The Maine Beer Trail: A Growing Statewide Attraction
By Ethan Schuler
Though blueberries, skiing, lakes, coastline, lumberjacks, and freezing winters may be people’s first associations with Maine, the state has a new, increasing point of fame: its many craft breweries.
The Maine Brewers’ Guild, first founded in 1986, created the Maine Beer Trail to give residents a better way to track their progress in visiting them all. The trail was launched in 2009 with roughly 25 breweries; there are now over 100 scattered throughout Maine. As a senior at Colby, I have made it a mission to visit as many of these breweries as I can before graduation.
Though I might not make it to the ones in Aroostook County, there are many on the list within an hour’s drive of Colby. More touristy towns always have at least one or two craft breweries, but many are scattered around rural Maine in places you would never expect. This makes visiting the breweries a convenient way to see some Maine scenery you might not normally go out of your way to see. So far this year, I have visited two stops on the beer trail: our local Waterville Brewing Company and the Liberal Cup, a brewery and pub about 30 minutes away in Hallowell.
The Waterville Brewing Company opened earlier this year in the Hathaway Creative Center, an old converted mill on the river just south of downtown. The brewery is not easy to find; there is not really a sign and you have to go in the building and down a hall. The beer and atmosphere, however, were excellent. It is a small space, but there are games, TVs, and lots of space for socializing (even though it was nearly empty on a Friday night). I ordered a flight of six beers for $11, and though they said they normally have food trucks come on Fridays, they had Cappza’s Pizza there and gave me a lot for free. The beers were a perfect variation, with blonde ales, amber ales, lagers, and IPAs. They even had an oatmeal stout, which, though I did not love, I did enjoy more than any stout I’ve ever had, certainly more than a Guinness. Overall, it felt like the Waterville Brewing Company could be a great local gathering place, but it seems to have simply not gained a major audience since its opening.
On the other hand, the Liberal Cup Public House and Brewery had no room at the restaurant and standing room only at the bar, plus a live band. Though I visited on a Thursday during dinner hours, it stays open through 1 a.m. While the pub is separate from the microbrewery, it always has many of their beers on tap, and offers a flight on the menu as well. I ordered two pints, each for $4, which seemed like a great deal for a craft brewery. One was the Bug Lager, which they describe as their “best selling beer,” but also probably their least unique. It was not bad, but not very exciting. On the other hand, the second beer I ordered, the Dunkel John’s Band, was one of the most unique beers I have ever had. Liberal Cup describes it as “our rendition of a rare German-style beer known as a Dunkelweizen (Dark Wheat). The slight sour taste from the yeast left in suspension is offset by the roasted hint of darker grains.”
It is listed in the amber ales category, but tastes a little lighter than an amber, except for the slight sour taste. It was an excellent beer, far exceeding the first one, and well worth trying. Additionally, we ordered ribs at the bar, which were delicious, and the band provided good entertainment. Be prepared for a loud crowd, but also the true feeling of a genuine locals’ spot.
The first two craft breweries I have visited so far have very different vibes, but both deserve at least four out of five stars (if not five) for their atmospheres, decent prices, good beers, and variety. For my next few stops on the trail, I hope to hit the Bigelow Brewing Company in Skowhegan (only open Fridays and Saturdays), the Marshall Wharf Brewing Company in Belfast on the coast, and the Lake St. George Brewing Company in Liberty. Also, I would be remiss if I did not say that the Maine Beer Trail offers prizes for those who visit and keep record of many breweries throughout the state. If you visit between 10–19, you will receive a hat; if you visit 20 but not all of the breweries, you will get a t-shirt; if you visit them all, you will get a “prize pack.” Although the website specifies that you will need to allow 3–12 weeks for these items to be mailed to you, and regarding hats, they describe them as “OUT OF STOCK,” this feels totally worth it to me. Before graduation, I hope I can at least get a hat and some good craft beers along the way.