Booze Review: Biking and Beer in Portland, Maine

Much like the west coast city of the same name, Portland, Maine, is a beer city. Sure, there’s more to do in the small city of less than 70,000 residents, but I was particularly interested in visiting breweries during my brief stay.

In fact, there wasn’t much other than beer for me during my stay. Due to reduced operations following Covid reopening, a lot of establishments weren’t open. There was also poor timing on my part — I arrived too early to visit the art museum and didn’t want to hang around a few hours when there wasn’t much in the way of enticing early lunch options.

definitive brewing portland maine
A warm, airy welcome at Definitive

Expectations were tempered prior to arrival as I knew there would be some changes to schedules and options, but I held out hope for a tasty couple days. I began my first late afternoon at the hotel outside Portland, but it was only 2 miles from an industrial park that’s home to a few breweries, including Allagash.

Definitive brewing beer flight
Some tasty beer at Definitive Brewing

I must thank the gracious drivers of Maine for not killing me on Riverside St. as I biked that two-lane road without a shoulder. As I reached the industrial park, I discovered that Allagash was closed for the duration of my stay. That first night, only Definitive Brewing was open (I went back the next day to try Foundation and Battery Steele).

definitive beer portland maine

Definitive Brewing had a great space — large, open, airy. And there were plenty of tables outside. The downside is that, like many other breweries around Portland, Maine, they don’t offer flights, but rather half pours. The larger beers, especially at higher ABV, can make sampling so many breweries in a short time more difficult.After a couple of delicious half pours at Definitive, I bought a four-pack and biked back to my motel before it got dark — I had planned to eat in downtown Portland before trying out some bars. I must give Definitive staff a special shout-out because one can broke on the way back to the hotel (it was in my backpack the entire time) — they gave me another four-pack in exchange for the single defective can (honestly, I only wanted them to know it happened and take the can back).

portland main distillery
It’s not beer, I decided to check out Hardshore Distilling

That evening in downtown Portland, Maine, I made an unplanned stop at Hardshore Distilling — it was a quiet and open gin distillery. I had to order the Maine Mule, which was light and refreshing after a small dinner. After talking with the lone staff, I was given a taste of another cocktail that was a bit of an experiment (the flavor needed to be stronger, but it was good despite not knowing what was in it).

hardshore distillery
Lounging with a Maine Mule at Hardshore

Next to Hardshore was Oxbow Brewing, which my friend insisted I visit and bring some back as a gift. Oxbow specializes in farmhouse beer, so everything is a little funky and certainly not to everyone’s taste. In fact, it wasn’t really to my taste, but their Brave Noise IPA and Farmhouse Pale Ale were decent, with the latter tasting like a light saison. The Barrel Aged Farmhouse Pale Ale was my least favorite — it had an earthy sour apple cider taste. The Northern Lager was alright for lager, but drier than a typical one.

oxbow beer flight
A flight at Oxbow

Beer aside, Oxbow is a great tasting room with outdoor space. When I visited, it was mostly empty and inside was dark (it wasn’t well lit outside either). It was also nearing last call.

The following day, I biked 5 miles into downtown Portland on streets that were not meant for bikes (construction made roads rough and there was little to no shoulder) and headed toward the waterfront and a restaurant that was recommended the previous evening.

Maine narrow gauge railroad
The Narrow Gauge Railroad that I didn’t get to ride

After lunch, I took the Eastern Promenade Trail, the waterfront bike trail that loops around the eastern end of downtown. It’s a short trail that passes some lovely scenery, including the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad. About 2/3 of the way through the trail, I cut back into town on Anderson St., which is home to a few breweries that were not open that day. But Urban Farm Fermentory & Gruit Brewing was open to try some cider.

urban farm portland maine
An inviting space at Urban Farm (and my bike)

Urban Farm is a cool space to hang out — I would definitely frequent this place if I lived nearby. They had a sign up saying that they paid staff at least $15/hour and that tips go to a charity of the staff’s choice. Unfortunately, they do not serve flights to taste, so I went with a half pour of Super Dry cider. It was still a bit sweeter than I’d like, but it was a refreshing start after a short bike ride, and at 6.5% it wouldn’t kill me as I biked farther along.

portland maine cider
A refreshing Super Dry cider at Urban Farm

Around the corner from Urban Farm was another quaint space for a brewery at Belleflower Brewing, which also did not serve flights. I ordered a half pour of Magpie, a hazy pale ale that is their flagship beer — it’s light but full of flavor. I also ordered the Barn Hex, a hazy imperial IPA with mosaic, strata, and el dorado hops. It was another good choice for the early afternoon before heading back to the bike trail in pursuit of more Maine beer.

belleflower beer
Drinking outside at Belleflower Brewing

I found two more tasty breweries just off the trail — they were separated by a mattress store (how convenient!). Rising Tide and Austin Street were by far the most popular stops I had, though it could have also been that it was later in the afternoon when I arrived.

I ordered five tasters in a flight at Rising Tide Brewing — Cutter imperial IPA, Waypoint coffee porter, Maine Harvest pale ale, Oktoberfest, and Raspberry Squadron sour. The sour was my favorite as it wasn’t overly fruity or sour, but smooth and flavorful. Everything else was solid and tasty, though the coffee porter was unimpressive. The Cutter was good as it was more West coast style, which isn’t as common anymore.

rising tide beer
A flight at Rising Tide

Rising Tide was better if you wanted to get a flight, but Austin Street was the better beer though only in half pours. I had their Oktoberfest, which was good for the style and maltier than the one I tried at Rising Tide, and the Bombtrack imperial IPA, which was a heavy, juicy IPA (really, think alcoholic hop juice).

austin street brewing
A couple beers at Austin Street

I rushed out of Austin Street when I realized that the other breweries in the industrial park near my hotel would close in 2 hours. It was a poor decision to bike quickly after those drinks (or at all, for that matter). I made it back to my hotel and hailed a ride share because there was no way I was going to bike those roads again.

At Foundation Brewing, I had a trio of half pours — Bocce Pils, Epiphany imperial IPA, and Burnside brown ale. All three were quite good, but I was most impressed by the light and smooth pilsner (I was surprised). The brown ale also had a good coffee flavor.

foundation brewing portland
(from left) Brown ale, pilsner, imperial IPA

While enjoying those beers, I noticed a taco truck to help soak up the alcohol. Ironclad serves the most unusual tacos that most would say should not exist. They are a tasty abomination of cuisine — just ignore the fact that it’s served as a taco and it’s delicious. I’m still trying to wrap my head around blueberry gochujang, but I ate it and liked it.

maine tacos
What the hell are these tacos?

I finished my Portland, Maine, beer adventure with another two half pours at Battery Steele. I had tried their Flume imperial IPA at a bar the previous night — it was good, but rather dry. At the brewery, I ordered the Golden Path pilsner and Enjoy the Ride sour. The pilsner was good, though I’m not usually one for the style. The sour was my favorite — it was sweet up front with a dry finish mixed with the mango, guava, and pineapple flavors.

battery steele beer
A couple beers from Battery Steele — pilsner on the left, sour on the right

In this same industrial complex is another Austin St. tasting room, but I had already tried them downtown. Of all the breweries I visited in the neighborhood, Definitive had the best space (though I didn’t get to check out Allagash).

If I were to do this trip again, I’d check brewery schedules and plan the route a little more carefully. I certainly would not bike 5 miles into downtown Portland, Maine, to visit all the breweries. It would also be a good idea to eat a bit more.

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