Much has been written about the beauty of Maine’s coast; the quaint towns, the incredible views of where the land meets the sea, and the warm, if hesitant friendliness of the inhabitants. We experienced all of this and more as we made our way to Camden from Bangor after a visit with the wife’s family. As related in part one, we had the opportunity to visit one new brewery, Liberal Cup, and a revisit to Sea Dog, and now that the family obligations were met, we eagerly set our sights on whatever came around the next bend during our drive.
Taking Route 1A, we made our way south through picturesque hamlets framed by autumn colors in various stages of turning. The BreweryMap app for my phone indicated a few breweries along the way to our destination, but the first one along the way, Penobscot Bay Brewery, was closed due to the fact that it was Columbus Day; it boded an ill omen in our quest to visit a craft brewery on that day. Belfast Bay Brewing was closed for renovations, and arriving around 2:00, we discovered that Marshall Wharf didn’t open until 4:00 that afternoon.
During our quest for fresh beer, we happened upon the historic Fort Knox. Located on the Penobscot River across from Verona Island, the stone fort was built from the 1840s-60s during the push for increased coastal defense in response to the ease the British had swept in during the War of 1812. Forts were built all along Eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine, with Fort Knox being the northernmost. Visitors are free to roam about the fort, built entirely out of granite, to see the enormous cast iron cannons and massive masonry. Climbing the stone spiral staircases takes you to the battlements and views across the river of Bucksport, as well as the Penobscot Narrows bridges to the South. For a view from a greater height, you can ascend in the elevator of the observatory inside the bridge pillar of the new bridge, which spans the river next to the obsolete and decaying metal one. Like two 47 story obelisks, the towers support the bridge from each bank, the western spire housing the observatory. The vista from the glass gallery atop the tower is vast, and on a clear day they claim you can see for 40 miles. The fort and observatory are a nice diversion if you’re passing through on Route 1, and well worth the combined fee to see both, $7 for nonresidents.
The wife chose well once again in her decision to stay at the Hartstone Inn in Camden. Her interest was initially piqued by an image of one of the rooms on their website; with red walls, mirrored closet doors, and a fluffy four poster bed, it exuded both comfiness and elegance. It became a gastronomic delight as well, both during breakfast and the one dinner we had there. The two course breakfasts we savored each morning, were meticulously prepared by the world famous chef/owner Michael Salmon. I was very appreciative of their eagerness to please in regards to tastes and preferences. We had let them know of my aversion to all things foul (yes, I cannot stand anything that is classified as poultry, except for eggs that is), so for each meal, including dinner, they artfully provided substitutes more to my liking. From the friendly and helpful staff, to the impeccably clean rooms, I would highly recommend the Hartstone to anyone considering a visit to the area. An example of the quality of customer service they effortlessly provide is in the sailing excursion they booked for us after our inquiry about whom to contact to arrange one. Before we knew it, they had reservations set for us on the following day. The voyage on the Surprise, with Captain Jack and his wife, Barbara, was very enjoyable, providing happy memories for years to come.
After we had checked in on the day of our arrival, we retraced our drive back to Lincolnville for an homage to my late mother-in-law, Esther. One of her favorite places to eat was the Lobster Pound restaurant on the shore of the bay there. Not a five star restaurant, and yet quite a few steps above the ubiquitous seafood joints of the area, it offers well prepared, generous portions of your favorite fruits of the sea. The meal was bittersweet, remembering the meals we had shared with Esther there in years past, but the enjoyment of the food and beverages lifted our spirits; my choice of beer equaled and nearly surpassed the yumminess of the meal, for it was here that I first tasted one of Andrew’s beers. Elixir of the gods, succor of heroes, I could rant profusely of the Pale Ale I first tasted that night. With a very rich pronounced malty flavor at first, the back end was equally complex with fresh aromatic hops. The taste was so bold that it took me aback, leaving me trying to decide whether I liked it or not, but after few more sips I was in love. This is by far one of the best beers I’ve ever tasted.
I had read a number of reviews about Andrew’s Brewing, how the brewery was notoriously hard to find, how he pretty much ignores you when you visit, his reticence, and the conflicting reviews of his beers made me wonder if a visit to the brewery was worthwhile. By the time I completed that first pint, my mind was made up, we would indeed seek Andrew out.
The outing on the sea we took the next day was over by midday, so we decided to try and navigate to Andrew’s. The address is on High Street, but Google Maps shows a rural locale, so I knew it would be a challenge locating the brewery. I also made the mistake of taking the back way from Camden, passing through Hope. If you choose the same route, keep in mind that High Street doesn’t have a sign where it outlets near Hope, just take the first right as you’re heading north from the town. Stumbling upon the mailbox for his residence, we looked left and discovered the house, brewery, and barn on a small rise in the middle of abundant trees common to the area.
With the brewery occupying a structure uniting the house with the barn, you’d miss it without a closer look. A bumper sticker on the overhang over the doors is the only indication you’ve found your destination. Well, that and the spent grains filling the front loader bucket on his tractor. Andrew greeted us on our entrance, explaining that he didn’t give tours, and that we should just feel free to explore.
I truly don’t think he expected all of the questions and comments the wife and I made as we wandered through his brewery, so as the minutes wore on, he began opening up and started warming up to us. Out of all of the brewers I’ve met over the years, Andrew has to be the most unique individual I’ve ever met. Many brewers recognize early on the need to be equal parts promoter and artisan in order to build a following and increase sales; all of them natural talkers, happy to talk about their product and those of others. Andrew doesn’t feel the need for any hoopla, he enjoys brewing, and if you enjoy his beers, all the better, but he isn’t going to go overboard selling himself or his brewery.
