The beautiful craggy coast of Maine has attracted vacationers in search of lobsters, lighthouses and blueberries for well over a century, but there's a new passion trending along Route 1, Maine-crafted beer, wine, whiskey and vodka. A young generation of Mainers who are passionate about preserving the pristine nature of their state, have dedicated themselves to using local ingredients to produce exceptionally fine adult beverages.
Stop #1 - Kennebunkport
Making Kennebunkport the first stop introduces you to a picture perfect Maine coastal town and provides an introduction one of the very first micro-breweries in Maine; Shipyard Brewing Co. Shipyard has been brewing their signature full-bodied ales for over 20 years. They rocked the craft beer industry when they introduced Pumkinhead Ale, a wheat ale with subtle spice notes. Pumkinhead has a devoted national following especially in the Fall. Stop into Federal Jack's Brew Pub, the site of the original Shipyard Brewery and enjoy their free tours and tastings while sitting out on their waterfront deck. Federal Jack's now brews small-bath specialty beers by Shipyard at this facility.
Where To Stay: Of the many wonderful inns and hotels in Kennebunkport, The Captain Jefferds Inn is the creme de la creme in our book. We would never miss an opportunity to stay here. Situated a short walk from the town center, this former sea captain's home has a relaxed historic elegance, inviting common rooms that include a summer room filled with light and windows overlooking beautiful gardens. Hospitality here is exceptional as Sarah and Eric oversee every detail to insure that guests are having a wonderful stay.
Where To Eat: While seafood restaurants are always a popular choice in Kennebunkport, for those who want something special, stop in for dinner at Toroso to sample Spanish inspired tapas dishes created by celebrity Chef-Owner, Shannon Bard. The restaurant has a lively relaxed atmosphere with open kitchen and a parade of great small plates incorporating local ingredients. A meal at Toroso on Port Road is like taking a a tasting adventure to your favorite Latin countries.
Stop #2 - Portland
First Portland became known as the foodie capital of Maine, and now it's clearly the craft beverage capital as well. With over 70 establishments producing Maine-made beer, wine, vodka, whiskey, brandy and gin in the greater Portland area, it's a challenge to decide where to begin. In fact, most of the premier spirit producers throughout the state of Maine have tasting rooms or restaurants in Portland, all the greats are here. Since this is a road trip, we decided to focus in on a sweet spot along Route 95 where it meets Route 302. Here you can experience four of the most well known breweries in one stop; Allagash, Foundation, Austin Street, and DL Geary.
Our favorite stop was at Allagash Brewery where a tremendous variety of exceptional Belgian inspired beers are being produced. Allagash White, their flagship brew, has been winning gold medals at nation-wide competitions since 1998 and continues to be in high demand. Allagash has become known for pushing norms and developing imaginative ways of brewing. Their "Coolship" was recently installed to take advantage of spontaneous fermentation utilizing wild yeasts to produce their "sour" beers - that are anything but. They've earned acclaim for their Saisons, IPAs, and most interesting of all, their barrel aged sours that incorporate fruit and herbs into the brew. Uncommon Crow for instance, is brewed and aged in stainless tanks, then mixed with local blackberries and aged again in barrels for another five months. My favorite was Sixteen Counties which was bright and malty with citrus forward aromas.
Stop #3 - Freeport
A 20 minute drive north from Portland brings you to Freeport, otherwise known as the home of L.L.Bean. Driving along Route 1 you'll encounter two exceptional craft beverage stops on the way; Maine Distilleries/Cold River Vodka, and the Maine Beer Company. Cold River Vodka has earned awards as one of the "top spirits in the world". Using only locally grown potatoes, a triple distilling process and water from the Cold River, they hand-craft exceptional "ground to glass" spirits. They produce their signature Handcrafted Potato Vodka, Blueberry Flavored Vodka using Maine grown blueberries, and a Traditional Gin, all of them gluten free and delicious.
