blends together so deftly. My third beer is the Fluxus 2016, an 8.5% Saison with some fantastic aromas of ginger and other herbs. This beer is aged in a gin barrel and that adds a unique element to the flavor. It is surprisingly smooth for being so strong and I attribute that to the refreshing nature that the ginger brings to the beer. Last, but certainly not least, I have the James Bean, a bourbon barrel-aged Belgian Strong infused with cold press coffee. This is a special beer for many reasons. The way the rich flavors of coffee, caramel, vanilla, and bourbon combine masterfully to provide a tasting experience that is incomparable to anything that I can recall. Allagash Brewing Company has world-class beer and I can honestly say that after only tasting 4 of them. When the time comes to leave, I am sad that I don’t have more time because the tour would be incredible. However, I have two more brewery visits and then dinner and drinks with a craft beer blogger, Carla Lauter (aka The Beer Babe) later and so I need to vamoose.
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