Sierra Nevada Brewing Brings Beer Camp to Maine

(Originally published in Maine Today Magazine on July 31, 2014.)

Remember in 2012 when Mumford and Sons thundered into town with their Gentlemen of the Road Tour? Portland was one of only four U.S. tour stops. The most powerful Americana band in the world turned its eyes on our city for a night. The event was as magical as we could have hoped. It was a once in a lifetime event in Portland.

But what if I told you epic festival lightning could strike twice?

This August 1st at Thompson’s Point in Portland a second colossal lightening bolt will strike us. Hard.

Beer Camp Bus copyThe iconic brewers at Sierra Nevada have put together a rock and roll style tour called Beer Camp Across America to celebrate the opening of their new brewing facility in Mills River, North Carolina. And they have decided to make Portland one of its seven stops.

As of right now, over 100 breweries from New England and beyond will be pouring on August 1st. I know, Maine already has some great beer festivals throughout the year. What makes this one so special?

Frankly, the list of brewers for Beer Camp reads like the star-studded roster for the 1985 smash hit, ‘We Are the World.’

When the gates open, this beer writer is running straight for the following brewers: Russian River (mmm…Pliny the Elder), 3 Floyds (Zombie Dust, please), Firestone Walker (give me some Parabola), and finally, like a school girl screaming for Justin Bieber, I’m going to pay homage to Sierra Nevada, whose 1981-born Pale Ale ushered in the age of the American craft beer.

In addition to the impossible-to-get beers that will be at Beer Camp, Sierra Nevada collaborated with twelve of the best brewers in this country to create a one-time only twelve pack. God, I hope you got your hands on this. It’s a brilliant box of beer genius. It contains a range of styles from stouts to ales to bocks.

Beer Camp at Allagash copyDrinking this twelve pack is like watching the 1976 rockumentary, The Last Waltz, where The Band backed up the greatest singers of their generation for a night. The music was a wonderful blend of The Band and whoever was singing at the moment. That’s what’s going on in this twelve pack.

Of course, our hometown hero, Allagash, was part of this beer collaboration with their Belgian-Style Pale Ale, Myron’s Walk. This Pale Ale has the sharp bite of Allagash’s signature yeast and spicy coriander with a hop zing finish of Sierra Nevada-inspired Citra and Mosaic hops. It’s a true marriage of Belgian and American brewing styles, and I want it year round!

As August 1st approaches, look for special events around town related to Beer Camp Across America. There’s a good chance we’ll get a tap-takeover at a local bar where we can try the collaboration beers on draft.

Most importantly, buy, barter, or steal a ticket to Beer Camp, because like the Mumford and Sons festival on the Eastern Prom in 2012, this event will be talked about for years to come.

Cheers!

The Industrial Way Neighborhood is the Fertile Crescent of Maine Brewing

(Originally Published in Maine Today Magazine on July 24, 2014.)

Everything great has an intoxicating birth story. The Universe has the Big Bang. Life on Earth has the primordial soup. Civilization has the Fertile Crescent. The Beatles have Hamburg. And Apple has a garage in Los Altos, California.

As the Maine beer renaissance roars on like an engine at full-tilt, no one can deny that our craft brewing scene is thriving.

But from what primordial soup did these magnificent ales, porters, and sours first crawl? Where is the Fertile Crescent of brewing in Maine?

Bissell Brothers Brewing CompanyWell, if the Universe has the Big Bang and the Beatles have Hamburg then craft brewing in Maine has the Industrial Way neighborhood on the outskirts of Portland.

Brief history lesson: D.L. Geary brewed Maine’s first legally sold, post-Prohibition beer in this neighborhood in 1986, Allagash started crafting their hazy Belgium style brews there in 1995, and One Industrial Way is the birthplace of Maine Beer Company (now in Freeport) and Rising Tide Brewing (now in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood).

Earlier this year, Bissell Brothers Brewing, Foundation Brewing, and Austin Street Brewing each opened a garage door in One Industrial Way.

