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Jun 1, 2010 02:42 AM

The Maine Micro Brew Culture, the best in the US?

Now that I've set myself up to be hacked off at the knees, I thought you fellow suds hounds would enjoy this article on the Maine beer making culture from Maine's premier propaganda organ DownEast Magazine, now that tourist season is upon us.


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  1. Nice article, but I think the folks in Philadelphia, Boston, San Diego, San Francisco, Colorado, Austin, Michigan, Wisconsin and the whole Pacific Northwest (at a minimum) would beg to differ with your premise.

    1 Reply
    1. Not sure if the Maine brewing scene is the best in the country (or if they even were saying anything of the kind in that article) but they sure do have a solid one it seems. Ill send this article to my sister who has lived in Maine since the early 80's and took a thirsty college student with much less beer knowledge than I do today to Gritty McDuffs in Portland back in 1988 and I havent looked back since. Now whenever I visit, I make sure to hit some of the local beer places, some of which have risen to the level of world famous among the beer heads world wide. Allagash, Novare Res Bier Café, Great Lost Bear, Lions Pride and of course the infamous Ebenezers (voted number one in the world several times).

      12 Replies
      1. re: Insidious Rex

        I visited one of the Gritty McDuff's pubs while passing through Maine. I thought their Blackfly Stout and IPA were both good but not exceptional.

        Geary's beers also strike me as good but not great.

        Allagash, on the other hand, strikes me as an exceptional brewery.

        I do not think, based on my (admittedly occasional) trips to Maine that its beer culture comes close to those of Northern CA., the Pacific Northwest, or Colorado.

        1. re: Kenji

          Probably not. But I dont see the need for some kind of all or nothing competition where one is great and the other is a joke. All are great beer destinations in my opinion and I have enjoyed my trips to Maine as much as Ive enjoyed my trips to the Bay area or Northern California (Chico, Fort Bragg, Santa Rosa, Napa) or Chicago or Philly or you name it. And its a bit of apples and oranges as well. In my journeys I have found that cities/regions develop their own kind of unique beer identity that is usually different from other cities and which can all be celebrated and enjoyed. When I go to the Bay Area I get the sense that the beer consciousness is more about specialty beer and what cool rare thing can you find on tap. And that’s fine. Go up to Portland, OR and its more of a brewpub culture where having your own decent beer on tap is part of the life blood of the place. But in Maine, I have found there's a depth of appreciation and loyalty for the local stuff BY the local folks that is unlike any other region I have been to. In this case the local stuff is not macro swill but B/B+ quality microbrewery stuff (Geary, Freeport, Shipyard, Casco Bay, Sebago, Bar Harbor, etc) “good enough” to be devoted to but not taken too seriously. You can get a pint of the stuff at every dive bar and every road side seafood shack where the locals frequent. You can see cases of it walking out the door at small town grocery stores and rural gas stations. Local Maine beer. Not bud. Not Miller. It’s a refreshing perspective that surprised me at first because it’s a slice of beer appreciation you don’t often see in more sophisticated regions where it has tended to evolve along the lines of wine worship with a gourmet cache where your only choice is going all out highbrow or obliviously drinking macro unaware that a beer culture even exists. The Mainers have managed to lock themselves into a happy middle where a multiplicity of decent enough local beer is worth celebrating. I like drinking with these people. And then you add to that list a couple of A+ places like Allagash (who the locals do embrace but at the same time they look down on the beer snobs who come to Portland ONLY to visit Allagash and eat overpriced lobster) and 6 or 7 world class beer bars/restaurants and its worth the trip. You can only visit so much at one time after all. Ive been to San Francisco 3 or 4 times and haven’t even scratched the surface on great beer places to drink beer. Does that make it a better place then Maine? Maybe. Or maybe it just means you don’t need to go to Maine as many times as you need to go to San Francisco. Why are we ignoring the per capita aspect of this comparison after all? On any given trip you can have just as much of a good time exploring the beer culture at either location.

          You let me be your beer guide for 5 days in Maine and youll come away fat, happy and satisfied. But only if you are interested in enjoying the beer SCENE not simply ranking the breweries against the best in your region.

          By the way, what do people think of the meteoric rise of Ashville in the last couple of years as a go to beer location? Ive noticed some of the folks from the old guard cities are fairly dubious about it, even mean at times. Not having been there yet Ill reserve my judgment until I can experience it myself.

          1. re: Insidious Rex

            The OP seems to think a competition makes sense.

            1. re: Insidious Rex

              R, thanks; I meant this for information and enjoyment only. "Life is too short to drink cheap beer."


