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Maine or Bust

October, 2000

By Bobby Bush

Leaving Cambridge and Boston, we headed quickly up the coast in pursuit of another state for my brewpubbing gun handle. But first we pulled off the New Hampshire interstate in search of Portsmouth Brewing Company. Established in 1992, this old town brewpub was wall-to-wall on a Saturday night. Renaissance actors joined the merrymaking, making this noisy, elongated room even crazier.

I hated to, but I asked for a sampler tray. The bartender, under obvious duress, refused. He was out of glasses. So we set off on a pint tasting session. Once he saw what we were up to, he apologized, saying he probably could have rounded up enough glasses for one tray (but not enough for the crowd). No big deal. Under the circumstances, he was very accommodating.

But, ah, the beer. Portsmouth Pale Ale, medium bodied and moderately hopped, was deep gold and tasty. Copper in hue, Old Brown Dog worked the fruity malt side of the UK brown spectrum. Weizenheimer, served with lemon, was cloudy and yeasty, while Blonde Ale was a sweet light ale and amazingly very flavorful. Also light, but pleasantly hopped, Golden Lager left a saccharin aftertaste. By now the bartender was giving us a few ounces in our pint glasses to taste. Shoals Pale Ale was hoppier and deeper in flavor than its Portsmouth Pale cousin. Served on nitro, Black Cat Stout lofted a creamy tan head. This flavorful cream stout was complex in malt bill, highlighted by enticing taste of chocolate and roasted malts. It left a smiley sweet after-face. Website: www.portsmouthbrewery.com.

We’d had preferred a less busy environment, but had to take what fate dealt us. And it was time to move on, northward. This was my first trip to the state of Maine and it seemed to take forever. We were 40 miles inside the state, running on empty and looking anxiously for a gas station, when we passed just the fifth interstate exit. On fumes, we limped into town to find Portland’s original brewpub. Gritty McDuff’s (a.k.a.Gritty’s) was established in 1988 and sits smack downtown, just blocks from this coastal city’s other brewpubs, Sebago and Stone Coast.

Another hectic bar scene, we finally found a table on the lower level, out back by a cobblestone walkway. We left the Cask Bitter, Raspberry Wheat and Sebago Light Ale upstairs, un-tried, since the downstairs bar had only three brews on tap. With dinner, we enjoyed pints of Portland Head Pale Ale (a medium body, sour fore-/bitter after-taste, nearly perfect American Pale); Best Brown Ale (mild UK brown, a shared recipe with Golden Lion of Quebec) and Halloween (actually a rich malty ESB that hid bitterness until the very end of each swallow). Website: www.grittys.com.

Sleep was calling loudly, so we hit our Portland pillows hard. Awaking early the next AM, we headed south, leaving the bulk of Maine exploration for another excursion. With time for only one stop before aiming the now gassed up rental car airport-ward, we diverted from the ordinary path and discovered the friendly seaside town of Kennebunk.

Owned by the Shipyard Brewing group, Federal Jack’s Restaurant Brewpub opened in 1991. Overlooking the harbor where sail-less ships and dinghies waited, this upstairs establishment, with a huge U-shaped bar, made for a near perfect beer-drinking location. Water, sun and great beers. Excellent food too, as lunch of crab, horseradish mash potatoes and fried blue onion attested. Too bad this all had to eventually come to an end. With reality near, we supped a glass of Pumpkinhead Ale. This orange-gold seasonal was strongly spiced, a hint of apple slipped through the cinnamon and nutmeg stronghold. Longfellow Winter, another seasonal, was a chestnut-colored nutty bock-like ale. Regular brews included thin lager Goat Island Light, middle-of-road Shipyard Export Ale, fruity but balanced Taint Town Pale Ale and close-to-American-style Brown Ale.

A Shipyard staple, Old Thumper, made with an award-winning British recipe licensed to Shipyard, was big in flavor with rounded malt profile and low hops perception. Named for its hops, Fuggle IPA was pervasive in hops bitterness but not quite enough for a true IPA, while a cask version of Longfellow Winter was big and bubbly, smooth and full-bodied. Blue Fin Stout, black with chocolate head, was rich in dark chocolate flavor. It was creamy smooth, a fitting finale for such a memorable trip through four New England states. Look for www.federaljacks.com. We’ll be back.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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