The birthplace of Prohibition has pulled a 180 in the last hundred years, becoming a leader in the booming American craft beer movement. And while the country’s predominantly West Coast beer scene focuses a bit monotonously on hop-heavy ales, Maine’s small brewers have a reputation for resurrecting and reimagining obscure Old Word beer styles. Business is booming for the state’s craft brewers—with nearly 60 breweries filling kegs (up from 35 in 2013), Maine has the country’s fifth-highest number of breweries per capita. From sleek urban speakeasies to tiny farmhouse breweries set deep in the woods, Maine’s microbreweries offer a breadth of happy hour hangouts to fit any brewhound’s taste. Truly dedicated suds seekers can pick up a Maine Beer Trail map and scorecard at just about any taproom, then launch a road trip to visit each one. For the rest of us, here are the five not to miss.
Gneiss Brewing Co.
The founders of Gneiss grow their own hops on eight acres in pastoral Limerick, in the rolling farm country west of Portland. Every beer is a variation on German weissbier, brewed with at least 50% wheat and a trademark Hefeweizen yeast. Light but flavorful, Gneiss’s all-Teutonic brews are an ideal summertime treat.
Marshall Wharf Brewing Co.
Marshall Wharf brews big, ambitious beers—thick and jet-black stouts, powerfully hopped imperials, malty IPAs that pack a give-up-your-car-keys punch. The brewery’s tasting room and sister pub (Three Tides) on Belfast’s gritty waterfront are similarly large and loud. Order a tasting flight and settle in on the covered deck overlooking the wide and unpronounceable Passagassawakeag River.
Oxbow Brewing Company
Hands-down the most idyllic, unexpected spot to drink a world-class beer in Maine, Oxbow’s tiny tasting room is nestled next to its farmhouse brewery on a winding, wooded road near the midcoast village of Newcastle. The vibe is crunchy-rustic-modern, and the beers are crisp, thirst-quenching variations on the Belgian saison style.
Maine Beer Company
Hop-lovers, take note: When a pair of home-brewing brothers launched this small-batch brewing company in 2009, they instantly scored with two signature hoppy ales: their flagship Peeper American Ale and Lunch IPA, which became one of the most sought-after brews among beer snobs nationwide. Pair them with truffles and antipasto at the brewery’s simple tasting room in Freeport.
Bunker Brewing Co.
It’d be worth a visit to Bunker’s tasting room in Portland’s scrappy, hip, post-industrial East Bayside neighborhood just to try the coffee IPA, brewed in collaboration with the nano-roastery next door. Its flagship Czech pilsner is way smooth and quaffable, and the exposed brick tasting room in a former scrapyard oozes working-class cool.