              1. re: Passadumkeg

                Pass, I know you posted this tongue in cheek - and that in fact you are fully aware that the idea of a serious competition is silly (I think you called it "discussion bate") - but it still sets up the opportunity for folks to bash the place as a silly beer destination choice and most have. Cant help but jump in there considering the great beer experiences Ive had in the state and the mentality of the locals when it comes to beer. Will try to keep it briefer though...

                1. re: Insidious Rex

                  Yes, I look forward to my first bottle of Allegash when we return in June.

                  There are a lot of good microbreweries in NM too, but the great distances, seem to lessen the impact.

                  It is funny on there anonymous site how people do make absolute statements about things of which they have no knowledge.

              2. re: Insidious Rex

                When I did a brewery tour of Portland we very much enjoyed Allagash's beers, however we were disappointed that they only had certain beers set aside for us to taste, because they only wanted to open a certain number of bottles. We finally got to taste everything by them we wanted by doing the sampler at The Great Lost Bear. We enjoyed touring Geary's and Shipyard more. Hoping to catch the other breweries we missed when we head back up there later this month.

                1. re: Solstice444

                  We did the Allagash tour and I have to say that for the price of admission, um, FREE, I could not complain about the limited samples.

                  1. re: Rick

                    The other breweries in the area also have free tastings, I don't think Allagash is unique in that. I did find their tour really interesting.

                    1. re: Solstice444

                      I wish we had more time to check out the other places in the area! Our New England vacation was one our favorites.

                      1. re: Rick

                        Yeah there are definitely enough places in Portland to keep you busy for awhile, especially if you include the brewpubs! We went to a new one (founded in 2009), Rising Tide, this most recent trip, very small operation, only a couple of people it seems. We just caught the owner in the office part before he went back to work on brewing. We bought a couple of bottles from him, haven't tried them yet but am excited to do so.

                2. re: Insidious Rex

                  Alright, but since you appear to be replying to me, I just want to be clear that I didn't suggest "one [beer region] is great and the other is a joke"; indeed, I tried to indicate that I found Maine a good place for beer, even if it doesn't have the quality & variety of some other parts of the country.

            2. Welcome to 2001.

              "Among the beer cognoscenti, however, Pugsley’s reputation verges on the legendary. "

              I guess that' one way to spin it. ;-)

              I have great respect for the "johnny appleseed" aspect of his career, his beers and the techniques he taught, not so much.

              Outside of Maine, I wonder how many of those Puglsly start ups are still going - AND still using Ringwood?

              Only place I have ever felt a "microbrew culture" was when I was in Portland.....Oregon.

              1. Folks, I used the phrase "the best in the US" a bait to get a discussion going. Since I have not been to the Pacific Northwest since the 70's I have no basis of comparison.I just know that in a county w/ less than 30k, I have 4 excellent microbreweries. I think that may equal all aof NJ. The electronic copy of the article did not include the guide to Maine beers. So I've just added a link to the breweries:

                9 Replies
                1. re: Passadumkeg

                  " I think that may equal all of NJ. "

                  Ha, ha! Not quite- in fact, NJ just gained another new brewery, the New Jersey Beer Co. in North Bergen - and thus ruining the part of my rant about the sad state of the NJ craft beer scene that went something like "...goddam Portland Maine with a population smaller than f*ckin' Woodbridge has more breweries than the whole state of NJ, population 8 MILLION!"

                  And there are a few more reportedly about to come on line (one in South Jersey ) but at this point it stands at a total of only six breweries (not counting contract companies, brewpubs or that huge beer factory across Rt. 1 from Newark Airport).

                  The saddest part of that tiny number is that most of the NJ beers are relatively hard to find on draught, even in the few craft beer oriented bars. I don't think I've ever just stumbled upon a tap from Cricket Hill or High Point/Ramstein and Climax tap handles are pretty rare, as well. It's much more likely to find a Magic Hat, Long Trail, Victory, Dogfish Head, Abita or Stone, etc., handle in NJ than it is our own in-state brands.

                  1. re: JessKidden

                    Amen. It's all about money. Bar Harbor has a pop. of 6000 and 3 breweries. Thank you tourists (from NJ).

                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                      Only 2 breweries left in Bar Harbor apparently, since Atlantic Brewing Co. bought the brands of Bar Harbor Brewing Co. and closed the new storefront brewery (altho' I'm not sure if it ever really did any brewing- it's now just a "brewery store" for the combined brands) which was build by the interim owner downtown.


                      The other one being "Maine Coast" aka "Jack Russell's Brewpub".

