Back in the spring, I reached out to Carla, known to me then only as @beerbabe on Twitter. While following her writing, I figured that her knowledge of the Maine craft beer scene would help me plan my trip. Not only did she get back to me, but she gave me a lion’s share of helpful information and offered to meet up when I came out. Her generosity and openness is indicative of the craft beer culture, which is often referred to as “99% asshole-free.” Carla broke down the Maine brewing scene at a glance with a visual map of where I should focus. I can honestly say that she did not lead me astray. So far, Portland, Maine has been a highlight of my trip.
The Little Tap House
I pull up right outside of The Little Tap House, a local craft beer haunt where many beer industry people are known to tip back a pint or two. The tap list is well-curated, with an intense spotlight on local options. I grab a table and before long, Carla shows up. As a thank you for meeting with me, I give her a few of my favorites from home. I figure she would appreciate Surly Darkness, Todd the Axeman, and Toppling Goliath Psuedo Sue.
Before long, Carla is giving me the history of craft beer in Portland. She has been blogging about craft beer since 2007 and possesses an immense wealth of knowledge about the local craft beer scene. At the time of our conversation, there are 80 breweries in the state of Maine. From 2007-2012, the craft beer scene in Maine grew slowly. She also explains that there is a definitive demarcation between old school and new school in regards to breweries in Maine. Geary’s 86, Gritty’s Brewpub, and Shipyard all represent the old guard. These breweries laid the groundwork for what would come later.
In 2012, people start to focus on the desire to have beer made hyper-locally. This Maine craft beer explosion has brought us the vibrancy we enjoy today. Since January, Maine has seen 13 new breweries open. The craft beer market is now on par with the Lobster Industry as far as being an economic boon to the state. There are breweries like Allagash that really blazed the trail for sour beers in Maine back in a time when most people didn’t know what sour beers were. Maine Beer Company is also a huge player in getting people to understand why using local ingredients can be a great thing for beer.
As we are talking, the reuben egg rolls show up along with my Rising Tide Brewing Co. Zephyr, a delicious IPA. The owner of Little Tap House stops over and chats with Carla, who is definitely a regular. The entire experience at Little Tap House is top-notch. The food is delicious and the beer is fresh. We wrap up our conversation and Carla suggests heading to Novare Res Bier Café to meet her husband Mike for some more beer. At this point, if Carla suggested eating plaster and robbing a bank, I would be all in. A fantastic craft beer bar is definitely a winning idea.
Novare Res Bier Café
After a short walk, we are sitting down at an outdoor patio. The craft beer menu reads like a Norton Anthology that you needed for your college British Authors class. There are so many wonderful options, both local and regional, that my head is starting to hurt. I order another Rising Tide, this time a Maine Island Trail Ale, a refreshing session IPA. The weather is gorgeous and the patio has a lively crowd. Now, our conversation is about blogging and the different craft beer blogging conferences she has been to. Being able to discuss writing about beer with another beer writer is something that I value. Carla has been writing about craft beer almost as long as I have been drinking craft beer.
Before long, Mike joins us and he is also into craft beer. He asks the server to bring him a special menu, bringing the Novare Res Bier Café experience goes to 11. Mike is a member of Uprisings, a customer-only club. Gaining entrance to this unique club requires drinking 230 different beers off a special menu. Each time you order a beer off of that special menu, the server signs off on it. Once all 230 beers signed off, you receive a key to the vault where your chalice is kept.
Once in the club, you get your own special 20 oz. chalice to drink out of, but you pay regular price for beers. I think that this is a great idea and not for the feint of heart. However, Mike is a true beer aficionado and his menu has a lot of different beers marked off. The concept for Uprisings is great because it exposes even the savviest of craft beer drinkers to a wide breadth of styles that they may not already be familiar with.
The company for this evening is truly special. Carla and Mike are genuine people and the conversation comes easily, as if we have known each other for years. When it is time to go, they make sure to let me know that next time I visit Portland, I am staying with them and not an Airbnb. This invitation is humbling, heart-warming, and indicative of the spirit of craft beer.
If you are looking for a craft beer destination that combines great food with a beer scene that is on the cutting edge, you need to come to Portland, Maine. If you want to learn about the craft beer culture in Portland, Maine, you need to follow the expert craft beer musings of Carla Jean Lauter, the @beerbabe on Twitter. She also writes a great column in The Bollard , a local Portland, Maine publication.
