On a tour of U.S. beer, you can't get much farther away (in miles) than this Northeast city. In terms of beer quality, however, Portland sticks close.
Portland, the largest city in Maine, shares quite a bit in common with Bend (which it is slightly smaller than, population-wise). They are both rather remote large towns, they attract lots of tourists during the warmer months, and they are stymied by snow and icy sidewalks come winter. And now, as of a few years ago, there's something else similar: They're both beer destinations.
"The thing I like about Maine," said Anne, the bar manager at Oxbow Blending & Bottling near downtown, "is that we have created a really unique scene based off what we've always been known for locally. So much farming goes on in here, and there's so much of a traditional food scene, and now it's gone over to food a lot in recent years."
Oxbow, with its brewery based an hour north in Newcastle, is well known for the wild-fermented, Ale Apothecary-style beers it produces, including Liquid Swords, a blend of farmhouse ales from a selection of barrels that changes every year. It's available both at their taproom and at assorted bars, including Novare Res, a legendary Belgian-oriented basement restaurant that's been bringing Cantillon and the other giants to Maine for years.
Other must-visits in the greater Portland (Maine) area:
"Maine Beer makes the best of what people call New England IPAs," Anne advised. "Everyone's making these hazy IPAs these days that completely miss the mark in taste, but they've always stayed focused on actual quality." IPA selections include Lunch (named after a well-known local whale that had part of its back fin bit off) and Another One, using a mix of Warrior and Citra hops for a sweet finish.
While touring the Atlantic Ocean waterfront and gorging oneself on lobster rolls, a visit to this pierside brewery is a must. The views are great, and the alcohol's just as fine—both the beer, a mix of IPAs and darker varieties, and the remarkably large variety of craft liquors they produce, to the point where they offer a Long Island iced tea made exclusively with in-house spirits.
Located in a hip-looking space that's dog-friendly, Rising Tide offers a neighborly atmosphere, snack foods, and arguably the best coffee stout in the entire region. It's also adjacent to Maine Craft Distilling, which makes a killer rum modeled after the liquid rations given to British sailors as recently as the 1970s.