The Freshmen 13
Augusta. Kittery. Bridgton. Ellsworth. Machias. These places have something in common: their first brewery recently opened. In fact, over a dozen breweries have opened in Maine since last November, and only one (Ebenezer’s Brewpub, in Brunswick) has closed. This rate of growth is impressive, but it’s as much a story about neighborhood gathering places as it is about the demand for craft beer.
When Flight Deck Brewing opened its brewery and tasting room in Brunswick at the end of 2016, they were initially overwhelmed by customers. They hadn’t expected how strong the demand would be. The community of people who’ve since become regulars there seemed to be craving a place to just exist – especially with kids and dogs in tow. Every time I’ve visited, I’ve heard someone remark to the staff, “Oh, I’m just so glad that you’re here!”
At Cushnoc Brewing Company, in Augusta, I sat at the bar a few days before their grand opening and listened to locals thanking the owners for opening the brewery. One after the other, they said the city, or the neighborhood, or the street just “needed a place like this.”
As we approach 100 breweries in Maine, the question of how many the state can ultimately support looms large. There is intense competition for tap lines and shelf space, but if you look at it from a geographic angle, there seems to be plenty of room for communities to get a brewery of their own. If brewpubs can thrive in small communities like Norway, Liberty and Lyman, why not South Berwick, Richmond, or Gray?
Portland Beer Week (Nov. 5-12) is a time to rediscover beers we’ve forgotten, taste some one-off creations from brewers who want to stretch their craft, and see what’s on the horizon. The events are Portland-based, but breweries from all over the state participate in this annual celebration, and I encourage you to give a little love to some of the pioneers making a go of it in areas that were previously left out of the craft-beer scene.
Your best chance to taste beers from some of the newest breweries (some of which are opening in the coming weeks) is to grab a ticket to the Maine Brewers’ Guild’s “Freshmen Class” event (Nov. 12, at Bayside Bowl, from 3 to 5 p.m.). The event exclusively showcases beers by the baker’s dozen of breweries that have opened since last November.
Some freshmen to watch:
Lake St. George Brewery (Liberty) is new, but it’s being led by old-school talent. Head brewer and owner Danny McGovern has worked his way through the Maine beer scene since the mid 1990s, starting with the short-lived, but pioneering, original Lake St. George brewery, then to Belfast Bay Brewing (home of the original McGovern’s Oatmeal Stout), Marshall Wharf Brewing (where he’s responsible for the hoppy and delicious Cant Dog), and Monhegan Brewing. Lake St. George’s new offerings include the bright and modern Pinnacle IPA and a very well-executed Helles lager named Millstone. Their cans are available at an increasing number of stores and are well worth bringing home.
Cushnoc Brewing Company (Augusta) is located on Water Street, in a surprisingly large space. The modern layout includes a gigantic family-style table running down the center of the room, as well as a bar and booths. A sip of their juicy and perfectly bitter All Souls IPA got my attention, and I found myself already making plans to return to Augusta (who’d have thought?).
Woodland Farms Brewery (Kittery) is a lager-forward brewery that has some great straightforward styles, as well as some funky ones. Not in a traditional “main street” setting, their tasting room is tucked in with a Weathervane restaurant across from the outlet malls. A visit to try their interesting and refreshing beers could be your refuge from holiday shopping this season.
Yes Brewing (Westbrook) puts the fun back into brewing. While they make some seriously good beer, you can tell that they do so with a playful attitude. Their brightly lit tasting room, ’80s aesthetic and creativity inside the glass and out will put a smile on your face. Their peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwich beer, named No Crust, is a must-try. It’s one of the very few novelty brews that I’ve relished drinking an entire pour of.