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Monday, November 30, 2009

Maine Trip Epilogue

As we wrapped up our Thanksgiving weekend up in Maine, we decided to hit the Empire Grill for breakfast.  HBO films created a pretty cool atmosphere there.  Actually, it's kind of surreal; a fake diner created to fit the mold of the stereo typical Maine diner, now serving as a real diner and is much nicer than your typical area greasy spoon.  It strives to be authentic, and although it partially is not, it actually is, kind of.  Now that real "Maine-iacs" work and dine there. The decor, an idealized Hollywood set, the food and people, all Skowhegan. A unique place for sure...


All in all, it was the best luck I had at grabbing breakfast in the immediate area over the last three years I've been visiting in-laws in the area.  But why am I posting this on my beer blog?  Not sure, I guess it closes the loop on the over all feel of Skowhegan, minutes away from the areas barn based craft brewery and a brief walk from the only two bars (not including the bowling alley) in town.  I saw on the diner's site they had a photo of late night bar flies coming to the diner for some post bar eats.  So, I guess there's your connection.


Evening crowd "bar shift" outside of Empire Grill, Skowhegan Maine.


My wife looks on as my son gorges himself with the local fare...  
Just another one of the guys getting his fill of morning chow at Empire Grill.



Can you tell we're related?  There's a similar photo of Ed Harris and Aidan Quinn on the Empire Grill web site.


 
My wife and son in front of Empire Grill...



Later on our road trip home we stopped at the outlets in Freeport Maine to pick up some clothing for our son, and to walk the dogs.  After some tedious shopping we pulled into Gritty McDuff's for lunch.  If there was ever family friendly brew pub, Gritty's is it...


Luke, with crayon in hand, entertains himself with Hoppy McDuff 
as other children enjoy themselves behind him...


On one end of the Gritty's seating consist of long tables with bench seating.  The grumpy hostess provided us with a special seat for our boy that attached to the table.  It was cool for him, because he could saddle up to the pub table like a "big boy" without the aid of a high chair.  


My son located Hoppy McDuff, the happy hop cone on his kid's place mat.
Grumpy hostess visible in background...

 

With my son's cool intact, we selected a pulled pork sandwich for him from the kiddy menu, my wife had a Reuben, and I had a cheeseburger.  My son made the best selection, I found myself picking at his leftovers, my burger was standard bar fare, nothing to write home about, but apparently something to blog about...  My wife's chow was pretty good, but over all, the food was run of the mill.  


In case there were any doubts about the kid friendliness of Gritty's this art was on display.


I indulged in a pint of their 21 IPA...  Like all the beers I tried in Maine, this one was sweeter than I hoped for.  (Or should I say hopped for?)  Here's the promotional pitch from Gritty's...


"Gritty's 21 IPA is a unique blend of American hops with a British body utilizing English 2-Row Pale malts. This IPA starts with a hoppy aroma and taste; ending with a sweet finish. Plenty of Munich and caramalts are used to give the beer that golden hue. There are fifty-six pounds of Cascade Hops used in each 50 barrel batch that is brewed! Then we finish the beer with Willamette & Warrior Hops, (Warrior is a high-alpha acid variety of hops) All this leads to an IPA that is worthy to celebrate our 21st Anniversary!"


Maybe it was me, my tastebuds may still be recovering from a recent cold, but I think the "sweet finish" may have been slightly to sweet for me.  With that said, it have some of the hoppy flavor and aroma I was looking for, a nice golden red color, cyrstal clear, but with a limited head.  In fairness, the low head may have been due to a mad pour...  The 21 IPA was, like the burger, good but not great, just average... 



  Pretty looking pint, but the head was a little thin...  Overall a solid B.



 A brief glimps of Gritty's inner sanctum...

After a peek of the pubs brewery, I took my dogs for a walk in the back lot where they made a discovery.  Bins of expended hops and grains, most likely waiting to be disposed of.  Although they were positioned near a small pond in the back lot.  I briefly wondered if they just dumped them in the drink...  The dogs and I may never know...  When the dogs had completed their mission, the family and I high tailed it for home, thus concluding our Thanksgiving in Maine...


Christine and Leroy, the family hounds, located several bins 
full of expended grains and hops in the back lot of Gritty's during their afternoon constitutional...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Beer-Traveling in Skowhegan Maine

It's been a long (and somewhat tedious) Thanksgiving weekend, in the secluded backwoods of Maine with my wife's family.  I managed to escape from the in-laws and found my way out to Oak Pond Brewing Co. this evening.  I dragged the family out last Christmas to try and find the brewery, but our GPS led us on a wild goose chase and we gave up...

This year I went out on my own, I figured less overhead was better for such an expedition.  And this year, the GPS lied to me again.  I found myself in the middle of the same pitch black dirt road in the middle of nowhere.  But this time, I had the luxury of not having the in-laws in tow.  I dialed up the brewery on my cell and they gave me a little directional guidance.

Apparently I wasn't the first out of town craft beer lover to be lead astray by a fibbing GPS.  Even after getting some verbal directions I drove right past them.  I had to call again.  The brewery is in an old barn, in the middle of nowhere, very hard to find in the pitch black.  I had about 45 minutes to find the place before they closed, but it all worked out.


Complete darkness, minus one small red door with a small light on it...  Easy to miss...


I'll take what's behind door number one...



Behind the red door was a water heater, a tractor (see below) and another door...



In case you doubted this was a real barn, note the tractor...