The Maine Beer Company has a party atmosphere as you walk past their outside beer/fire roasted pizza garden and into an ever-expanding brewing facility. The tasting bar is always crowded as the popularity of their brews and giant soft pretzels grows. They are known for their very popular "Lunch" and "Dinner" American Ales. Dinner was so anticipated, that the Maine Beer Company held a lottery for the chance to buy a case when it was first introduced. Other popular selections are Peeper, and of course, Another One! With a tagline that reads, “do what’s right” you know this company is a leader in sustainability and community stewardship. Their eco-efforts are visible from the vast array of solar panels you spy as soon as you turn into the parking lot. While they don’t offer brewery tours at present, you can watch the operation through large glass display widows as you sample their brews. From the size of their building expansion project underway, they will be setting brewing standards for years to come.
Where To Stay: The Brewster House Bed and Breakfast is an ideal place to stay, right on Main Street in downtown Freeport. Dave and Kelleigh are wonderful hosts, the historic inn is lovely, but best of all is the Kegerator for guests to enjoy a pint of Maine craft beer whenever they like. Dave, a craft beer enthusiast, keeps the Kegerator filled with 5 choices of excellent local brews on tap. He is also an exceptional chef who whips up over-the-top delicious breakfast offerings. In the off season they offer beer tasting and sourdough pretzel baking getaways - great fun.
Where To Eat: The Azure Cafe enjoys one of the best locations on Main Street, and is an easy walk from the outlet stores and the Brewster House. The menu features eclectic Italian fare, fresh seafood and dishes with a hint of southern soul. We started with the Zuppa Di Pesce, a light tomato-saffron soup featuring Maine clams, mussels and pollock - it was sensational. Even more impressive were their uniquely prepared Mussels Solamente which were grilled on a sizzling cast iron platter with chips of smoked wood, fresh thyme and lemon. The result were mussels that burst with the taste of the sea. You will certainly want to dine here for lunch on the sunny patio or for dinner, and be sure to call ahead for reservations as they are very popular.
Stop #4 - Newcastle
Newcastle and Damariscotta share a picturesque village on the banks of the Damariscotta River with craft shops, boutiques and restaurants. Nearby are two terrific stops on our craft beverage road trip. First is Split Rock Distilling, Maine's first and only certified organic distiller. They are proud to use New England sourced ingredients, rains with local area organic farms. Their largest seller is Organic Bourbon Whiskey, while their Blueberry Vodka has won acclaim and a cult-like following. It makes a wonderful summer cocktail when mixed with cold lemonade. A new offering is Horseradish Vodka which was inspired as a pairing for the famous Damariscotta River Oysters. Their fist batch of Gin is due out in July and their annual huge organic cookout is sheduled for August 12th.
On our stops people asked us, "have you been to Oxbow yet?", and so we ventured up a long winding road, not too far from the village, to find Oxbow Brewing tucked in the woods like a hobbit's sanctuary. The tasting room resembles a magical slant roof log cabin with twinkle lights aglow in the windows. Stepping inside you'll meet friendly Maine folk and sample some of the best Farm House Ales of your life. Oxbow creates very tasty brews from farm house ales to pilsners, sours, and Saisons. Don't miss their parties in the woods - Good From The Woods is scheduled for October!
Where To Stay: The Newcastle Inn, perched on the banks of the Damariscotta River, is an excellent choice. This large comfortable inn has rooms suited for most any travel combo from a single traveler to large families. It makes a terrific summer vacation spot with many large social rooms for gathering and playing games out on the screened porch. Have a refresher in the inn's pub or take a leisurely stroll through their beautiful gardens. It enjoys a very restful local just outside of the village.
Where to Eat: You can't go wrong with a meal at the Damariscotta Grill on Main Street. They have a eclectic menu that plays heavily on local produce and seafood. The very famous Damariscotta Oysters are available on the half shell and they have many imaginative appetizers to offer. We started with The Plank (roasted garlic hummus, spicy nuts, crudités, fig chutney, Cabot Private Stock Cheddar, Pâté De Campagne, sweet olive oil torta), wow! Locals will whisper that you shouldn't miss their popular happy hour in the upstairs bar from 3:00-6:00pm, Tuesday thru Sunday.
