I dunno if I’ve made it clear to you guys, but I’ve had a beer or two before. Sometimes more than one in a row. Over the years my beer-drinking palate managed to mature, too – I remember screwing my nose up at a stout in Memphis in 2008, but I (vaguely) remember inhaling about seven Guinness pints in three hours in Boston a couple of weekends ago.
For the last couple of years, craft beer has really seen an uprising in Brisbane, my hometown, and I feel like my tastes grew up with the beer scene at home. Now, when I look at my friends’ check-ins on Facebook, I see the names of beer bars I’ve never even heard of, and I’ve only been gone four months. Thankfully Maine isn’t short on craft brews.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m absolutely not a beer snob. I think a cold can of VB has its place just as much as a Stone & Wood Pacific Ale. I’ve got half a dozen Coors Light cans in my fridge right now alongside half a sixer from a local brewery. I love Queensland’s signature drop XXXX, but I’ll also drop $12 on a tallboy of Oregon’s finest Rogue. Everything has its place.
Anyway, there is so much good beer around here that I want to set out and try as many of them as I possibly can. My buddy Todd, a tour guide out here and an extremely knowledgeable beer drinker, will be passing through Bar Harbor on Memorial Day weekend, and I’m taking it upon myself to sample as much of the local stuff as I can before I see him. So here we go:
Baxter Brewing Co.
Today I picked up my trusty navigator Bonnie and we hit Route 202 for Lewiston. Lewiston-Auburn are twin cities about 30 miles south of Augusta, separated by the Androscoggin River. What a bad-ass name for a river. As it happens, Lewiston’s municipal water supply is one of the cleanest in the country, which – so said our tour guide Ezra – makes for good beer.
Ezra was wrong though. Baxter makes excellent beer.
I had the brainwave to head down Lewiston way last Sunday, when I picked up a sixer of Baxter’s extra pale ale, Pamola, from the supermarket. It was in cans, which is something of a renaissance out here. The first good beer I had in a can (PBR aside) in the US was Dale’s Pale Ale, a Colorado brew, and while I didn’t think aluminium was the right delivery system initially, I friggin’ love it now. I prefer it over glass any day.
Anyway, I’m rambling. Sunday night I Googled Baxter, found out it was just 45 minutes away, and locked it in for today. After some GPS problems that led me on a sweet pair of figure-8s in what was clearly Lewiston’s hard-knock neighborhood, we found the brewery and had enough time before the tour started to knock back a pint ($4 for 16oz; Pamola for me and Tarnation for Bonnie) and a soft pretzel with beer mustard ($3.75) each. Well, most of the pretzel. The tour started and we were somewhat over-encumbered, so we ditched the more disposable of the carbs (hint: it wasn’t the beers).
Ezra was a great guide and the tour price was even better (read: $0.00). That included a 4oz taster of one of their tap beers. I love San Francisco’s Anchor Steam a lot, so the offer of a steam-style Tarnation was tempting, but I ultimately went for the Stowaway IPA, which Ezra said accounted for 70 percent of Baxter’s production and, by the sounds of it, sells out fastest. I wanted to get some of that sweet, sweet stuff before it disappeared for the year. My choice was the right one, because it was great. I’m totally not a connoisseur of beer to the point where I can tell you what sort of hops are used or whether I can taste notes of wank wank wank, but I enjoyed it a lot and would’ve enjoyed it a lot more had I not been the driver responsible for returning us home safely.
There was a private party later in the evening in the taproom, which would be a cool venue to do such a thing and is already making me think ahead to my birthday in September. As long as I can find a) a hotel room in Lewiston that doesn’t charge by the hour or b) a solid designated driver.
Before we headed back to Augusta, Bonnie and I decided to grab something to eat and after some scary one-way street navigating (thanks, Google Maps) and a close encounter with a shitty nightclub that was somehow a Mediterranean restaurant (thanks, Yelp), we managed to get a bite at Gritty’s, another Maine beer institution.
All in all, I think my first brewery tour day trip was a raging success. I look forward to knocking off more in the coming weeks, because I sure am thirsty.