I rarely have the opportunity to check out the bars in Portland, Maine, trips down are infrequent and although my wife would love to go out to the bars with me, it’s not my kid’s idea of a fun evening. The tail end of last week I was in Portland for training for work, this rare trip to Portland on my own afforded me the opportunity to grab a drink at places I always hear the locals talking about. Sometime in the middle of the day Wednesday I received a direct message on twitter from Don Littlefield at the Maine Brew bus, he offered up a guided pub crawl, an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
The pub crawl wasn’t at all related to the brew bus, this instead was one beer geek showing another beer geek how awesome his local beer scene is, but it didn’t hurt my pub crawl guide also does beer tours, anyone can lead a pub crawl but it’s a lot more interesting when that person knows the history of the local beer scene.
Don picked me up at my hotel at 5:30; the first stop on the crawl was at Salvage BBQ. Located on Congress Street this restaurant has a wide open floor plan, as you walk in there is a place to order food on the right, bar straight ahead and seating along the left side of the building. There are a variety of seating options from small tables and chairs to family style picnic tables and a couch. We picked a spot at the bar, Salvage has 16 taps which rotate local Maine beers, I started the crawl off with an Oxbow Freestyle #19, Heritage IPA. When Don picked me up I wasn’t hungry but stepping through the door at Salvage changed that quickly as you barely cross the threshold before you are overwhelmed by the smell of barbeque, I had the brisket sandwich which was amazing, I could have called it a night right there and been happy but there was more beer to try. Before we left Salvage I had one more beer, The Substance from Bissell Brothers Brewing, this flavorful, aromatic beer is a little bit of hop candy.
Stop number two on the crawl is a place I’ve heard locals talk about but I didn’t know much about it. LFK is a cool spot with a hipster vibe, pass through the draped fabric into a small dimly lit room full of literary references and antique typewriters. The small rounded bar is to the right of the entrance and has one of the most unique details built into it, between the bar and the arm rail is a space, looking down between them you can see an Emily Dickinson poem made from typewriter keys. Seating is pretty limited and considering how busy it was on a Wednesday I can only imagine how busy a Friday or Saturday would be. There are 10 taps at this bar, I chose a Rising Tide Zephyr, and after finishing that beer the crawl moved on as the current tap list was less interesting than the soon to be tapped list.
Stop number three was just around the corner. The Little Tap House is another small room but feels bigger than it is with white walls and minimal decorations. There was a local musician playing an acoustic set and the atmosphere was very laid back. I didn’t get a count of taps but there had to be a dozen. I had a Machine from Bunker Brewing. Here we were joined by Josh Christie, author of Maine Beer: Brewing in Vacationland, the conversation ranged from Josh’s second book to traditional hefeweizen yeast. Finishing up beer number two a Baltic porter called Dark Wave also by Bunker Brewing, Carla Companion aka The Beer Babe showed up and we headed over to stop number four.
Nosh is another spot I’ve heard a lot about but usually it’s how great the food is, the beer selections is quite good as well. I counted 11 taps with a variety of offerings from local to import. The only spot on the crawl that I didn’t order a Maine beer, I chose a Lagunitas Sucks which most definitely does not suck. Nosh is set into the
ground so walking through the restaurant and looking out the window you find yourself looking out at pavement level. The vaulted ceilings and clean lines gives Nosh a more modern look compared to some of the other stops, again the room is wide open with a long bar and low table seating below the windows. We didn’t stay long enough to order any food.
The final stop on the pub crawl is a must for beer geeks, Novare Res. If Portland beer geeks have an underground lair, this is the spot. A long L shaped bar, communal tables, brick columns, low light, this is where I feel the most comfortable. Novare’s 33 draft lines are always filled with the most interesting craft beers, I’m not sure I’ve ever been here and found the same beer on twice. The crawl picked up a few more people at the final location including Ben Moore from the Active Beer Geek blog who let me hold is Novare Chalice, a substantial piece of glassware that anyone completing the challenge would be proud to have. I chose an Oxbow Saison Noel to end the evening, feeling it was fit to start and end with the goods from the woods.
I’ve been on a few pub crawls, they are a great way to cover some ground and check out a variety of establishments, the downside of a pub crawl is that you only get a flavor of each spot, and can’t truly appreciate each venue. I hope to spend more time in each of these spots in the future, try the food, observe the crowd, experience what each locations has to offer. The craft beer scene in Portland, Maine is diverse, I got to see a sampling of bars and restaurants where no two were alike and the only common thread amongst them was quality craft beer.