                      1. re: JessKidden

                        You never cease to amaze. The first morning I haven't read the BDN. Belfast Bay Brewery is "just down the rud".
                        If you ever vacation up this way, contact me and we can heist one to the memory of Bosco & Turbac's.
                        Carpe beer.

                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                          "The first morning I haven't read the BDN."

                          Err... must be the second morning -the linked article is from March '09 <g>.

                          I have been toying with heading up to the area (also have a good friend in Ipswich, MA so about at the half way point, AND home to Mercury Brewing - so there's good refreshments to be had) but I don't think my vehicle is going to co-operate.

                          I DO miss Bosco's homefries (especially any day I eat breakfast in a NJ diner...). Need to get up to European Homemade Provisions soon, too, for my kielbasi and real cold cuts fix... (I'm down in Monmouth County these days and don't make it up to the dreaded Rt. 18 area often any more...)

                          1. re: JessKidden

                            I always bump into my parent's friends or my old friends at Euopean Provisions. I have the sausage casings I bought there in my freezer. Russian style pork & garlic fresh kolbasi. My grand parents lived less than a mile from EHP.
                            Beer and kolbasi, a match made in heaven.

                        2. re: JessKidden

                          They were brewing in that store after the brand was sold by the original owners - the bombers were still being made there on the old equipment (2bbl. fermenters- an extract starter was employed by the original brewer - don't know if they continued that). Beer quality was the same as the original owners- at least CMS anyway, I don't really bother with the others. 12 oz bottles (and I assume kegs served a couple doors down from the shop by the way it tasted) were made by Geary's.

                          1. re: LStaff

                            Ah, thanks. Wasn't sure- in retrospect, it seems as if that "Florida entrepreneur" owned the brewery for about 45 minutes, but that'll happen when you're not "there".

                            Add in the confusion between the brands "Atlantic Brewing Co." (didn't they have an earlier name?) makes "Bar Harbor" branded beer, Bar Harbor Brewing Co. didn't and the fact that both brands were also being contract brewed by two different Maine breweries (Shipyard, Geary) and it was hard to keep it all straight.

                            The Cadillac Mt. Stout, with "Bar Harbor, ME" (not Portland) on the 22 ounce bottle label, started showing up in NJ. Now, I take it, those are coming from Atlantic's brewery on MDI, right?

                            1. re: JessKidden

                              Per my buddy who brews at Atlantic, all the 22 oz. bottles are brewed by Atlantic on MDI. If you see 12 oz bottles or draft outside of MDI area, most likely they are the Shipyard version.

                  2. Not to rise to the bait or burst your provincial little Maine bubble, but among knowledgeable beer drinkers, Shipyard and Geary are nothing special.
                    and this statement

                    Still, there’s no mistaking Shipyard’s — and, thus, Pugsley’s — dominance in the industry.

                    betrays the writer's ignorance of craft brewing not only across the U.S. but on the East Coast. Even I know there's a lot better beer in the East, and I don't even live out there. Both you and the writer need to get out more if you're going to comment on craft brewing across the USA. Try some beer from Ommegang and Brooklyn (New York), Victory (PA) and Dogfish Head (Delaware) before you go bragging on Maine beer. And for the record, I think provincial posturing about beer is pretty lame.

                    I do like Allagash, however, and Man U

                    14 Replies
                    1. re: chuckl

                      I'm not provincial and I agree w/ what you say. I thought that the article might help folk that come to visit Maine in the summer. Dogfish is a favorite of mine and I buy Brooklyn & Victory to bring back to share w/ my buddies when I visited my deceased mom in NJ. I personally do not care for Shipyard and never buy it.
                      I ain't a native Mainer, Chuck, so cool your tubes a bit.
                      But for a state w/ just barely a million folk, it is a very good beer cultucha.

                      Oh, yes Chuck, do try Live Oak ales in Austin, Tx.
                      I hope you have a better day.
                      Do you often write so condescendingly?

                      1. re: Passadumkeg

                        sometimes text comes across that way, even if it's not meant to be. The tone of the article seemed to be from a writer who was relatively new to craft beer but wrote as if he had discovered something brand new and he was at the epicenter of it. For a relatively small area, Maine does seem to have some decent beers, but not when juxtaposed against the East Coast and the USA in general. Craft beer is exploding all over the US, and singling out one region as better than the others comes off as a little provincial. For just a little perspective on the West Coast beer scene and the "other" Portland, check this out.