When I finally found the place, I was a little apprehensive...  No one greeted me at the first door, and no one greeted me at the second.  I poked my head in and called out, "hello?"  The owner, Don Chandler was busy cleaning out some of the equipment used to filter the brewery's latest batch of Oktoberfest.  We made some small talk about my homebrewing, and he called for his wife Nancy, who gave me the tour.


The tour was brief, no more than 10 minutes.  There wasn't much to see if you took it all at face value, a barn with the usual stainless steel brewery setup.  But if you looked deeper you saw quite a bit.  Oak Pond Brewing's staff consisted of Dan, Nancy and their son, who's name escapes me.  (Note: The son was kind enough to guide me in over numerous phone calls, despite my dependency on a faulty GPS devices.)  


  Obligatory photo taken of myself in front of the taps and brewing setup...




A small brewery, where all the work is done by hand by the owners...


When I looked at the small brewery floor, I saw a close knit family dedicated to the family business.  A family who works 7 days a week, a real labor of love.  Nancy stressed their dedication to producing consistent and quality brews.  The family wasn't looking to get rich off their craft, they only wanted to make a quality product and make a living doing it.  Nancy confessed she also works part time as a physical therapist to provide healthcare for the family.  

Dan and Nancy purchased the brewery when Dan was out of work in 2003, as Nancy says, "No one wants to hire a 60 year old."  So they took a chance and purchased Oak Pond.  Their first year or so was an exercise in trial and error.  Nancy confessed their White Fox Ale IPA was originally less hoppy.  During their first year of operations, Nancy misread the recipe, and doubled the hops by mistake.  The results were better than the original, so the recipe was forever changed.  




Nancy was generous with the six OPB beer on tap...

Nancy let me sample everything OPB had to offer, inlucing the OPB Nut Brown Ale, White Fox Ale, DoorYard Ale, Oktoberfest, Storyteller Doppelbock, and the Laughing Loon Lager.


I picked up a bottle of the White Fox Ale and the Storyteller Doppelbock for the road.
I'll sample them again once I get home and write up reviews for each.


Empire Grill, from the film Empire Falls, in downtown Skowhegan

After I completed the tour and made my purchases, I drove through the center of Skowhegan on my way back to the in-laws house.  I decided to stop and share a couple of pints with the locals.  Interesting side note: the film Empire Falls was filmed there.  The diner from the movie, Empire Grill, is on this street.  I may try and grab breakfast there tomorrow... 



The downtown area reminded me of the town from the TV show "Northern Exposure."

I checked out a couple watering holes, one appeared to be out of business, the other completely empty, the third was tucked behind the maid drag in an alley overlooking the river and an old mill.  The Old Mill Pub.  As close to "the Brick" from "Northern Exposure" as I was going to get here.  

The bar was tiny, and there was only one empty seat between a young couple and two middle aged guys chatting it up.  I sat down and ordered a locally brewed Maine beer.  While they did carry the very local OPB beers on tap, I went for an old favorite, Allagash White, which they served up in a Pabst Blue Ribbon glass with no head.  No really, check out the photo...



The Pub served up some good local brews, but it was still a dive.  
This photo sums it up, a good beer, a bad glass...


I had a great conversation with some locals and a nice couple from Cape Cod who owned a cabin in the area.  The surrounding towns (including the town my in-laws live in) lost power, so they were killing time, waiting it out.  Some good talk was topped off with another local brew, some sort of seasonal Sebago brew that does not appear on the Sebago home page.  Tasty...

It was great, I got to experience the local beer culture in a place many would assume none existed in.  Real home town folks, brewing and enjoying real local brews in a local joint, quite frankly in the middle of nowhere...  Good stuff...

Friday, November 27, 2009

We now have our own Amazon shop

Craft Beer in Maine

I'm up in Maine for the long Thanksgiving weekend, visiting with the in-laws. There's not much to do or see in this area of Maine, at least not much that doesn't involve a quad, hunting rifle or a pair of hiking boots... But there's beer lovers everywhere, right? Surely there's some quality craft beer to be found...

Well, turns out Maine has a fair amount of craft beer, and a weekend brewery tour maybe just what the , but sadly I'm pretty far from most of what Maine has to offer... In fact, I'm pretty far from everything and everywhere. (We plan to drive an hour tonight, just to get some sea food, an hour for chow, imagine that...)

According to the Maine Brewers' Guild...


Since 1986, Maine has been at the forefront of the craft brew movement. Our state is home to over 20 breweries which produce more than 100 different brands. Wherever you travel in Maine, you'll find locally made ales and lagers that are fresh, unique and sure to please. Cheers!

Included in their list is Oak Pond Brewery, a mere 30 minutes from our Fortress of Solitude... I'm going to try and make a run out there today or tomorrow and will be sure to post a blog update on what I find. (Last year I tried to find the place, but my GPS was not on my side... I'll see if I have more luck this weekend...)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thank you for your support!

Last night's "Not So Snooty Beer, Wine and Cheese Adventure" was a great event. I wanted to take a moment to thank the breweries and the distributor that came out to support us. (As well as the vineyards, cheese producers and food providers...)

It was a pleasure getting to know all of you a little better, and of course, the beer was fantastic! I received many kudos last night for organizing the brewery support and generating the over all outstanding showing on the beer end of things. But frankly, those kudos should all go to you.

I can't thank you enough for supporting this event, and ultimately for supporting The Hole in the Wall Gang, as well as the children and families touched by this outstanding charity.

The Hole In The Wall Gang Camp from The Camp Staff on Vimeo.

Thank you!

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