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Here's to beer! Celebrating area craft breweries

October 5, 2020
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BANGOR – There’s no disputing the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on businesses large and small. Everyone has been forces to find ways to adapt, to seek out a new normal and carve out a spot for themselves.

Craft brewing – long a booming industry here in Bangor and all over the state – is no exception.

Here’s the thing: The Maine Edge digs beer. We cover it a fair amount in these pages. We feature it on our cover at least a couple of times a year. We’ve run a beer column in the past. And our editor (also the writer of this piece) enjoys the wares of just about every one of the brewers in the region.

So let’s talk about ways in which we can continue to enjoy those wares while still being responsible and safe, shall we?

Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I am intimately familiar with the protocols in place for every single area brewery. I’ll freely admit that there are some – even on the list you’ll see later in this piece – that I personally have not visited since the pandemic struck. I’ve visited many of these spots, but not all of them, so I can’t speak in absolutes.

What I WILL say is this: Everything that I’ve seen from the places I HAVE visited tells me that the vast majority of the region’s breweries are taking all of this very seriously and doing their very best to follow the rules and keep their patrons and employees safe. Not that it should surprise anyone familiar with the scene – these are all good people who want nothing more than to make good, interesting brews and do right by the world.

And that’s the thing – even in the midst of all this, these people are still making really good beer.

While business models have undoubtedly shifted, it’s tough to deny that the quality of offerings has remained exceptional. I’ve long said that I’d put our region’s breweries up against any scene in the country and that certainly hasn’t changed. We’re very lucky to have some really talented folks plying this particular trade.

Now, the big question is how best to obtain and enjoy these brews. Tasting rooms have not been immune to the struggles surrounding the restaurant and hospitality industries, so many places have adapted. In what ways, well … it’s different for different spots. Some have focused on developing viable outdoor spaces, others have found ways to follow safety protocols indoors, still others have built robust growler-and-can take-out situations; most have taken more than one approach. Really, it’s up to you as far as your level of comfort. To find out more about a specific spot’s situation, your best bet is to visit their website, check their social media or even (God forbid) give them a call.

(I will say that just about every spot in the Bangor/Brewer/Orono triangle that I’ve seen has some sort of outdoor seating option available, so if you want to have a beer in the open air while maintaining a safe distance from others, you can do that – for now. We’ll just have to wait and see how long the weather continues to allow it.)

But even if it’s just grabbing a four-pack at the grocery store or the liquor store, you’re not only supporting area businesses that have become a significant part of our local economy, you’re also getting to experience some of the best beer there is. And in a time when simple pleasures are perhaps less present than they have been in the past, that’s a pretty big deal.

“But Allen,” you ask, “What kind of beer should I get?”

Look, I can sit here and tell you what I think about many of the various breweries around the region, but it’s mostly going to be some vague variation on “Beer good.” Despite my clear affinity for beer, I’m not a sophisticated enough consumer to offer a great deal of actual insight. I’m pretty basic – my favorite brews are essentially the pumpkin spice lattes of the beer world (I own it and I regret nothing).

And so we continue our tradition of recruiting someone else (who is definitely not me) to offer up a different, more thoughtful perspective on the area’s offerings.

What follows comes from a trusted beer expert, one familiar with the local scene and the beers it produces as well as the inner workings of craft brewing. We wanted thoughtful and honest appraisals about some of the local operations. Considering the nature of the craft brewing scene – even as it continues growing, it remains a small world – it seemed that it might be easier for our expert to be fully forthcoming if they were allowed anonymity.

Thus, we offer up the return of our Mystery Beer Expert, or MBE.

(Again, because I can’t leave a joke alone, it must be noted once more that the title was initially going to be Anonymous Beer Expert, but we quickly realized that the acronym (ABE) might point the finger at someone local who, while definitely an expert, is not THIS expert.)

Here’s MBE offering up some quick-hit thoughts on area breweries. If you do happen to figure out who it is – and you might, if you’re familiar with the scene – please keep it to yourself. It’s not like there are any hit jobs – it’s all very nice, actually. The person just wanted to be discreet and we’d like to honor that. No one likes a suds snitch.