Stop #5 - Rockland Rockland is one of our favorite Maine towns because there is so much to do here, and not surprisingly, there are a variety of good craft beverage stops here in the mid-coast area. Just before reaching Rockland on Route 1, take a right turn to visit beautiful Owls Head where you'll find the very picturesque and elegant Breakwater Vineyards. Here you'll enjoy wine tasting with sweeping views down to Rockland Harbor. Tastings are $3 for any 4 wines and you'll be challenged to pick just four. From un-oaked Chardonnay, to a terrific dry Riesling, to their popular Black Cap Cider (slightly sparkling and not sweet), their white wine selections are all strong contenders. Breakwater's reds are really the standout. They produce several smooth full-bodied satisfying reds from Pinot Noir to their popular Marquette Red. Blueberries also make an appearance with Breakwater Blues, a wine made exclusively from berries and no grapes. The nose was sweet but the flavor nice and dry, making it a good pairing for chocolate, blue cheese, and a great dessert wine. You'll love the wines as much as the scenic vineyard setting.
In downtown Rockland stop into Rock Harbor Brewing on Main Street with copper brew tanks in the windows. You'll find a great selection of freshly brewed beer on tap and a congenial pub atmosphere. They are currently building a new tap room and larger brewing facility right on Route 1 just south of town. Their grand opening party planned for July 14-16. You'll find food trucks and plenty of tasty brews at the new facility and still the welcoming pub on Main Street which is testament to their every growing popularity in Rockland.
Where To Stay: The town of Rockland rose to prominence in the late 1800’s when great quantities of lime was mined for the production of plaster and cement, and ship building was at its peak. Many grand homes were built in Rockland and several have become prominent bed and breakfast inns. The Granite Inn across from the ferry terminal, The Berry Inn famous for their pie pantry, and the Lime Rock Inn former town doctor's house, are all great choices. We stayed at the very charming Lime Rock Inn and felt right at home in the sunny Island Cottage room with access out to the gardens. PJ and Frank are wonderful hosts and its bright rooms and beautiful gardens will make for a memorable visit.
Where To Eat: At the inn's recommendation we had dinner at Sammy's Deluxe on Main Street. What a treat to have Sam as your personal chef creating your meal in the corner kitchen. Brightly dressed tables give a festive Latin flair and the menu is always filled with fresh-from-the-market offerings. We sampled several foods we had never eaten before; smoked haddock appetizer, from the garden parsnip soup and roasted skate with asparagus and capers - all delicious. For more timid souls, Sam also makes a Wicked Good cheese burger. Stop by and check out Sammy's menu board to know what's cook'n tonight.
Bar Harbor It's a 2 hour drive up Route 1 to Bar Harbor, so you're sure to arrive thirsty. You'll quickly see that the local favorite is Atlantic Brewing with their black and white umbrellas appearing all over town. Their Bar Harbor Real Ale is the signature brew, but they have many other seasonal and specialty brews to offer as well. Don't miss their newly opened Pilot Brewery Project on Cottage Street. This unique small-batch facility is designed for collaboration with other brewers from around Maine, America and the World to share recipes and refine techniques in pursuit of ever better beers. Stop in for an adventurous beer tasting and hand-crafted burgers and wraps at Midtown Burger.
Where to Stay: Since Bar Harbor is a long drive and probably the furthest north you will travel, take a few days to relax and really enjoy Acadia National Park as well as the oceanfront town of Bar Harbor. Here are two great inns, one for a beer budget, and one for an exceptional experience. Aysgarth Station, named for a scenic local in North Yorkshire England, sits on a quiet side street right in the town of Bar Harbor, making it an ideal location for sightseeing. Innkeeper Melody, is a gracious hostess and terrific cook. Her breakfast creations are whimsical and delicious as evidenced by a fruit tower that at first glance looked like Eggs Benedict. In fact it was a layer of granola topped with watermelon, Greek yogurt and mango (to resemble an egg yolk) - fun and delicious. This bed and breakfast and both comfy and surprisingly affordable.
