Have A Cold One

These six Maine breweries are outfitted for a winter of outdoor fun with cross-country ski trails, sleigh rides, fire pits, and more.

The first time I drank a beer in a Maine tasting room was in 2013 at Rising Tide Brewing Company. My friend Tim brought a group of us to the Portland brewhouse on a cold spring day. He handed me a sample of beer he’d purchased at the makeshift bar, which was fashioned from old pallets. “You can buy beer here?” I asked. Tim nodded. I sipped at m plastic cup. “So, brew- eries are bars now?”

No,” Tim told me. “It’s called a tasting room.” A coy smile worked over his face as if he were unraveling a new noble truth. And, in a way, he was.

What I didn’t know was that I was enjoying the spoils of a hard- fought legislative battle that resulted in the passage of LD 1889. This 2012 state law legalized the sale of beer samples and cans in breweries, eschewing the need for small breweries to fight, often unsuccessfully, for cramped space on store shelves or precious tap handles in bars and restaurants. The advent of the tasting room ushered in the modern Maine beer scene we revel in today.

This winter Maine’s thriving beer culture faces what could be its biggest challenge since the birth of tasting rooms precipitated the beer boom. With COVID-19 infections on the rise, the vitality of Maine breweries is threatened by cold winter weather and tightening restrictions.

But this is Maine, where brewers are born of hardy stock. Across the state, breweries are building infrastructure to allow craft beer enthusiasts to responsibly tip back pints in creative spaces. One prevalent trend this winter is pairing beer with outdoor activities. Breweries with access to swaths of land are prepar- ing trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fat-tire biking, and snowmobiling.

With the pandemic landscape changing daily, be sure to contact breweries for current offerings before you visit. And remember, tasting rooms are the lifeblood of Maine’s brewing culture. As go the tasting rooms, so goes the foundation of our world-class beer scene.

Oxbow Brewing Company’s Beer Garden in Oxford is seren- dipitously set on land previously owned by Carter’s XC Ski Center. The brewery plans to groom the vast trail system for patrons and offer rentals through Portland Gear Hub. Afterward, tipplers can enjoy earthy farmhouse ales and wood-fired pizza.

Located on 40 pastoral acres in Harrison, Fluvial Brewing is gearing up to offer a robust outdoor beer experience. With horse- drawn sleigh rides on select weekends, five heated beer domes (available by appointment), a 30-foot yurt for added indoor seating, along with access to trails for a myriad of winter sports, Fluvial is all in, making the best of this challenging winter.

In Gorham, Sebago Brewing is in its second year of provid- ing patrons access to three miles of trails stretching from the brewery to the banks of the Presumpscot River. With a cavern- ous tasting room and ample outdoor seating by a roaring fire pit, beer lovers will have plenty of room to spread out and imbibe.

Known for its year-round outdoor activities, Funky Bow Brewery in Lyman has installed a 3,000-square-foot ice rink and will pack down the snow on its 18-hole disc golf course for winter use. Expect live music, wood-fired pizza, and plenty of backwoods vibes.

In a more urban setting, Rising Tide Brewing Company has installed eight heated PVC bubble tents made to withstand the harshest conditions New England can muster. It’s only fitting that this East Bayside brewery is embracing the challenge of providing a tasting room experience this winter, as co-owner and current Maine State Senator Heather Sanborn was at the forefront of passing of LD 1889 before she joined the legislature.

Allagash Brewing Company, in Portland’s One Industrial Way neighborhood, has outfitted its brewery similar to many other brewhouses this winter. Although Allagash won’t open its tasting room until state regulations allow, Maine’s first Belgian- style brewery will offer an interactive curbside pick-up dubbed “Allagash on the Fly.” Anticipate rare beer bundles and craft items from local artisans, as well as rumored guest appearances by Allagash founder and Maine brewing’s golden god, Rob Tod.

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