With over 5,000 breweries in the United States, approximately 90% of Americans live within 10 miles of a brewery. In Maine, there are almost 95 breweries in operation, nearly 20 of those in Portland alone, which is where I live. By my math, that means visiting the other 75 breweries in the state entails either a short drive or a significant road trip. Hold my beer!
Whenever I travel in my home state, my Maine Beer Trail passport always comes with me. The passport was created by the Maine Brewers’ Guild with the purpose of motivating beer lovers to get out and experience each brewery in its natural habitat, with the added incentive of prizes. Who doesn’t love free stuff?! By visiting as few as 10 or 20 breweries, one can earn a hat or a t-shirt. By visiting them all, the reward is some sort of epic mystery prize box.
The current version lists over 80 locations, and as more tasting rooms keep opening, the next edition is sure to be even bigger. Having begun my pursuit in August 2015, my worn and tattered passport contains stamps, signatures, and dates from 40 out of a total of 56 breweries. Living in southern Maine, I was able to visit a majority of the breweries right away. A couple day trips up to the midcoast and into the central region of the state were quite pleasant and low key in terms of travel. Some breweries, however, are significantly farther away. With a little extra planning, I’ve been able to cross off several more “out-of-the-way” destinations as well. In the few years since I christened my passport, some of my favorite Maine Beer Trail adventures have included attending the first-ever Bangor Beer Week, traveling to Monhegan Island, and visiting the Easternmost point in the United States.
2015 – Bangor Beer Week Bliss
The trip to Bangor for its inaugural Beer Week celebration was an overnighter, so I booked a room at the historic Charles Inn, right in the heart of downtown. Preferring to take the byways over the highways, my route from Portland to Bangor brought me through some spectacular scenery, as it happened to be the tail end of foliage season (when Maine’s leaves change color). I even managed to check off 3 breweries along the way. Once settled, I ventured up to Orono by way of the Growler Bus, which was providing shuttle service between Bangor and Orono, so I was able to leave my car and my sobriety behind. There I rediscovered my love affair with Black Bear Brewery, and scoped out the recently opened taproom at Orono Brewing Company. Right across the street was Woodman’s Bar & Grill, which happened to be hosting a tap takeover by newcomer Marsh Island. How much luck can one guy have?! As it turns out, just a little bit more, because the shuttle was able to return my inebriated self back downtown before last call at Nocturnem Draft Haus. Night complete!
2016- Monhegan Island Brews and Views
On a separate occasion, one September morning, I awoke unusually early with no particular plans. Over coffee, I perused my passport for inspiration and decided that this would be the day I finally made the voyage out to Monhegan Brewing Company. The brewery is located on a tiny island about 10 miles off the coast of Maine, therefore, getting there requires an hour-long boat ride. I packed a few items in my backpack and drove the 90 minutes to New Harbor in time to catch the 9 AM Hardy Boat ferry. The weather was picture-perfect, and the sea was calm. Arriving on the island at 10 AM, I had a few hours to kill before the brewery opened for business, so I tightened my shoelaces and set out on a hike around the perimeter of the island. The views from the trails were absolutely mesmerizing, with cliffs rising 150 feet from the ocean overlooking waves crashing into jagged rock below. Stunted trees cling to their rugged perches, having braced themselves against years of unrelenting nor’easters. Gigantic boulders worn smooth from centuries of slow, steady erosion are strewn about the northeast side of the island. I could’ve wandered through the natural beauty all day, but the only boat back to the mainland departed at 3:15, so I hurried over to the brewery in time to enjoy a flight of beer. I managed to squeeze in one more full pour of their Balmy Days kolsch before making my way to the dock to meet the ferry. The whole trip to Monhegan was one I won’t soon forget.
2017- America’s Easternmost Beer
Certainly the most distant destination on the Maine Beer Trail is Lubec Brewing Company, so I enlisted the company of my travel partner and co-pilot Emmie. She and I have been on countless adventures together, but neither of us had ever been to Lubec, the Easternmost point in the United States. Being from Maine, seeing the sunrise from the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse was on her lifetime bucket list, so it took very little convincing. The ride to Lubec took all day, partly because we couldn’t resist stopping every couple miles to take in the vistas and roadside attractions. Once we finally arrived in Lubec, we quickly acquired the keys to our room at the Betsy Ross House Bed & Breakfast, located right on the waterfront and only steps to Lubec Brewing Company. We made it to the brewery just in time to grab the last two seats available, before the room filled up for an open mic event. We had a delectable dinner of falafel bowls and carrot-ginger soup, and washed it all down with a Quoddy Head Red Ale and an IPA. The brewery seemed to be the hub of nightlife in “downtown” Lubec, but we ended up offering our seats to a pair of locals so we could watch what would end up being one of the most magnificent sunsets either of us had ever witnessed. The next morning, we watched the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean. Bucket list: check!
Explore, Drink, Repeat
A couple day trips here and there, and possibly another overnight trip for Bangor Beer Week 2017, and I’ll be nearly done. My passport ought to be complete once the Bag & Kettle opens up for ski season at Sugarloaf Mountain. I am determined to find out exactly what is in the mystery prize pack, but the ultimate reward really is the memories I’ve made along the way.
The official motto of the Maine Beer Trail is “explore Maine, one brewery at a time” and I take that mission very seriously. The passport really is more than just a checklist of breweries; it’s a reason to travel to the far corners of the state and everywhere in between. It’s a celebration of community and the ethos of supporting local. It’s an adventure that brings thirsty travelers from Main Street to the farm, from once-abandoned train yards to revitalized mill complexes, from industrial parks into people’s homes. My only advice is this: always keep your Maine Beer Trail passport in your car because you never know where you might end up. Cheers!