Midcoast’s Craft Beverage Destinations
Throughout Midcoast Maine, breweries, wineries and even a mead tasting room have emerged on the scene, creating a lively and diverse haven for aficionados of craft libations and beautiful destinations alike.
Creativity and community support have been the name of the game according to many Midcoast brewers who rely on their friends and neighbors, word of mouth, and travelers who have a penchant for exploration as a way to draw customers into their businesses.
Rockland has been hailed nationally as a destination for culture, namely the arts, boasting world-famous museums and galleries alongside a food scene that gives many a big city a run for its money.
Rock Harbor and Liberator breweries hold down the fort in the center of town and Honeymaker Mead rounds out the trio with a small but well-appointed tasting room on Main Street. Down the road, nestled on the water’s edge in nearby South Thomaston, the region’s newest brewery, Waterman’s Beach Brewing, opened in late September 2019. All four establishments have all elected to stay open year-round.
“We were planning on closing sometime around Thanksgiving, but people just kept coming,” said Anna Frost who co-owns Waterman’s Beach Brewing. “One day it was raining sideways and we had two guys in snowmobile suits sitting on the deck. We thought, ‘If the community is going to support us, then we are going to be there for them.’”
The brewery is situated in the longtime home of Waterman’s Beach Lobster, a beloved destination with an unrivalled view of the ocean and nearby islands. “The outpouring of support from the community has been awesome and we are staying on track with plans we have had for the summer,” said co-owner and lead brewer Brad Frost. This sentiment was echoed by veteran Midcoast brewer Rich Ruggiero, who heads up Liberator Brewing as the owner and master brewer. “A strong local customer base, that’s really what gets you through the whole year,” Ruggiero said. Acknowledging the COVID-19 crisis, he said he hopes that partnerships and events will move forward.
Union’s Pour Farm Brewery opened in June, 2017. Owner Bill Stinson had relocated from Massachusetts with his family and purchased the farm that would become a popular community microbrewery. The Pour Farm is the latest addition to the Union area’s beverage producers, which also include the popular Sweetgrass Distillery — known for its revered Back River Gin — and Savage Oakes Vineyard, which has been hosting a popular concert series for the past several years, attracting such acts as The Indigo Girls and Lyle Lovett.
Nearby in Union Common, a popular restaurant, known for its beer selection, cropped up in 2019. The Sterlingtown Public House boasts 12 taps and a carefully curated selection of Maine wines and beers.
Stinson said he has been enthused by the number of visitors The Pour Farm receives who are traveling on the Maine Brewers’ Guild’s Maine Beer Trail. Often, he added, they are making their way around the Midcoast.
“We get a lot of folks who are on the beer trail,” he said. “We’re always making our customers aware of what’s going on locally. Referring to a partial tap takeover collaboration they had with Sterlingtown Public House, he added, “I think a rising tide definitely lifts all boats.”
Stinson said he believes staying open year round has brought neighbors and visitors together around a shared interest in beer and the experience of visiting the tap room.
“Mostly this is a community gathering place,” he said. “It’s kind of spontaneous, kind of organic, and we avoid political talk.” He added with a chuckle, “It works.”
The village of Liberty has seen a rise in small business during the past three years with restaurants, shops and a brewery among the additions to the community.
In 2017 and 2018, Liberty gained a new brewery and two new restaurants, including 51 Main in the heart of the village.
En route to Liberty, beer lovers might enjoy a stop in Searsmont to check out Threshers Brewing Co., where bands, trivia and a host of regulars infuse the rural tap room with energy. In Liberty proper, Lake St. George Brewing and Liberty Craft Brewing make the eclectic town a destination for the beer-loving explorer. Liberty Craft Brewing has been open since 2014 and serves a variety of food from a taproom with a deck overlooking a breathtaking expanse of mountains.
While Lake St. George remains open year round, Liberty Craft Brewing has elected to open seasonally, as local business makes up about 30 percent of their customers according to owner Guy Hews.
Hews said that their weekly music offerings and festivals attract many customers in season, and he is hoping to continue such offerings this summer. He said a delayed opening this spring just means that the brewery might remain open later into the year.
At Lake St. George, Danny McGovern, as well as his daughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth and Jeff Johnston, said that staying open year round has worked for them. They also expressed that the wholesale market has been helpful in augmenting revenue during the slower seasons.
“Having the avenue to get our beer out in cans has been really important,” Elizabeth Johnston said.
“People make the extra effort to come visit, we feel a sense of responsibility to be supportive to the community,” McGovern added.
Lake St. George has been enthusiastic to collaborate with organizations and try new events attracting a variety of demographics. “The chili cookoff always benefits something in the community, and that feels really important right now,” Elizabeth Johnston said.
McGovern added that events – including the return of popular band,Tuba Skinny in late August—have been successful and fun community builders. “When we were able to rebook them we felt like we hit the jackpot,” he said. “No doubt about it.” He added that he feels fortunate that Lake St. George will be able to focus on some pilot batch beers during this unusual spring.
“Hang in there and keep the faith,” McGovern said. “I know we will do that and I know our customers will, too.”
— Text & Photos: Jenna Lookner. Jenna lives on her family farm in Camden. Always curious, she enjoys exploring her natural, cultural and epicurean surroundings with her husband and three rescued mutts.
Note from the publisher: This article was written prior to the pandemic and is published now in support of Maine’s restaurant industry and their safe return in 2021.