The Saltair Inn has to be one of my favorite places on the planet. I would not think of visiting Bar Harbor without a stay for at least one night. Tucked between grand historic "Cottages" on West Street, the inn enjoys spectacular views across expansive lawns to Frenchman Bay, yet is just a short walk to town. Matt and Kristi will welcome you like long lost friends and assist with your tour planning. At low tide go beach combing or walk over on the sand bar to Bar Island, the island that give Bar Harbor its name. A delicious breakfast out on one of the decks or sipping wine in an Adirondack chair while watching the sun set over the bay is a memory you will cherish for years to come. Just be sure to book a reservation early as they have may passionate repeat visitors.
Where to Eat: While the waterfront seems to have been taken over by large corporate enterprises, unique and interesting restaurants abound on the streets surrounding the town common. For a lively place that's great for people watching and light fare, Project Social on Mt. Desert St. is a great choice. Specializing in small plates, craft cocktails and crepes, Project Social's observation bar at its entrance is a wonderful spot to stop and refresh. We nibbled on warm garlic and herb marinated olives, lamb skewers and crab cakes while watching all the activity in the square, and enjoyed every minute. The restaurant's atmosphere is artsy and the menu has lots of tempting choices.
For a bit of France in Bar Harbor, Mache Bistro on Main Street is a special treat. Known for its imaginative interpretations of French classics and a passion for absolutely fresh ingredients, this restaurant has earned acclaim in Bar Harbor. Chef/Owner Kyle Yarborough serves daily inspirations dictated by local seasonal ingredients, current catches from the sea and organic meats. Our dinner was executed to perfection and my pumpkin seed dusted scallops served on polenta with fennel confit was outstanding. Open for dinner only, Chef Kyle changes the menu daily to reflect the freshest ingredients and you should reserve in advance if visiting during high season.
Camden Driving back south along Route 1, a stop in Camden is a must. Here you'll find a quintessential Maine coastal town with a Main Street lined with dozens of shops, restaurants, and a scenic harbor filled with historic wooden sailing ships. This area proved to be a fascinating stop for craft beverages as well. Just to the west in the town of Union, are two vineyards well worth detouring off Route 1 to see.
A huge barn and whimsical model railway welcomes you to Sweetgrass Farm Winery and Distillery, where Keith and Constance Bodine have been creating craft spirits since 2005. With degrees in engineering and after Keith earned his Masters in wine making from UC Davis, this energetic couple returned to Maine to open Maine's first winery/distillery. Their goal was to preserve the 70 acre working farmland and become an acclaimed producer of distinctive spirits. 12 years later, their mission is going strong as they produce wines from dry to sweet, and spirits from brandy to "smashes", Three Crow Rum and Back River Gin, named in Top 50 Spirits by Wine Enthusiast. Next year they will release a whiskey that has been aging for 7 years in barrels. Some of our favorite tastings were a dry oak aged Blueberry Cabernet, Maine Hard Cider (dry and delicious), and a Vidal Blanc Vermouth with a hint of spice and very smooth. In most demand in summer months are their Cranberry and Blueberry Smashes which are reminiscent of a fruity port - great for cocktail mixing. In fall they produce Maple Smash and a Sweet Bourbon. They run a creamerie in summer as well making hard and soft cheeses from milk from 5 nearby dairies - great with a nip of their dry apple brandy. The tasting room is open 7 days, 11 am - 5pm May 1 - December 31st.
