Before the complaints start, remember the definitions: Breweries. Pubs. There are so many excellent places to get a drink in Maine that any list automatically excludes favorites (heck, if you’re so upset, stop reading and go to your choice). Still here? This is an attempt to cut through the false starts, and reward excellence. Here’s our tentative list to Maine’s essential watering holes.
Allagash Brewing Company
Venerable Belgian beer brewer Allagash has been turning up yeasty-forward, inspired by carefully crafted beverages since the mid ’90s when the craft beer scene in America was still dominated by English-style enthusiasts. No longer does the brewer need to convince the public that its beers are a trendy one-off; Allagash has become something of a stately figure in Maine, inspiring other breweries and pushing the bounds. In addition to the ubiquitous, complex, spicy, and bubblegum-like White, this Portland-based brewer turns out an annual list of surprising treats in big, corked bottles, from sours to barrel-aged products.
Allagash Brewing Company, 50 Industrial Way, Portland, ME, USA, +1 207 878 5385
Oxbow Brewing Company
A farmhouse brewery primarily known for its saisons, Oxbow has entered the high-end, small-bottle, limited release game with some of the most intriguing, balanced, and delicious sour ales anywhere. Set in the woods of seaside Newcastle, Oxbow has come to define a certain lifestyle in Maine, where delicious, world-class beer is drunk alongside farm-to-table meals in rustic confines and little ceremony. The mix of easy-drinking, complex table beers and thoughtful, barrel-aged brews has made Oxbow a Maine favorite, and a can’t-miss.
Oxbow Brewing Company, 274 Jones Woods Rd, Newcastle, ME, USA, +1 207 315 5962
This dimly-lit beer hall sparkles with beer. Sure, there’s the numerous taps; pages upon pages of rare, limited, reserve bottles (including Cantillon and all manner of guesses and aged sours). But after dispensing with those excellent reasons to come, try on another: Novare Res is just fun. It’s not just the bean hole, or being served the best beer in the world from servers seemingly half your age in neon orange hunting hats and ripped jeans; Novare never rises to the pretentiousness of it all, staying cool and keeping the stools filled.
Novare Res, 4 Canal Plaza, Portland, ME, USA, +1 207 761 2437
Maine Beer Company
Sure, there were IPAs before Maine Beer Company released ‘Lunch’ several years ago. But they were mostly English styles or boozy hop-bombs. Maybe it’s too much to say that its orange, citrus, and grapefruit beers changed everything, but Maine Beer Company brought, or at least marked a change in IPAs from bitter monsters to quaffable, balanced, citrus explosions. The brewery hasn’t rested on those laurels, experimenting with new varieties without changing their old ways to grab on every trend. Located in a gorgeous brewery in Freeport, the pints are affordable and fresh.
Maine Beer Company, 525 US-1, Freeport, ME, USA, +1 207 221 5711
Foundation Brewing Company
Much in the way Maine Beer Company raised the bar for the way IPAs taste, Foundation forged a cult-following for Epiphany, one of the first East Coast-style IPAs to be put into a can and make a dent in the Maine market. The rest is history. Consistently ranked one of the best beers in Maine, Epiphany is just one jewel in Foundation’s crown: their summer sipper sour Zuurzing is an easy-drinking, fan favorite, while the likes of Burnside often floats below the radar because it’s a brown ale, but shouldn’t.
Mast Landing Brewing Company
It takes a lot to throw Maine beer stalwarts like Rising Tide off a list of the state’s best breweries. But Mast Landing, upstarts in Westbrook, are putting out some of the state’s most coveted beverages at the moment. Is it a thing of the past? All we can say is Mast Landing can’t keep their East Coast-style citrus and fruit IPAs on the shelves.
Great Lost Bear
Anyone inclined to debate whether Great Lost Bear or Novare take the crown as Portland, or Maine’s best beer bar usually starts with their differences: unlike Novare, Great Lost Bear is out of downtown, going under the radar in a strip mall of sorts in the Deering neighborhood. Inside, though, it’s all riot: finding a seat anytime is a wait, while the bar is crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with a mixed crowd bellying-up for the state’s latest and greatest brews. Boasting probably the biggest tap list in Maine, The Great Lost Bear has an everyman’s reputation, where the food is fried and affordable and the beer, ostensibly there to be celebrated and enjoyed, is also a means to festivities just about to begin.
Great Lost Bear, 540 Forest Ave, Portland, ME, USA, +1 207 772 0300
They make no bones about it, and being out in Lovell, tucked away in quiet Western Maine, you can perhaps understand: Ebenezer’s, bar none, is the most decorated craft beer bar in Maine, consistently ranked as the nation’s best. Why, you ask? Sure the beer list is grand—and it includes hard-to-find, old, heck, even antique brews you can’t get anywhere else. The walls are lined with trays from Belgian sour masters, while the taps keep updated with the rising number of IPA brewers experimenting with the latest and greatest hop varieties.
Ebenezer’s Pub, 44 Allen Rd, Lovell, ME, USA, +1 207 925 3200
If there were a rock star to Maine craft beer, someone with as much flair as substance (not to mention, of course, a beer called ‘Subtsance’), it would perhaps give birth to brash and confident Bissell Brothers. Their yeast, hazy, fruity IPAs ranked among the best in Maine, Bissell is as much about graffiti and good times as beer—a brewer as a lifestyle brand. Throw together an interesting tap room, good food nearby, and live music and you have a weekend destination.
Bissell Brothers, 4 Thompsons Point #108, Portland, ME, USA, +1 207 808 8258
Newcastle Publick House
Before Oxbow opened up almost next door you’d probably still come to Newcastle Publick House for the seafood, or the pulled pork and bacon smoked onsite in the outdoor smoker. The food—simple, wholesome, soul-refreshing—has taken off lately by the pub’s commitment to all things beer, boasting tabs from the likes of Maine Beer Company and Oxbow that have elevated this popular local’s spot.
Newcastle Publick House, 52 Main St, Newcastle, ME, USA, +1 207 563 3434
It’s not just the location—almost atop the harbor—or the food—fresh oysters, fantastic scallops, wine-soaked mussels—or the beer—most of it from the brewery Marhsall Wharf, just below the restaurant. It’s all of those elements, thrown together in a comfortable sea shack. Three Tides in Belfast is a low-frills, high-quality pub overlooking the eponymous bay, where the Passagassawakeag River flows in the Atlantic.
Three Tides, 40 Marshall Wharf, Belfast, ME, USA, +1 207 338 1707
The King’s Head can make you feel like you walked into a movie set where the empty bar at the end of the quiet pier is a secret haven, boasting almost endless fine beverages and good food. Word has gotten out about this Portland pub, though, but there never seems to be an insurmountable crowd: instead the ample wrap-around bar is crowded with taps hard to find outside Novare Res and Great Lost Bear, while the unpretentious (if at times unhurried) waitstaff has delicious frites, mussels, and the occasional game hen perfectly roasted to hold you steady.
King’s Head, 254 Commercial St, Portland, ME, USA, +1 207 805 1252
Nocturnem Draft Haus
Portland and Southern Maine might get most of the acclaim for beer, but no list of the state’s top beer bars would be complete without Noctornem, a Bangor bar with no shortage of good beer. Situated in a spacious brick building in the city’s (you read that right) downtown, Nocturnem has a substantial draft list without a hefty price. Special attention is given to Maine brewers, with nationwide stalwarts filling in the obvious holes.
Nocturnem Draft Haus, 56 Main St, Bangor, ME, USA, +1 207 907 4380