And now, enjoy a few Octo-beer musings and recommendations.

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BANGOR

Geaghan Bros. Brewing

What was once a small addition to a beloved local pub is now an institution unto itself. Geaghan Brothers Brewing has rightfully earned a reputation as a brewery that can produce a range of beer styles with consistency and quality. Whether it’s at the pub or the Brewer tasting room, there’s good beer to be had. Bangor Brown and Stein Song and Refueler and everybody’s favorite Smiling Irish Bastard, plus a steady flow of special offerings that show that GBB certainly isn’t sitting still!

Why not try: King’s Pine IPA

2 Feet Brewing

You'll find 2 Feet Brewing just off Main, and when you get there, you'll find their beers are somewhere just off mainstream. 2 Feet Brewing have been operating on Bangor’s Columbia St. for quite a while now and have managed to develop a reputation as a unique and quality spot. They’re unafraid to take interesting swings and embrace unusual results. The spicy Barn Burner, a dark saison with ghost peppers added, has become the must-try beer when at 2 Feet - if you can take the heat, that is!

Why not try: Banana Bread Dunkelweizen

Bangor Beer Company

Bangor Beer Company has turned more than a few heads with their offerings to date. From well-constructed IPAs (in all of the various and sundry permutations that IPA comes in these days – check out Catchphrase) to clean and nuanced beers like their helles lager Brite and their unique stout standby Oddball, Bangor Beer Company is producing a solid variety of beers that all taste like the house specialty – head brewer Jared Lambert continues to make his mark on the local scene.

Why not try: Juri New England IPA

Sea Dog Brewing

The brewery that started it all! What was once the only place to get a fresh-brewed pint of beer in Bangor has become one among the crowd of upstart breweries. While their beer may remind you of a time many beers ago, there is something timeless about a quality-made beer from a well-maintained Peter Austin brewing system. With so many new offerings kicking around, you might drink Sea Dog beer a little less often than you used to, but when you do, I recommend going right to the source and having a beer at the pub. The freshness is really what brings those Ringwood fermented beers home.

Why not try: Sunfish Ale

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BREWER

Mason’s Brewing Company

The Bangor side of the river gets the attention, but there are big things brewing on the Brewer side of the river worth swimming over for (or you could take one of the three bridges, if you’re a coward). Mason's Brewing Company is a great place to belly-up and grab a pint of some of Maine's tastiest IPAs, and while Mason's has gained notoriety for their Hipster Apocalypse IPA and the varieties therein, don’t ever doubt that Mason's has plenty of tricks up their sleeves (including their new podcast – check out “2 Empty Cans” sometime).

Why not try: Crypster Sour IPA

Blank Canvas Brewing

Blank Canvas has turned out an impressive list of innovative beers. The Roasted Garlic alt, the Dill Cucumber Pale, other beers that feature mustard or cinnamon or maple bacon or … Blank Canvas has a way of taking ingredients you've never seen in a beer and blending them with the right malts, hops and techniques to make those non-standard flavors work. Blank Canvas is all about making creative choices and pushing the brewing envelope; if you like beers that will surprise you, they’re a great place to visit. Odds are, they’ll have something you’ve never tried before.

Why not try: Rhubarb Kolsch

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ORONO

Orono Brewing Company

Few breweries have enjoyed the early success that OBC has, and that success has come mainly because of one thing. Damn. Good. Beer. OBC has maintained a reputation for making quality beers and having a good time while doing it! Head brewer Asa Marsh-Sachs is one of the bright lights of Maine brewing, creating all manner of interesting sours, wild ales and more to go with exceptional and popular IPAs like Tubular. They’ve always got something new to accompany the standbys – there’s always good beer to be had from OBC.

Why not try: Fruit Pie (Key Lime)

Black Bear Brewing

Anyone that went to UMaine - or lived in the Bangor/Orono Area back in the early days of craft beer - has not only a soft spot, but a reverence for Black Bear Brewing. In a time when fresh, local beer in Central Maine was just not a thing, Black Bear made it a thing - and we’re better off because of it. It’s not easy for breweries to pivot and stay relevant, but with their ever-evolving draft list (and a loving commitment to old favorites), Black Bear is one of the few that has figured out how to change with the times, thanks to Tim Gallon and his crew.

