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It's my first post, but I recently became a bit of an expert on this topic and I felt like I had to chime in. My fiance', that's right, my fiance', and I just finished an awesome beer-cation in New England. Needless to say, she is a keeper. We are from New Jersey, and often vacation in Maine, but we never have time to see all the NE breweries we like so much, so about 10 months ago I did some research and planned out a vacation around some of New England's best brew pubs and breweries.
On Monday morning, we drove straight to Cambridge (a short walk across the bridge from Boston and home to MIT) and ate at the Cambridge Brewing Company. Lunch was awesome. They have a an outdoor beer garden and we had super nice weather. Check out their website and you will see that they have a few creative beers, but everything we tried was really solid. We checked into the Charlesmark Hotel in Boston that afternoon. It is reasonable and right on top of a green line T-stop, and made travel around Boston really easy. We ate lunch on Tuesday at the Union Oyster House. I would have thought that it would have been a tourist trap, but we had an early lunch, and it was really good. They actually have a few specially distributed Sam Adams beers (They were Sam Adams first account). The colonial ale and Boston Brick Red are worth trying. We hopped on the Orange line and took the Sam Adams tour. It was our second time, and not as good as the first. Pick up their "perfect pint" - it is a pretty sweet glass. I left us enough time to get back on an inbound T and took the silver line to an afternoon snack at the Barking Crab and a 4:00 PM tasting at Harpoon. Harpoon was limited to the tasting room, but they had a ridiculous number of taps, and you pretty much quit when you felt like it. We picked up two of their cider glasses for our apfelwein.
We left Boston on Wednesday morning and drove 1 hour up to Portsmouth. We had lunch at Red Hook, and despite it being a BMC cousin, it was a really great tour. The guide, Byron, has been there forever, and may in fact be an original member of the Greatful Dead. He is a homebrewer and gave a really light and fun tour- it is a good tasting and worth staying for lunch. We had the ESB on cask, and it was really impressive. We checked into the Hilton Garden inn in Portsmouth, and after some shopping, ate at the famed Portsmouth Brewery (ever hear of Kate The Great RIS?)- it is Smuttynose's sister company. Dinner was good, and since we stayed across the street, we really didn't hold back. I really stand behind this place. We only had 1 night in Portsmouth, and we walked around a bit the next morning. We ate breakfast at Friendly toast, and had lunch at the Flatbread company. The highlight was stopping at Smuttynose on the way out of town. It is a bit hard to find, and if you do not know it out west, it is really a must stop. They just make awesome beers. The tour was done by another homebrewer, and he was more than willing to talk about their brew process. They make big american beers. Actually, the head brewers from Smuttynose and Portsmouth were both there, and that is nice to see. It was a great tour, and ended our stay in Portsmouth. They also have a fridge of the Beer Beer Series, which can be tough to find in New Jersey
We stayed on the waterfront, and ate dinner Thursday night at Sebago Brewing Co. It gets a "B". The beers are pretty good, and the food will suffice. I like the IPA and the lake trout stout. Just do not eat downstairs. Friday morning started early, and it was a big day. We swung past Shipyard, whose giftshop opens at 10. I wanted to pick up some fresh Old Thumper (my favorite ESB) and some of the new Alan Pugsley signature series beers. The Predlude and Longfellow Ales are also awesome, although out of season. We took this tour 4 years ago and it was great. However, it has been reduced to a film and a tasting, and really not worth the time. That said, if I was only there once, I would do it. We checked out of the hotel and drove up Forest Ave and had lunch at a little mexican food place on the northern end of Portland - Tortilla Flats. I know; Mexican food in Portland? Trust me, it is good. More importantly, it is about a 1/2 mile from Allagash and Geary's. I know you can get Allagash in CA, but this was the highlight of the trip. One of their brewer's, DeeDee, gave the tour. She actually developed the recipe for Allagash Black, a Belgian Stout. She got really into explaining the Belgian brew process, showed us where they oak age beer, it was really good. However, the best part was when the tour was extended when we got talking about their bourbon aged tripel. DeeDee busted out a bottle, and it was unreal. These things snowball, and she started talking about their new Fluxos '09. She pulled a sample from the fermentor, and I will not get into details about it, but it was really awesome trying something the public does not even know exists. Be careful, we spent a lot of money in their shop, but worth every penny. The last stop was Geary's, which was right around the corner. Everyone has bad days, but Geary's was a little dissapointing.
Bailey Island, ME
We left Portland to start a long and relaxing weekend on a little island in Maine, but we had to make a pit stop on our way in Freeport, home of LL Bean. The store is unreal, and definately worth the trip. We ate dinner in Freeport at Gritty McDuffs (also in Portland) and it exceeded my expectations. They had 2 beers on cask, the bitter and the IPA, and both were very good. All that was left to was was eat lobster and start putting a dent in our supplies. It was an epic trip.
Must sees were Allagash, Smuttynose, and Red Hook (my biggest surprise) - in that order.
Also, if you are going to Bar Harbor, seek out the Atlantic Brewing Co and Bar Harbor Brewing co. One makes Brother Adam's Braggott Ale, and the other makes Cadillac Mountain Stout. Both are supposed to be awesome. I picked up a bottle of each during the trip, but have not had a chance to try them. Yet.
Have fun, and I hope I was a help.