Perhaps this neighborhood is the Mesopotamia of Maine craft brewing because of Portland’s pure water supply or zoning codes that make commercial brewing possible or, just maybe, D.L. Geary opened up a mystical portal when he brewed his first batch of Geary’s Pale Ale. (I’d like to believe the mystical portal theory myself.)

Regardless of the forces responsible, the Industrial Way neighborhood is infused with a brewing voodoo that is as strong today as it was thirty years ago. Nay, dare I say, stronger?

Here’s how I suggest experiencing this brewing motherland: start at One Industrial Way. Go to Bissell Brothers. You’re insane if you haven’t tried the Substance yet. If they’re selling cans, buy as many as you can. Next, walk the twenty steps to Foundation. Try their farmhouse ales. I suggest purchasing a growler of Blaze, their farmhouse IPA. Now walk around the backside of the building and visit Austin Street. Marvel at their humble thirty-one gallon system while you sip Patina Pale. Of course, buy a growler before you move on.

Foundation Brewing CompanyNext, make your way across the street to Allagash. The recently expanded compound might make your head spin after seeing the small operations in One Industrial Way, but don’t be scared. Try a free paddle of samples. Take a tour. Buy a bottle of Curieux, their Tripel Ale aged in bourbon barrels, and the runner-up in the Maine Madness Beer Tournament.

On your way out of the neighborhood, drive by Geary’s on Evergreen Drive. Though they have yet to open a tasting room, watch the way the building seems to glimmer with the aura of an enchanted artifact.

I promise that you will leave the Industrial Way neighborhood feeling invigorated, as if you’ve just dipped your toe into the Tigris River of Maine craft brewing.

Cheers!

Welcome to the Maine Beer Renaissance

(Originally published in Maine Today Magazine on July 17, 2014.)

We live in a new world, my friends. A fertile world where macro-breweries are losing shelf space by the minute to local micro and nano-breweries all across this glorious country. And nowhere is this brewing rebirth more prevalent than in the great state of Maine.

Maine’s brewing community has the throttle mashed to the floor in terms of production, cutting-edge beers, and vibrant culture. New breweries pop up everyday. Hop yards vine their way through local farmland. In Portland alone you can’t swing a lobster without hitting a drinking establishment that serves a myriad of Maine made beers. And these are good beers. Real good beers.

DinnerI’m overwhelmed just thinking about the electric local beer world Mainers have access to on a daily basis. What I want to impart on you, the good people of Maine, is that there is something here for everyone. Everyone. This community is not only for the beer geeks or the hipsters or a niche group of co-opters with ironic mustaches growing organic kale and fermenting it.

No. The Maine beer scene is a world with its doors wide open and as long as you like beer—and how could you not—there is a Maine beer waiting for you to discover its fresh, local goodness.

Our collective cup runneth over.

Here’s what you shall do this weekend: Google your favorite style of beer and add the words “made in Maine” to the search. Click on the results and read. Now, here’s the next step. It might be intimidating, but you can do it. I believe in you. Walk out of your house, get into your Subaru, and drive to the places you found.

Go right to the brewery and try samples in a tasting room. Chances are you can shake the brewer’s hand. You’ll know it’s the brewer by the tall rubber boots he or she is wearing. Here are a few of my favorites: Rising Tide, Bissell Brothers, and Maine Beer Company. The number of tasting rooms in Maine grows every day. In fact, every time you hear a bell ring, another Maine brewery opens a tasting room. Each tasting room has its own vibe. Visit them all. I dare you.

Allagash Barrels 2Not feeling up for exploring breweries, head to a local 207 watering hole. My recs: Little Tap House, The Great Lost Bear, or the newly opened Slab. Go in and ask the bartender for a recommendation. Say something like, “Hi, I’m John, and I usually drink Budweiser, but I’m looking for a Maine made lager I could drink to support the beautiful Maine beer scene.” Ok, maybe you won’t say all of that, but if you ask, your local pub attendant will slide a brimming pint glass across the bar. One drink and you’ll be on your way to beer nirvana.

We are rapidly shedding the dead skin of archaic Prohibition-era laws and big-brewing monarchies. The Maine beer renaissance is upon us, and every week, I’m going to bring this rebirth to you. So come in. Have a pint. Stay a while.

Cheers!