Just down the road is another amazing farm-based vineyard, Savage Oaks Vineyard and Winery. Buddy and Holly have a diverse operation ranging from picturesque belted Galway cows, which are the oldest breed in America, to vineyards and wild blueberry fields. Buddy purchased the land in 2000 from a family member to preserve the farmlands which have been in his family since the 1700's. Today they produce over 17 varieties of wines ranging from dry whites to blushes, to full bodied reds and smooth dessert wines. Two of our tasting favorites were Barn Red which has won Double Gold in competitions and Best of New England, and Nor'easter, an oak aged port from the first vines of Maine grapes to win Gold Medals. But that's not all going on at Savage Oaks, each summer they welcome up to 18,000 concert goers to their concerts in the fields. This year Graham Nash will perform on 7/20, followed by Lyle Lovett and his band on 8/13, and The Marcus King Band on 9/1. Purchase tickets on their website, bring a lawn chair and sip wine under the stars. Both Sweetgrass and Savage Oaks wineries have extensive hiking trails and picnic areas open to the public as well.
For a truly unique beer tasting experience, book passage on a 4 night brew cruise aboard the wooden schooner Mary Day that sails out of Camden Harbor. On just one sailing per year, Captains Barry and Jennifer break out the suds to celebrate good beers from Maine. Their "Beer Cruise" scheduled for August 6th-10th draws a loyal following of beer enthusiasts. Captain Barry stocks the boat with a wide range of craft beers for ample tastings throughout the voyage and passengers are known to bring aboard their own favorites to share. What could be more relaxing then sipping a craft brew and telling sea tales while sailing the calm waters of Penobscot Bay?
Where to Stay: Driving down Route 1, just before the village of Camden, The Hawthorn Inn sits on a knoll in grand Queen Anne Victorian splendor at 9 High Street - they are in fact, the only Queen Anne style BnB in Camden. Ted and Lisa Weiss are wonderful hosts, providing you with a warm welcome with afternoon snacks, full menu of breakfast specialties and an extensive list of "What's Going On In The Area" delivered daily, so you won't miss the farmers market, music in the streets, or free nature walks. Sun-filled rooms are large and airy with period furnishing and comfy sitting areas. A bonus feature is the view of Camden Harbor through the gardens, making their delicious breakfast on the decks even more special. When you're ready to go exploring, just let yourself out through the back gate and you'll emerge across the street from Harbor Park and a short stroll into the village.
Where to Eat: Yes, you can fight the crowds at the harbor for a seafood dinner, but it might be more fun to amble a block or two along Main Street to The Drouthy Bear Pub at 50 Elm Street. Here you'll find a UK style pub right in Camden. Walking through the door is like getting a big warm hug from your chums. You'll find congenial atmosphere with a nod to Scotland, Ireland and the British Isles. With over 70 Single Malts and Whiskies on hand as well as a large sampling of draft beers, you definitely won't go thirsty. I did a double-take at seeing rows of draft beer handles sprouting from the ceiling. The menu overflows with comfort food choices from Bangers & Mash, to Haggis Poutine, and Steak Stilton. This is a great place to hide out after an afternoon of tramping through tourist shops!
All in all our sip and savor adventure along the coast of Maine was exhilarating. What began as an interesting adventure, soon turned into an inspirational journey. As we met one passionate spirits artisan after another, and were welcomed by friendly, proud innkeepers along the way, we came to realize that Maine is filled with talented, caring folks who are working to preserve the wild beauty and natural resources of their state while crafting exceptional adult beverages. We ended our trip with full hearts and wide smiles. With so many wonderful spirits artisans operating in Maine, we may have missed your favorite. Feel free to share your sipping finds in the comments.
A big thank you goes to InnsAlongTheCoast.com for helping us plan this wonderful itinerary. Visit their site to find other specialized itineraries for Fall Foliage Tours, Adventure Activities, Arts, Foodie Interests, Lobsters and Lighthouses and of course craft beverage tours. For more resources on planning your trip to Maine, good sites to visit include VisitMaine.com, Maine Brewers Beer Trail, Maine Distillers Guild, Maine Wine Trail and Maine Cheese Makers Trail.