In the span of one evening, there are two different occasions where people recognize her and profess their fandom and gratitude for her beer expertize and writing. I am sure that she will kill me for putting this in here, but I think that it’s something that speaks to her passion and dedication to the craft beer scene. Hopefully, our paths will cross next summer at the Craft Beer Bloggers Conference in Milwaukee, WI.
The last two things in Portland that I have to do are go to Eventide Oyster Co. and Rising Tide Brewing Company before heading to Burlington, Vermont. Rising early on my last day in P
ortland is bittersweet. I have fallen in love with this city and its people.
Eventide Oyster Co.
I pull up to Eventide Oyster Co. and there is already a line forming. Walking into this chic place, the briny smell of fresh seafood and sea salt is intoxicating. Luckily, seating at the bar is plentiful and I grab a front row seat to the shucking madness that is happening. A robotic GMC assembly line has nothing on this place as 2 people shuck oysters and clams with surgical precision and the efficiency of a crew of ten people. Orders flood in, they scoop ice into a platter, grab the specific oysters or clams, and begin to shuck and plate. Once the platters are ready, they add specific accoutrements with artistic presentation.
Everyone says that the brown-butter lobster roll is a must, so I order up one of those and then a dozen oysters. I pass on the beer in lieu of water because it is just after 11. The oysters arrive in all their glory with a homemade cocktail sauce and a horseradish shaved ice that elevates the fresh oysters into an orgiastic taste stratosphere. They varieties of oysters I select are all amazing; buttery, rich, briny, and fruity. I savor the salinity of each oyster with the same reverence that rabid Nascar lover appreciates a lefthand turn.
Eventually, the lobster roll shows up on a small wooden plank. The lobster is plentiful and sits upon a steamed bun. For the next several minutes I exist in a catatonic state of flavor nirvana. Every sense is titillated with the flavors, aromas, and sensory stimuli that you think of when you eat something beyond incredibly delicious for the first time. Warm lobster with a buttery richness harmonizes with the delicate sweetness of the steamed bun. The substantial chunks of lobster are a wonderful mix of claw and tail meat; each piece cooked to perfection. With each bite, this meal is etched in the history of my mental amazing foods hard drive.
I don’t quite know how to follow up this experience, but based on the few beers I had on tap last night at different place, the Rising Tide Brewing Company has a fighting chance.
Rising Tide Brewing Co.
Rising Tide has been at the forefront of the craft beer scene in Portland, ME since 2011. The brewery started in the space where Foundation Brewing Company currently resides. However, they are now in a great space in the East Bayside neighborhood. This location has been open for a few years and has a lot of windows and a garage door that is open today, inviting me into the taproom. There are also tables outside in the parking lot with umbrellas providing some shade to people sitting outside. The taproom is pretty open. A large L-shaped bar goes around and I see a spot for me at the end of the bar. There are even USB ports to charge my devices. I already love the place and I still haveto try the beer!
They offer tasting flights that come in square boxes with four beers at a time. Since I am hitting the road for a 3-plus hour drive I will only be doing a few today. They have a nice list of styles and I am in for a treat. Their staff is friendly and happy to talk to me about the beer and the space.
The Pisces is a Gose with a slight haze. It is nice and crisp with a pleasing tart finish. The Spinnaker is a Hefeweizen that has a phenomenal balance between a lemon citrus and biscuit malt. The Ishmael is Rising Tide’s take on an German Altbier. It has a great malt presence with hints of caramel and toasted bread. The mouthfeel of the beer is smooth and drinkable. The Sputnik, a Belgian Wheat Ale is a tasty blend of Belgian yeast and clean, crisp hops for balance. My favorite of the bunch is definitely the Ursa Minor, a Weizen Stout. This beer brims with a rich complexity of flavors; dark fruits, chocolate, and roasted malt all contribute to a delicious and substantial beer.
Rising Tide is a fantastic place to have a craft beer. A steady stream of people come and go as I sit enjoying these wonderfully balanced and inventive beers. There is a tour group who are all raving about how great the craft beer is and I cannot disagree with them. With so many great places to get well-crafted beers, it is no wonder that the craft beer scene in Portland, Maine is so incredible. I cannot wait to venture back here and spend more time in this great city. However, it is onto Burlington, VT and more legendary craft beers to try.
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