Portland, Maine's population is less than one-tenth the size of Boston's, yet this coastal city's beer scene is so thriving and dynamic, visitors "from away" can find themselves a bit overwhelmed by their craft brew choices. Ever since 1983, when Portland's Geary Brewing Co. became the first New England craft brewery to launch in the post-Prohibition era, this coastal city has been at the forefront of the artisanal beer revolution. Hopping aboard the Portland-based Maine Brew Bus is one safe and efficient way to sample beers brewed in Portland and beyond. If you'd prefer to craft your own beer-tasting experience, here are eight of the top Portland-area breweries worthy of a visit.
The Portland area's most picture-perfect brewery is also the maker of Maine's top-rated beer. So be sure to make the quick 15-mile drive up I-295 to Freeport, famously home to L.L. Bean, and have Dinner. That's the name of Maine Beer Company's hoppy Double IPA, which earned a perfect score of 100 from BeerAdvocate. Next, have Lunch, their equally raved-about West Coast-style IPA, too. You'll love the bright, contemporary-chic tasting room with its stunning tree fountain and windows that showcase the brewing operation. Outside the black barn, there's a covered patio for warm-weather imbibing and a solar array that provides about half of the energy for the brewery, which is in keeping with the company's "Do What's Right" motto.
Maine's largest brewery has its flagship tasting room and store near the waterfront in Portland's Old Port district, and you'll want to stop in for a flight of handcrafted beers that run the gamut from enduring favorites to new experiments. Shipyard is mainly known for its seasonal beers like Smashed Pumpkin and Smashed Blueberry, as well as an array of IPAs. The company also handcrafts its own line of Capt'n Eli sodas in Portland, and kids and others who prefer non-alcoholic, all-natural, caffeine- and gluten-free beverages will enjoy classics like Root Beer or sweet, fruity Strawberry Pop. Shipyard's on a mission to turn Portland into even more of a destination for beer lovers. Watch for news of the opening of the city's first "brewtel"—a beer-themed hotel with a rooftop indoor-outdoor bar and hops garden—in partnership with Cambria Hotels by Choice Hotels.
Brothers Noah and Peter Bissell are small-town Mainers who have made their big beer dreams come true in the state's largest city. Their brewery and taproom at Thompson Point has a relaxed vibe, with brick and mural-painted walls and communal tables for mixing tasting with conversation. The Substance, an orangey New England IPA with hints of pine, is the beer that put Bissell Brothers on the map. These days, though, cans of Swish—a complex, fruity Double IPA that some fans have crowned Maine's Heady Topper—are the fastest to sell out whenever they drop. If you're visiting Portland with someone who isn't a beer geek, you might offer the enticement of a stop at Bissell Brothers' neighbor: Cellardoor Winery at The Point.
This fast-growing and nimble craft brewery just off I-295 in Portland's East Bayside neighborhood routinely releases new beers inspired by what's happening in Maine and the world. With spacious indoor and outdoor facilities, including a dog-friendly patio, it's a chill place to mingle with locals, who have supported this family-owned enterprise with enthusiasm since its inception in 2010. Maine Island Trail Ale, a summer seasonal, is the brew to try here, not only because it is trendy but because each one sold supports the Maine Island Trail Association's protection of the hundreds of wild islands off the coast of Maine.
Famous for its Belgian-style beers, including flagship Allagash White, this enduring brewery has done more than its share when it comes to putting Portland on the beer map. Located in an industrial park that can be a 45-minute drive from downtown Portland at peak traffic hours (consider biking!), Allagash has done a remarkable job of expanding in place, keeping up with demand while never losing its focus on quality. In 2019, founder Rob Tod even won a coveted James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional. Tours of the brewery are a terrific learning and sampling opportunity, and several specialty tours are offered for beer enthusiasts who want an even more in-depth, behind-the-scenes experience. You can also cut straight to the tasting room to try a flight of Allagash classics or the latest limited release.
This stretch of Maine coast was originally called Falmouth, so Foulmouthed Brewing's naughty name is a bit of a play on words. In keeping with that theme, you'll find that some of the brews on tap here have been christened with irreverent names. Housed in an old garage in South Portland, this small brewpub is known for the sheer variety of beers it's created: something like 100 and counting. As diverse and unpredictable as the line-up is on any given day, you can count on the brews to be solidly executed. Plus, there's a full bar and a menu of comfort fare, from poutine and mac & cheese starters to house-smoked pulled pork and tempura-fried fish from Maine waters.
When is beer more than a refreshing, buzz-giving beverage? When the brewery is veteran-owned, employs local veterans, and supports veteran organizations with every beer sold. At Stars & Stripes, located north of Portland in Freeport, easy-drinking Ooh-Rah! I.P.A. is the beer to try. The spirit here is friendly and supportive, whether you're a proud vet or an everyday beer-loving hero.
You're going to be spending time in the Old Port when you visit Portland, and when you get thirsty, Liquid Riot has your back not only with its latest line-up of craft beers but with cocktails mixed with house-distilled spirits. This brewery and distillery is also a resto-bar with a menu of snacks and sandwiches, including quarter-pound lobster rolls, that will tempt you to linger and order another round. The most riotously different liquid crafted on-site is Bierschnaps: an 88-proof spirit distilled from beer and aged in oak barrels.