Lewiston-Auburn’s Beer Culture
After all that social distancing, we all could use a beer and an excursion. Luckily, Maine has ample opportunities for both. Regardless if we’re headed for a misty mountain or a breezy beach, everyone is driven to experience something real in this state, and the Lewiston-Auburn (L/A) area is as “real” as it gets. People from the twin cities are known for their tenacity and commitment to their community, and the craft beer scene is a shining example.
Owner and Brewmaster Ed Stebbins opened Gritty’s Auburn location on 68 Main Street in 2005, brewing English-style ales that once defined the state’s brewing identity. Having strong family ties to the community, Stebbins admitted, “You could say that L/A is part of my DNA.” His grandfather worked in a mill and his mother is an Auburn native. His decision to offer the L/A community great beer was an easy one. The pub offers good food, a cozy tavern environment, and a deck that overlooks the Androscoggin River.
In 2011, Baxter Brewing opened in Lewiston, and I toured the facility soon after. Baxter was the first Maine brewery to package exclusively in cans, and that decision would later pave the way for countless breweries across Maine and New England to follow. Since Baxter’s modest beginnings at 130 Mill Street, it is now Maine’s third largest brewery. Its new pub offers its customers outside seating, a creative menu, small batch and pilot brews, and an overall comforting atmosphere.
In 2016, Adam Tuuri and Eben Dingman opened Bear Bones Beer in downtown Lewiston at 43 Lisbon Street, offering L/A artisanal and unique brews in small batches. True to its name, Bear Bones Beer offers a personable and inviting taproom for all community members. They even expanded operations into Bridgton, Maine to focus on barrel-aging and experimental yeasts.
However, a tragedy fell upon the brewery when Dingman unexpectedly passed away late last year. Tuuri has ceased Bridgton operations for now and has hired another brewer to develop new IPAs to move the business forward. The Uku Rye Wine, named after Tuuri’s son, is a collaboration with Estonian-based Tanker Brewing that will be available at the brewery only. “I’m so proud it,” said Tuuri. “It’s the best beer we’ve ever made.”
That’s saying something because they make great beer. The Otaku Lager is also available, made with Japanese rice and lemongrass.
In 2018, David Finnegan opened Lost Valley Brewing, located at Auburn’s ski resort at 200 Lost Valley Road. Under new ownership, the ski resort is undergoing a revitalization that Finnegan is excited to be a part of. “Lost Valley is a local gem that holds a special place in the hearts of people in the L/A area ski community,” he said. Unlike most breweries in Maine, Lost Valley’s busy season is during the winter; however, the nanobrewery is open year-round and will offer crisp and refreshing beers in the summer such as the Powdermaker Pale Ale and the Logging Trail Lager.
After getting a good feeling about the L/A community, Ben Low (formerly Baxter’s Director of Brewing Operations) and Matt Johannes (formerly Baxter’s Head Brewer) decided to start a brewery on their own. In 2019, the two brewing veterans opened Side By Each Brewing on 1110 Minot Avenue, offering a wide variety of brews to appeal to all customers. “People are looking for variety,” said Low. “We’re welcoming to the IPA-loving hophead, but also to older folks who have never tried a craft beer.” The taproom is spacious with ample seating and games to entertain. Beyond the beer, the brewery’s unique appeal includes the adjacent Pinky D’s Poutine Factory, which serves up both traditional and creative versions of poutine, the ultimate pub food. They even offer Community-Supported Brewing (CSB) shares, similar to how farms offer CSAs. This summer, they plan on offering a helles, a weissbier, and a Kolsch to quench your thirst.
The craft scene in L/A isn’t limited to the breweries either. Beer enthusiasts will also find solace at Auburn’s iconic beer bar, Craft Brew Underground, which offers one of the most extensive beer menus in the twin cities. They’ve even collaborated with Bear Bones Beer in the past to make a specialty beer called The Bear Downstairs. Downtown Lewiston’s beer and wine store, The Vault, additionally has one of the best selections of craft beer you will ever see.
When it comes to the towns’ geographic attractions, Great Falls is an iconic and beautiful sight on the Androscoggin River as it roars between the sister cities. Two of the biggest summer festivals are even named after it: Great Falls Balloon Festival and Great Falls Brewfest.
Lewiston-based Northeast Charter Tours is a good option to scope out the local brew scene in style. With specialized Vacationland Brew Tours, they offer custom brew tours throughout L/A and to various parts of the state. Tours are on hold this Fall, however they plan to resume when safety protocols allow.
According to the brewers, other not-to-miss attractions include Thorncrag Bird Sanctuary in Lewiston, the family-friendly Sunnyside Park along the river in Lewiston, some gnarly mountain bike trails at Mt. Apetite and Range Pond State Park, Bates College Art Museum, the Basilica in Lewiston and swimming at Range Pond. There’s a lot to do here!
In L/A, blood runs thicker than even beer since every brewer that I interviewed cited family and community as the reasons for opening a brewery there. The area doesn’t rely on tourists, so they brew for each other. “People here can sometimes be self-defeating, but that gives L/A a grittiness and a liveliness that’s not like the rest of Maine said Tuuri. “There’s a realness to the people here that I enjoy.”
— Text: John Breerwood. John is currently an English teacher and swim coach at Lewiston High School. He has worked previously as a brewer and cellarman at Shipyard Brewing Company in Portland and at Abita Brewing Company in Louisiana. He is currently independently publishing his first novel.