Why not try: Next Goal Wins New England IPA

Marsh Island Brewing

Operating out of the Swett's Tire building, just a stone’s throw from Burby and Bates in Orono, Marsh Island Brewing has been making a wide variety of beers for some time, and you know what? For a tire shop, they make pretty good beer! Jokes aside, MIB is one of those breweries that you walk into and you know instantly that there is an immense passion for beer there. The brewers are always innovating and coming up with fun beers like Pulp Truck and Gronk Spike and PB You, Who? Grab one of their brews and you’ll see for yourself.

Why not try: Pulse Double IPA

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FARTHER AFIELD

Airline Brewing Company

An authentic British cask ale in Amherst? That’s right! Airline Brewing Company is making the kind of beer that you just don’t normally find, and everyone should love them dearly for that. Many beer lovers must go far out of their normal circles to find a properly made, properly pulled pint of cask ale, but the folks at Airline make it happen for Bangor/Ellsworth area drinkers. Their offerings are clean and simple while also being sophisticated. Grab a pint and be transported to the British Isles!

Why not try: Schoodic Sunrise Weissbier

Fogtown Brewing Company

Fogtown Brewing is the kind of brewery that every small downtown in Maine should have. Located in Ellsworth (though they recently opened a new to-go spot in Bar Harbor), they make an excellent, ever-changing variety of beers that explore many different areas of the flavor spectrum, and they are focused on creating a fun and inviting community gathering space. But at heart, it’s about the beer and Fogtown continues to absolutely crush it. Try their NEIPA Notion or their Yellow Submarine kettle sour.

Why not try: A Clockwork IPA

Marshall Wharf

Beer lovers from all over the state were disappointed to learn that this Belfast mainstay was closing its doors a while back … and then they were thrilled to find out that it was coming back! And it has come back as of this summer, with a solid slate of offerings bringing craft brew to the moonbats once again. The new owners are offering pints and growlers, though not for too much longer – they’ll be shutting things down sometime this fall for renovations in hopes of hitting the ground running in 2021.

Why not try: Ayuh New England IPA

Atlantic Brewing Company

Maine is known for blueberries, but there is so much more to Maine. In this way, Atlantic Brewing Company and Maine are similar. I'm sure you have had the Bar Harbor Blueberry Ale, and when someone mentions Atlantic Brewing, that’s the brew that comes to mind. That said, you might want to take a shot at mixing things up. What I mean is: drink all of the dark beers. ABC has a way with the dark malts, and it shows in brews like the Cadillac Mountain Stout and the Coal Porter. While everything Atlantic puts out is worth the experience, the dark beers always steal the show for me.

Why not try: Island Ginger Wheat

Penobscot Bay Brewery

Winterport’s Penobscot Bay Brewery is one of those breweries that, when it pops up on your radar, you’re always glad. One of the longest-running breweries in the area, Penobscot Bay Brewery has been bringing delicious beer to the area for over a decade. Operating in tandem with Winterport Winery, they’ve got a nice selection of excellent brews – I’m a particular fan of the Red Flannel brown ale and the Humble B lager (brewed with honey and ginger), but they’re all good. And with their simple, yet distinctive cans, they make an impression on the shelf as well as on the palate.

Why not try: Old Factory Whistle Scottish Ale

Bissell Brothers Three Rivers

Sure, Bissell Brothers is best known as a Portland operation – and one of the better ones at that. But the titular brothers have an additional operation in Milo. The Three Rivers location offers up all manner of Bissell beers, including the popular standards, but they also are known to have some Three Rivers exclusives on tap. Milo is perhaps more off the beaten path than some of these other spots, but here’s the thing: you can leave Bangor and have a beer in your hand at Three Rivers in under an hour. And considering the quality of product, from their flagship Substance to the experimental beers that are the focus of the in-house brewing operation, it’s well worth the trip.

Why not try: Lux Mosaic Pale Ale

Last modified on Wednesday, 07 October 2020 11:58

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