After seeing his small, pieced together bottling line (which he says he’s constantly repairing), I asked whether or not he’s considered canning. The answer came straight forward and without apology, “No.” There wasn’t any acknowledgement of the canning revolution, or the can linings allowing it to happen. Instead he refreshingly said he didn’t like beer in a can, and didn’t care if he never canned. Again, this is a guy who is in it for the pure enjoyment of brewing. He does admit that his brewery has achieved something of a cult status, evident by the fact that none other than Charlie Papazian visited him back in September.
When I raved about the Pale Ale I’d had the night before, he said that might be due to the fact that the last few batches had included the fresh hops he grows outside the back of the brewery; mainly to cut down on the Summer sun that streams in his back windows. He graciously gave us each a bottle of the Pale Ale before we left, the goodbye extended by talk of his planned trip to “Ride the Divide” this coming Summer. We recommended some Colorado breweries to visit along his ride, and wished him well, heading out to find some place to actually drink a beer.
The towns along the coast are clustered very close to each other, many are a 10 minute drive or less, so we set course for Belfast for another attempt to visit Marshall Wharf. We again arrived too early and so had a pint at the same bar as when we drove in; luckily a replay of our beloved Avalanche playing the Bruins was on the TVs to keep us occupied while we waited.
We arrived at Marshall Wharf, which is in the Three Tides Bar, at a little past 4:00 and the place was already half full. Finding the last two places at the bar, we perused their huge tap listings, experiencing a rare moment of having to decide exactly what we wanted. With 15 selections, featuring a wide variety of styles, the offerings were indicative of a brewery two to three times its size. We finally settled upon our staples of an IPA and a stout. Our dilemma was that they had two IPAs, an APA, and three different stouts on tap. The Big Twitch IPA and the Sea Level Stout both impressed us and made the choice for a flight of some their other beers an easy one.
Everything we had, from another IPA and Stout, a Kolsch, a Red Ale, and the APA, was full bodied and could hold their own with some of the best breweries we have visited over the years. And the atmosphere just enhanced the experience; kind of a beachcomber meets retro martini bar, the music selection of a similar ilk provided the perfect soundtrack. Our bartender was both friendly and attentive, joining in with our banter with the other patrons. The upstairs bar overlooks Belfast Bay and the funky open air lounge area below. The outdoor space includes a bocce ball court to the side and mid century fiberglass booths and chairs dispersed throughout.
As we sat sipping, the owner, David Carlson (no relation), came in and one of the regulars introduced us. David said they had started out as a martini bar and wanted to expand what they offered. After they had bought up Belfast Bay Brewing’s old setup, David and his wife Sarah allowed their brewers free rein to brew as many styles as they wanted. With the experimentation they daily exercise, they feel they are ready to attend GABF sometime in the near future.
We probably would’ve stayed there all night had we not had dinner reservations at the Hartstone, so after numerous farewells with the patrons and staff of the Three Tides we headed back to Camden.
As I mentioned before, the meal at the Hartstone was incredible. We both decided upon the Maine Lobster with a Vanilla Beurre Blanc and Angel Hair Pasta; the first course included quail which they graciously substituted scallops for me without my even asking (the wife enjoyed the quail very much, thank you). Chef Salmon made an appearance later, making sure everything was to their liking, greeting nearly every diner.
After another day of exploring the surrounding communities of Rockport and Rockland, both quick drives from Camden, we set off for our return to Boston and the trip back to Denver.
If you’ve read our other posts, especially those involving long road trips, you’ll know we enjoy breaking up our drives with a stop in at a brewery to enjoy a pint and grab a bite to eat. The trip back to Beantown was no exception, the only question was where. As I scanned the likely suspects through the BreweryMap app, I came across Gritty McDuffs, the name at first glance seeming like a fly-by-night novelty bar; but I couldn’t have been more wrong. After visiting their website, I discovered that Gritty’s was the first post-prohibition brewery in Maine, and it was a fairly straight forward route from the highway.
Located in the oldest section of Portland, the brewery sits on a street populated with boutiques housed in 19th century brick buildings. Situated on a hill sloping down to the harbor, the front and back entrances are located on separate stories, the lower level on a cobblestoned alley. This allows for incredible views to the bay through large picture windows in the bar area upstairs, and with the rain coming in that day, a warm feeling from being out of the elements.
The dark wood and leaded panes of the front windows exuded an English pub feeling, more in line with many of the original American brew pubs of the Eighties and early Nineties. The beers were a bridge between that time and now also, featuring many traditional ales, stouts, and porters, each with varied bodies that were neither overly full nor weak. The 21 IPA I found somewhere between a bitter and traditional IPA, malty and crisp with generous hops. The wife’s Black Fly Stout on nitro, was roasty and robust. The tastes of their cask conditioned pale ale and best bitter were a bit watery to me, but were well made.
The atmosphere had that easygoing feeling that only a craft beer institution will have, a place known and loved by the patrons who’ve been visiting for years, rarely being let down by their beloved. Both the food and beers were consistently good, a solid foundation to engender that loyalty.
When we were ready to head out, we made our way next door to buy the obligatory pint glass at their retail outlet and perused the shops as we made our way back to the car. Steeling ourselves for the drive through Boston and the plane trip the next day, we were left, as we always are at the end of a trip, wishing for a few more days to enjoy the people and places we had relished. We had promised the family that we would shorten the interval between our trips to Maine, so maybe in a few years we’ll be back seeking out the smaller breweries and the independent spirits who make them what they are.