Returning home from the 2013 Beer Blogger’s conference, I tweeted to @Amtrak to thank them for providing wifi and plugs on their trains, because they were very useful for a blogger traveling home from a beer conference. I wrote a post en-route, and looked out the window as small Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine towns flicked by on my way back to Portland. I caught myself wishing that I could take a train to my job every morning, and reclaim those hours that I spend driving as productive time. A few days later I got an email from Amtrak asking me if I’d like to take a short trip and participate in their #Amtrakgram contest. The contest entailed taking photos or videos along the way using the popular mobile phone app Instagram while taking a rail journey. I thought about it, and decided to take a short day trip north to Freeport.
The rail system in Maine is limited, but expanding. I can hop on a train and go South to Boston very easily, but only recently have the stations been built to go north of Portland. I hadn’t yet explored any of that leg (which goes all the way to Brunswick, ME currently) so I booked a little trip to Freeport.
Freeport, ME is home to L.L. Bean, but also a few fermentation spots as well. Maine Beer Company, Gritty McDuff’s, and Maine Distilleries all have homes in Freeport – and the added bonus was that I could sample some brews by myself and still get home safely. The sun came out just before I boarded the train. I only brought a small backpack with me as I intended to walk around the town. If I had thought ahead, I could have made reservations to bring my bike aboard, as the entire DownEaster train allows you to do that – provided you reserve a spot for it.
I arrived in Freeport after about a ~50 minute trip, enjoying looking out the windows at the hidden back sides of Portland, Yarmouth and Freeport as we zoomed by. After a leisurely walk down Main Street in Freeport, I arrived at Maine Distilleries – makers of Cold River Vodka and Gin that is distilled from Maine potatoes. I was given a tour by an enthusiastic (if not a little green) employee named Ian, and we chatted about the ridiculous laws that plague Maine’s alcohol industry. A key example is that all of the bottles that are filled at the distillery must be physically brought to the capital (Augusta) and then brought back to the distillery if they want to sell it there. Every distillery in Maine (and there are now several) have to do this and it’s just maddeningly stupid.
Their copper still was not shiny and new, but was broken in and gave you the feeling that it had seen some things in its lifetime.
After sampling a tiny sip of their blueberry vodka (delicious, by the way) I thanked my hosts and took a quick trip down the street back towards the center of Freeport, where I stopped in to Maine Beer Company for a sampler. For $10 you can get 4 generous samples of their beer – I chose to get Collaboration Time III (a saison brewed with Bluejacket brewing of MD), Their pilot batch (also a saison style), MO and Lunch. I pulled out my laptop and started futzing around while I watched others in the room play games of jenga and have conversations about everything from wedding planning to invertebrate biology.
After having my fill of the samples, I wandered across the road and had lunch at Buck’s Naked Barbecue, accompanied by a Sebago Frye’s Leap IPA. I was sad that they didn’t have their new release, Bonfire Rye, on tap yet – but saw posters for an upcoming release party. The earthiness of the Rye would actually go very well with their signature barbecue sauce, so I think it will go over well.
Soon, it was time to return and board the train back home, leaving the town of Freeport behind me once again.
On the way home, I pulled up a route map of other train routes in New England. I immediately noticed that some of the stops
included major beer destinations:
- Waterbury, VT (Home of The Alchemist and Heady Topper)
- Brattleboro, VT (Which has a thriving beer scene and plentiful brewpubs)
- Haverhill, MA (Home of The Tap)
- Boston (Of course, home to Samuel Adams, Harpoon and countless microbreweries and craft beer bars)
I came home tired but content at the ease of the entire trip, dreaming about rolling through the green mountains of Vermont towards craft beer. I hope to plan another beer by rail trip again soon – hope you can join me next time!