Monday, September 14, 2009

On the Road with The Brew Lounge, Part 1

The plan called for Patty and I to leave home around 6pm, with a possible dinner stop at Willimantic in Connecticut along the way, if all went well. All did go well. With leaving home an hour later than expected at 7pm, the traffic was even thinner still than anticipated as we sailed north on the Jersey Turnpike to the GW Bridge. In 2 hours, we were cruising through the Bronx and into Connecticut. A bit of road crew delays on I-95 (when isn't there, right?!) slowed us down but still got us past Hartford in 4 hours. At this rate, we just wanted to get to our hotel stopover and crash. We had some snacks in the car to get us through, arriving in Worcester, MA in just under 5 hours from home. Smooth Sailing So we went to bed beer-less in Worcester, and that was just fine. There'd be enough beer drinking in days to come. If we had some more time to spend, we may have done as Lew did recently and gallivanted a bit more through western Massachusetts. Or, gone a little farther north towards Amherst, where The Femme Fermental will find herself planting her barstool for some time to come. We had another couple of hours of driving in the morning to get to Portland, ME. We were off just after rush hour and sailed straight into Portland two hours later. Well, perhaps just a bit more than that as we were snared by the siren calls of the New Hampshire State Wine & Liquor Outlet just across the New Hampshire border. Liquor Outlet, eh? Why not...some wine and the Powerball ticket that we forgot to buy before we left from home and we were good to go (update: still not millionaires). Maine, finally. Of all the New England states, Maine was the one I had never visited. Surprising, given that family and friends relentlessly rave about the food, the culture, and the scenery. We were about to find out for ourselves. Patty and I stayed at a non-chain hotel in Portland, the Eastland Park Hotel. Or, who knows, maybe it is part of a larger hotel group; sometimes these days it's hard to tell. In any case, it carries 75 year's worth of history and is located in the West End/Arts District, a 10-20 minute walk from the farthest Port District point that you might want to visit. An Iconic Watering Hole After getting an early check-in and an upgrade to the top floor at the hotel (these things can be attempted but are not always explainable), we were off to explore the city. With 30 years of history, it seemed that it might make sense to start at The Great Lost Bear located about a mile outside of downtown Portland. So we drove, figuring that after this lunchtime visit we could put the car away for the remainder of our stay. The Great Lost Bear has an interesting and varied menu of solid pub grub and more high quality beer from both near and far than any one person really needs. I'm not sure what exactly makes this bar both large and cozy at the same time. It could be the multiple rooms but the low ceilings; the cluttered walls of bric-a-brac but the orderly menu of good food and drink; and the location on a bustling street but the trademark friendly and intimate Maine service inside. When in Maine, it's hard to escape notice of blueberries everywhere, particularly in mid- to late-summer. So, it was without hesitation that I ordered up a Sea Dog Blueberry Ale...perfect start. I then moved to the opposite end of the spectrum and dove into another local, Shipyard, and their recent take on a non-Diacetylized 'XXXX IPA.' Glad that I was happy with this beer as one of their brewers was in from across town, presumably having an end-of-day brew and taking up residence just a couple of barstools away. But, in case he wasn't at the end of his workday (and not knowing the company rules about such things) I won't share his name here in this space. We discussed Shipyard, Mr. Pugsley, and other such things of local flavor. We figured it was just about time to head back downtown. With so much that Portland has to offer, we could have blown up our whole plan to see more of the city by staying put on our barstools. Just as we were heading out, Firestone Walker's head brewer Matt Brynildson and his friend Allison (sheesh, I hope my memory's working correctly with her name) walked in. They were on a bit of the same trek that we were. They flew into Boston, drove up to Portland but started at Allagash then for lunch at The Great Lost Bear. They were heading, also, to Ebenezer's Belgian Beer Dinner/Fest and making a night of it first in Portland. We kibitzed for a bit then moved on, my gut telling me that this wouldn't be the last time that we ran into them. After all, they asked for hotel recommendations and we shared the name of ours. A Walk-About Once we dropped the car back at the hotel, we were off for a typical tourist's walk around the port area and its shops, restaurants, and bars. After hitting up some shops, we made our next beer stop at Bull Feeney's. A historic landmark of sorts, you can certainly feel the air of the old port activity when sitting at the bar that weaves its way between two rooms. Lots of brick and lots of wood make for an Irish Pub-like visit. Ghosts of Portland's past, both savory and unsavory, seem to ooze from the walls here. Definitely, a place I wouldn't have minded spending more time. The beer selection is not extensive but decent and carries many of the requisite locals. The service on this particular afternoon was marginally adequate, but that was fine given our one-and-done. My 'one', speaking of diacetyl, was Shipyard's Export Ale. I'm no stranger to this beer and it seemed to match my memories of it. I shouldn't take diacetyl's name in vein. It has its place in some beers, and not in be it. We criss-crossed the street to then head into Gritty McDuff's. But, first, Brynildson Party of Two was just leaving. We traded some more notes, confirmed they were also staying at Eastland Park, and referred them on to Bull Feeney's. Had another quick 'one' (this time the Best Bitter) at Gritty's along with a plate of Fried Jalapeno Mac & Cheese. Of course, had to snap a picture of the dish and send along to Mr. TJ/Mr. Mac & Cheese with a recommendation for some R&D back in Paoli. The ambiance is relaxed at Gritty's. Where Bull Feeney's was a cozy pub-like stealaway, Gritty's had large windows looking out to the Bay and large wooden tables with communal bench seating in a side room behind the bar. With spending no more than a half hour or so at each of these spots, I can't share much more with you other than a recommendation to check them out for yourself if you find yourself wandering around Portland streets in need of a frothy one. By the time we made it through our casual tourist meanderings and shopping, we headed back to the hotel looking for a couple of hours of downtime before our dinner reservation at 8:30pm. It was good downtime, but obviously not enough. By the time we made it through our dinner and a few drinks, we'd lost the energy to head to our last planned stop in Portland. More about that later.

1 comment:

Dan Bengel said...

Eastland Park is a great place to stay. But you have to get the Sheepscot Bitter on the handpump at the Bear. They have been around 20 years now and I grab one every time I am there. Good old school stuff.