                        I think the biggest challenge for us American beer drinkers is in getting access to regional beer. It's easier to get quality beer from Germany, Belgium and England than it is from the Midwest and Southwest, and parts of the East Coast.
                        Come on out to the West
                        And my day's fine, thanks

                        1. re: chuckl

                          Yes, thanks, Chuck, I may be there sooner than you think. We canceled plans last April to visit my cousin in Walnut Creek. DownEast Mag is a tourist propaganda rag. But the fact remains that Maine for a very rural (our Portland is just over 60k) sparsely populated state (Maine has more forest than any other state.), we do have a vibrant micro brewery culture. And this is tio be celebrated. Luckily for the small town in which I live, less than 10k, we have available a lot of the Northeast's quality microbrews. I pass this place twice a day. Maine and Vermont are real gems in the NE.
                          I pass

                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                            Passa, I'll make a deal with you. If you bring me some great beer from Maine, I'll take you to some great beer bars in the Bay Area

                            1. re: chuckl

                              A done deal. I already do that w/ other chowhounders. I'm partial to Bar Harbor Ales.
                              Carpe beer!
                              ps We were in Huntington Beach in Feb.

                              1. re: Passadumkeg

                                fantastic, let's keep in touch, I'd love to compare notes. I'm agnostic as far as producers and styles are concerned. If the beer is good, I'm all in

                                1. re: chuckl

                                  I keep a wine shipping box and load it up w/ 3 .75 l. bottles. Just gotta fly Southwest, so I don't get hooked 25 bucks to check it.
                                  The warm Bud mentioned in my profile was in 'Nam, so it is in jest.

                        2. re: Passadumkeg

                          I have to agree. Theres a lot of really unnecessary beer snobbery here in reaction to this article. Personally I had never even heard of Pugsley and dont really care about him. But there IS a Mainer mentality that goes quite well with craft beer creativity and independence. They may not have THE best breweries in the country (and the concept that if you dont have a Dogfish Head or a Russian River than you suck is appallingly narrow minded) but there is a vibe in the state that fits so well with the microbrewing culture and you pick up on it right away when you make a visit.

                          The locals like their local beer. No sin there. And frankly Geary or Shipyard's is no worse than standard Sam Adams offerings in my opinion. Although perhaps the same people scoff at Sam Adams too so I guess that doesnt help any. But too me (and unrelated to the brewery stance of the article admittedly) the best part of the beer culture in Maine is the extreme top quality beer bar/restaurants that have sprung up in the past half decade or so. Some of the best in the country where the level of service, knowledge and passion is unrivaled by just about any other Ive been to. And Ive been to a few... East coast AND west...

                          I dare say the top 3 or 4 beer bars/beer restaurants in Maine could rival the 3 or 4 best of any other state in the nation quite easily and challenge anyone to prove me wrong on that. In fact they seem ahead of their time. More bigger cities should offer such places that pair fantastic often rare beer with top quality food and an amazing beer IQ. And in the middle of no where in Maine?! Why cant New York do that at a higher rate than they do currently? I cant think of anywhere else I can get that kind of consistent quality on THAT level. And I live a lot closer to Dogfish Head and Victory then I do the state of Maine...

                          Sorry about the rant but some of you guys deserved it and Maine deserves a little more than to be dismissed with a snort as a deserving destination for beer minded folk, whether the rag in question is a propaganda vehicle or not. One of my best memories was drinking a fresh Cadillac Mountain Stout with a real Maine lobster roll while looking over Frenchman Bay in Bar Harbor and thinking to myself Yes I can certainly see the appeal of this...

                          1. re: Insidious Rex

                            it's just beer. why take it so seriously?

                            1. re: chuckl

                              Portland Maine was on the ballot for the recent voting for best beer city in the U.S. In case you don't know, Asheville N.C. and Portland OR dominated the voting to a ridiculous extreme with Asheville winning the #1 spot.

                              1. re: californiabeerandpizza

                                good beer is good beer. I wish I could get some of those tasty beverages from Asheville. The more the merrier

                                1. re: chuckl

                                  No disrespect to Asheville and I have no quarrel with their title, I just don't think the voting percentages were an accurate reflection of national opinion.

                                  1. re: californiabeerandpizza

                                    Asheville is not a big city and yet has I think 13 microbreweries within the area. We love going to Asheville and one of the reasons is the beer culture. EVERY restaurant and bar has local beer and most focus on it. Some of the beers are great. Some not so much. But the fact that the entire city is proud of it made it Beer City USA.

                                    If Maine does indeed have a similar culture, I would love to visit. Recommendations on a budget?

                              2. re: chuckl

                                Yeah but you got me all excited and on a soap box... And it beats working.