A Craft Brewery Guide to Portland, Maine
Portland, Maine is by all accounts, barely a city. With a population of roughly 66,000 (people), it's really more of a large town by global standards, and yet it's managed to become something of a craft beer mecca in the American northeast. Depending on who you ask, craft brewing has eclipsed other longstanding Maine industries like seafood and timber as an economic superpower; providing local jobs, drawing in tourists, and boosting the state's income by millions.
While craft beer has been on the rise across the U.S. for years - decades even - the boom hit Maine in particular when state alcohol laws were reformed in 2011, allowing brewers to sell "samples" on-site. And thus, the proliferation of small craft breweries, with even smaller "tasting rooms" attached, began.
Lucky for me, I had a local beer lover on hand to take me around to about half a dozen thriving local breweries in Portland (an ambitious weekend by all accounts) and was armed with a loaner Sony A7S II to play with along the way. Not only did I get to taste a wonderful variety of delicious local brews, but I got to explore the unique look and personality of each brewery myself while testing out the Sony.
Perfect for: surfers, cornhole enthusiasts, variety-lovers
Like many new breweries cropping up, Rising Tide is a large, open space optimized for the big work and machinery involved in brewing, with a convenient tasting area added on in the front. With a super friendly staff and a great selection of beers ranging in styles, Rising Tide was my favorite brewery visited on this trip. The outdoor area, which I hesitate to call a "yard," seeing as its just a patch of parking lot, also offers a nice seating option in pleasant weather, along with cornhole and a place to hang with your dog! I got a flight and tried the Ishmael (American Copper Ale, 4.9%), the Oktoberfest (Marzen-style lager, 5.7%), the Wet (local harvest Pale Ale, 5.2%) and the Nikita (bourbon barrel-aged Imperial stout, 9.8%) and enjoyed all of them, though the alcohol content and flavor of the Nikita would be certain to knock anyone on their ass.
Lone Pine Brewing
Perfect for: hikers, nature-lovers, minimalists
Opened just earlier this year and very near to Rising Tide, Lone Pine is a little smaller and - dare I say, lone? Like camping, but with a bar, Lone Pine demonstrates its name well with a minimal selection of beers, but well done ones. Their flagship beer, the Portland Pale Ale, has found great success in the area and is the central tent pole (so to speak) of Lone Pine's offerings. In my continued effort to expand my palate and really get into IPAs (because they are still one of my least-favorite styles) I tried the Brightside IPA, which I found to be bright (as advertised), citrusy, and immensely photogenic.
Perfect for: Gearheads, chill dudes, purists
Bunker Brewing is in a tiny building just across from Lone Pine and next door to Tandem Coffee Roastery in what was probably an old auto body shop. Thank god it's well-labeled on the outside, because after I stepped in, I still wasn't convinced it wasn't an old auto-body shop. Several men, mostly in the 40-ish age range, were standing around the little "bar" at the front of the space, and I couldn't help imagining they had told their wives they were running out for milk and swooped into Bunker for a quick beer in what would make for an enviable man cave. The space feels more like a growler pick-up spot than a place to hang out, though many people were enjoying their pours on-site and in the little "backyard" area.
To be honest, I had sipped so many samples at this point, I have no idea what I ordered. But I liked it! And I like Bunker's utilitarian approach. Frill-less and getting the job done. Would visit/drink again.
Maine Beer Company
Perfect for: philanthropists, grown-ups, if you're wearing a Polo shirt
Maine Beer Company feels like the most grown up of the breweries I visited in Maine. While technically in Freeport, about 20 minutes away from Portland proper, I included it here since if you're heading to Maine, you'll probably have a car anyway and this is a pretty popular, if isolated, brewery. It's clean, minimal, and charitable - all of Maine Beer Co.'s tips go to charity and they operate on a platform of good-doing in every possible way. The interior is stark and white with distinct Connecticut country club vibes - the only color in here is from the glowing glasses of beautiful beer. Considering I had heard about their Lunch IPA at random before even making it to Maine, I'd go ahead and say that's perhaps their best-known brew, though of the four beers in my flight, the Peeper pale ale was my favorite. Flavorful and bright, but clean and uncomplicated.
Perfect for: sk8er bois, Instagram girls, hungry people
Bissell Brothers is basically the antithesis of Maine Beer Co, and it was my least favorite brewery of the ones we visited. Situated in what's basically a strip mall waiting to happen, Bissell has the decor and vibe of a 90s skatepark reopened for 2016. The music is loud and not especially good, fluorescent colors and graffiti adorn the interior, and something about the logo felt weirdly tech-y and medical to me. During the day the place had a pretty diverse crowd, including quite a few families, but considering the vibe and the fact that they had only about 5 or 6 IPA-centric beers on tap, I could see it easily devolving into a total bro-zone. Given the choices, I went with the LUX Rye IPA and did not love it, but again, not the biggest IPA fan to begin with. In good news, there is a food stand outside and a fried chicken joint next door that looked pretty legit, and since Bissell is BYOF-friendly, could be the perfect place for a liquid lunch (combined with solid lunch).
Perfect for: Europhiles, traditionalists, saison-lovers
Though I already called out Rising Tide as my favorite of the breweries on my unofficial tour for its excellent selection of styles, Oxbow was a close second for it's awesome atmosphere and dedication to American iterations of traditional Belgian styles you don't find every day. Their flagship beer is the Farmhouse Pale Ale, a saison brewerd with American hops. They've also got several other atypical beers on tap, including the Loretta (grisette, 4%) and the Oxtoberfest (smoked biere de garde, 6%) for anyone and everyone experiencing American IPA overload. The tasting room feels like a Belgian beer cellar that manages to be big, open, and great for groups, while also maintaining a cozy, intimate feel. 11/10 would visit again.
While not included in this post, I added Allagash and Shipyard to the map because they are both well-known Maine craft breweries. Also on this map are places to buy craft beer, including Novare Res Bier Cafe in Portland proper.