Travel, like most activities, can be enhanced by those who accompany you. Your companions can give you different perspectives from your own, lighten the mood with a joke or observation, and just share in the joint experience of a sojourn.
These thoughts come to me as I remember our visit to Atlantic Brewing Company, some ten years ago, accompanied by my late mother-in-law and my wife’s brother.
Esther, my mother-in-law, was a woman who loved a well-told joke, good-hearted teasing, and learning about things she had never been exposed to. Born and raised in Maine, she had a thick New England accent that at times was as decipherable as a Scottish Highlander. One of the more challenging words to interpret was husses for horses, which took both my wife and me several minutes to figure the meaning of when Esther used it in a conversation.
From my first trip to meet the family I learned early on of her humor. On the morning after we arrived I awoke groggy from the time change, not to mention that I can’t function until I’ve had that first cup o’ joe. Esther set down a cup of coffee in front of me and looked at me expectantly. I figured she wanted to know if it was strong enough, since my wife and I like it like mud, but then I got a closer look at the mug itself. Prominently molded into the front of the cup were two large breasts perkily greeting me with a hearty good morning. When she realized I got the joke, Esther laughed heartily and reached for the camera to get a photo of me with the twins. I later bought her a companion mug with a well-rounded ass, and she displayed the pair proudly in her kitchen, the both of us getting a chuckle whenever we visited.
So it was devastating when we learned that she had cancer a few years later. During her final years we traveled back to Maine as often as we could to spend time with her, often taking her on trips in the region. She had always enjoyed going to Bar Harbor as she grew up in Maine, and so it was an obvious destination on one of our visits.
Typical of a lot of coastal towns in Maine, it’s a mix of Down-Easters, well heeled seasonal dwellers, and the tourist crowds that descend on it every Summer and Fall. So the day was spent idly wandering through the quaint streets and perusing the numerous shops that line them. As we meandered, I kept seeing indications that there was a brew pub or brewery in town, so when it came time to have lunch, my brother-in-law and I scouted ahead to determine where it was. Looking back on it, it’s a wonder that we didn’t see Bar Harbor Brewing, instead we only saw signs for Atlantic Brewing. When we arrived at where the signs lead us, we were told that they had moved outside of town, but that they served ABC’s beers at the restaurant where we currently were.
Being nearly ten years removed from that meal, I can’t tell you what that establishment was, much less the quality of the food. Suffice it to say that we all enjoyed our meals and each others company. But it did gnaw at me that we had only had a taste of the local brews, and that not from the source. So on our way out of town Esther suggested that we look for where Atlantic had moved.
We had only received the vaguest of directions on where the new location was, and so had a slightly wild goose chase trying to locate it on the outskirts of the town proper. We finally stopped in at a real estate agency in the general area of where we had been told to go, and were finally given somewhat accurate directions; we needed to head well out of town and look for the signs, which proved to be more than adequate.
The pastoral open spaces and copses of interspersed trees, lead us in to what appeared to be just another old farmhouse, but as we drove up the driveway we could see this was something more. Rounding a bend in the dooryard, an out building copiously covered in hop vines came into view, followed by a screened-in shack that turned out to be the tasting room, the back of the farmhouse/brewery framing the rest of the parking area.
With the day winding down and the quiet you can only get in a rural area, the setting was idyllic. It must have been a weekday that day, because there were no other patrons evident. After ordering our quaffs, our hosts informed us that the gift shop was getting ready to close, so the wife and I made a hasty trek to the shop to get the obligatory pint glass for the collection. The gift shop itself was in what looked a solarium attached to the back of the farmhouse, the late afternoon sunlight and shade from the surrounding trees dappling the floor as we perused the various items on display. The staff, they could have been the owners for all I could tell, were helpful, but also ready to close up shop for the day; we did make it worth their while, buying up two pint glasses and a t-shirt.
When we got back to finish our beers in the tasting shack, Esther gave us the gossip on the wait staff, having chatted them up while we were in the shop. It seemed like everywhere we traveled with her, she always met somebody from either someplace she had lived in Maine, or someplace she knew a family from.
The beers themselves, from what I remember, were delicious; they certainly quenched our thirst after a day of walking from one end of Bar Harbor to the other. I believe I had the Bar Harbor Real Ale, which I enjoyed many times after that, picking it up at stores near my in-laws’ homestead. Esther had a root beer brewed at Atlantic which she quite enjoyed. Her late second husband and her had mostly quit drinking a number of years previous, but I could see her eyeing our glasses, curious as to what all the fuss was about. She readily accepted my offer to taste what I was drinking with a completely open expression. After a an initial sour face, followed by a look of bewilderment, she remarked on how strong it was as compared to what she was used to, but that it was good and much different than what she expected a beer to be. She was never going to drink a full pint, and it most assuredly wasn’t going to be her drink of choice, but I admired her for trying something that was outside of her comfort zone. It was one of those moments that I’ll always remember about her, a moment where she shared for an instance one of my passions.
The ride back home to outside Bangor was filled with conversations of the day trip, and the many twists and turns in our quest to find the brewery. Esther would mention that excursion a few times in the remaining years after that; I think she enjoyed the adventure in finding Atlantic as much as the actual time we spent there.
Esther passed away in 2003, and rare is the moment when she is not in our thoughts, especially my wife who spent every day of the last months with her other. Many things will remind us of her at times, for me, it’s certain songs that she liked, or hearing someone with the same thick accent, or drinking out of the pint glasses we bought that day at Atlantic Brewing.
Someday we’ll get back to Bar Harbor and ABC, just to see what it’s like there now and spend some unhurried time exploring the brewery. But I know the first thing I’ll do is lift a pint for the memory of Esther.