FACT: A diverse group of artisans from one of the USA’s smallest states is responsible for producing some of the best beer in the country. Maine only has 1.33 million people but is home to more than 70 breweries, each with a unique passion that guides their hands. And what better way to navigate the myriad of breweries than with a map?
The Maine Beer Trail was created by the state’s Brewers’ Guild in 2009 to help both local and visiting beer enthusiasts find their favorite places and discover new ones. Download a copy of the map online, or visit any of the participating breweries for a hard copy to get started. And because the Maine Brewers’ Guild recognizes that a good map always leads to treasure, rewards are in store for trekkers who visit at least 10 breweries. Visit them all and you’ll bask in the glory of their mystery prize pack!
From top to bottom and east to west, Maine’s beer scene shines as a beacon of excellence in the industry. Ingredients are top quality and often locally produced (Aroostook Hops being a prime example of both). Consumers appreciate the camaraderie and charity among the state’s brewers as others around the country take note. Come for the beer, stay for the kinship. You’ll understand when you get here.
Grab your map and an adventurous spirit (and a designated driver), and get ready to explore the Pine Tree State. Here are some highlights guaranteed to yield a true Maine beer adventure.
1. Allagash Brewing Company
2016 marks the 20th anniversary of Allagash opening their doors to beer lovers, making them one of the oldest craft breweries in the state. A torch bearer for traditional Belgian ales, Allagash is renowned within the industry for being among the select few American brewers who have successfully produced spontaneously fermented sour beer.
Unlike contemporary fermentation, the yeast that ferments these particular brews makes its way into the beer without human intervention. Brewers leave the hot wort in a large, shallow pan known as a coolship and allow this natural process to run its course overnight. Rack the beer into giant French oak wine barrels in the morning, wait 1-3 years, and voila! Spontaneously fermented sour beer emerges with unique flavors that can’t be replicated through other means.
Some Allagash favorites include:
- Allagash White, a perennial hit among seasoned drinkers and newbies alike, is a traditional Belgian wheat beer with orange zest and coriander. Light, refreshing, and fruity, there’s nothing better on a hot summer day.
- This author’s first Allagash beer was their delicious Tripel. But what happens when you age that beer in bourbon barrels for eight weeks, then re-blend it with fresh Tripel? The herbal, spicy, peppery characteristics from the Tripel take on oaky, vanilla notes and result in the wonderful beer they call Curieux.
- Coolship Red is a great introduction to the world of spontaneous fermentation. One hundred pounds of fresh Maine raspberries are added to each French oak barrel for a six-month secondary fermentation, resulting in a puckering, fruity, and dry sour beer that’s worth seeking out.
- Sixteen Counties is brewed as a tribute to local farmers in each of Maine’s counties. All ingredients are sourced within the state, upholding a tradition Mainers hold dear. Earthy hops, smooth grains, and zesty citrus notes await.
2. Bissell Brothers
Hop heads know there are few things in life better than a fresh IPA, but what do you consider fresh? Bissell Brothers, based in Portland, believes IPAs should be enjoyed quickly after canning. To that end, they unleash new cans every week of their flagship IPA, The Substance, alongside a variety of other special releases.
You won’t find these beers gathering dust on store shelves — hop enthusiasts aren’t afraid to wait in line at the newly opened taproom to get these beers straight from the source. Check their website for an up-to-date schedule of their upcoming releases, including:
- When you’re looking for a moderately hopped session beer you can drink all day long, grab Baby Genius. This bright, hoppy beer drinks clean and brings refreshment in every sip.
- Juicy Double IPAs are all the rage in the IPA world these days, and Bissell Brothers answers that call with Swish. Brewed with a boatload of tropical hops, this is the choice for anyone who loves fruity hops.
3. Oxbow Brewing Company
Fans of traditional Belgian farmhouse-style ales will feel at home at Oxbow Brewing in rural Newcastle. It’s hard to get much closer to Belgium from the continental US, so Maine was the logical choice for the genesis of this brewery. Funky, sour fermentations from various yeast cultures impart a distinctive profile on the saisons produced in their Mid-Coast-area brewhouse.
Blending, bottling, and tasting are typically handled at their location on Washington Ave. in Portland’s hip East End. Swing by for a sampling of their offerings, such as:
- Grizacca: An American-style grisette with distinctive dryness, citrus, and Oxbow’s traditional farmhouse yeast.
- Farmhouse Pale Ale: Oxbow’s flagship beer is a traditional saison brewed with American hops. Expect funky, spicy, peppery notes from the farmhouse yeast in a light, dry, crisp ale base.
- Stillbow Oxtisanal: If one brewer is good, two are better, right? This blonde ale is a collaboration with Stillwater Artisanal, a farmhouse brewery in Baltimore. The beer is bottled after aging in blueberry wine barrels for 20 months and is a bright, tangy, effervescent delight. Vintage bottles pop up on occasion, so keep your eyes peeled.
4. Maine Beer Company
Located in Freeport, Maine Beer Company is as committed to their values as they are to their brewing ethic. Their motto — “Doing what’s right” — isn’t a hollow corporate idiom; this principle is a guiding force behind every initiative they undertake. Between purchasing wind credits and adorning the roof of their brewery with beautiful solar panels, 100% of their electrical consumption is offset by renewable energy sources. Spent grains and liquid waste are donated to local farmers, and MBC also donates a portion of their proceeds to a variety of deserving environmental organizations.
Oh yeah, and they brew some amazing beer! Keep your eyes peeled for these, or visit their tasting room, located right on US-1, for a wider selection:
- One of MBC’s first big hits was Lunch, an intensely hopped IPA brewed with tropical and piney hops. Every bottle has a born-on date printed on the label so you know how fresh the product in your hands is.
- After the success of Lunch, the next logical step was brewing Dinner, the brewery’s first Double IPA. Citra, Mosaic, Falconer’s Flight, and Simcoe hops join forces to deliver a dry, fruity, juicy payload of flavor to your palate. Dinner is a special release, so when a release date is announced, don’t expect it to last long!
- Although most of Maine Beer Company’s beers are hop-focused, Zoe blends the hoppy notes with vectors of flavor from a different style. This American Amber Ale combines the best of both worlds with notes of caramelized malts balancing out the earthy hops.
5. Baxter Brewing Company
If you’re looking for creative yet approachable beers designed with both sustainability and portability in mind, look no further than Baxter Brewing in south-central Maine. This brewery’s founder proudly boasts that his passion for homebrewing in college caused the university he attended to ban brewing in the dorms.
Hailing from Lewiston, Baxter believes that canning their beers allows them to be enjoyed anywhere, protecting the precious contents from the elements while retaining peak freshness. Be on the lookout for:
- Window Seat, their seasonal porter, is brewed with a copious amount of toasted coconut flakes and 800 pounds of almonds. Grab a few cans and you’ll see why this beer earned them a silver medal at the 2015 Great American Beer Fest.
- With autumn on the horizon, Baxter’s Hayride is the perfect rye ale to add some spice to your day. Spicy rye malts are tempered by juicy hops, ginger, and orange zest to deliver some zing with your refreshments.
6. Ebenezer’s Restaurant & Pub / Lively Brewing Company
For the last decade plus, Ebenezer’s has enjoyed cult-like status in the Maine (and national) beer scene, thanks to their enviable selection of taps and rare bottles. So when the pub’s proprietors announced they were opening Lively Brewing in 2013, everyone nodded their heads in understanding — it was only fitting that they’d eventually start producing beer themselves.
Their original restaurant in the Western Maine mountains specializes in Belgian-style beer and was voted the best beer bar in the world on multiple occasions by industry publications. Ebenezer’s is one of the select few bars in the world hand-picked to host Cantillon’s annual Zwanze Day celebration each fall. The newer Midcoast brewpub is no slouch either, serving up tasty beers such as:
- Mo Juice, an IPL (India Pale Lager), draws inspiration from multiple influences while merging fruity Mosaic hops with other more earthy, resinous hops. Clean and dry, this is a beer that challenges the notion that hoppy beers must be brewed with ale yeast.
- Lively’s biggest, baddest stout boasts huge flavors of vanilla icing, coffee, and chocolate with a texture that can only be described as Filthy Rich. Order a pour and drink it slowly to truly appreciate the decadent flavors.