Finding local craft beer to take home in Portland seems simple — just go to one of the bottle shops that carry Maine micros. Bier Cellar (299 Forest Ave.) has a highly knowledgeable staff who’ll help you navigate their curated selection and will provide recommendations. RSVP Discount Beverage (887 Forest Ave.) is a big store that also stocks liquor and wine. A bit further down the avenue, at 1037 Forest, Friendly Discount Beverage has a big beer cave. And in the Old Port, Craft Beer Cellar recently reopened in a new location, 320 Fore St.
Here’s the problem, though. Only a fraction of Maine breweries have packaged products that reliably make it to retail, and it seems like they all do it differently.
For the smallest breweries, it can be logistically impossible to brew enough beer to make it worth the cost of packaging it. Many use growlers to fill the need for take-home beer in the interim. For example, in South Portland, newly opened Island Dog Brewing does not currently offer packaged beer. You can go to the tasting room on John Roberts Road to sample beer or have a growler filled, but I don’t expect you’ll be sipping Island Dog from a bottle or can until they grow.
Third-party packagers, including mobile canning companies that bring their equipment to breweries, can help crafters get some of their product to the masses on the go. This saves new breweries from having to invest in expensive, permanent canning or bottling lines, but it can be cumbersome to do this regularly, so many brewers save the mobile operations for special releases.
Fore River Brewing, on Huntress Avenue in South Portland, has offered bottles of a barrel-aged version of their stout and other special beers, but they’ve yet to put their flagship brews into take-home packages. Foulmouthed Brewing, a brewery and brewpub that’s also in South Portland, does occasional large-format bottle releases, but I recommend a visit for samples rather than waiting for a release – there’s too much good food and beer available now to wait.
When in doubt as to whether a favorite beer is available for retail sale, your best bet is to go straight to the source. Lone Pine (in East Bayside) and Battery Steele (on Industrial Way) are beginning to flesh out their packaging schedules, and though both make it into bottle shops, it may be easier to find on premises.
Austin Street Brewery (also on Industrial Way) just installed their own canning equipment. They’re now releasing Patina Pale Ale in cans on a semi-regular basis, much to my delight. Breweries’ websites and social media pages are generally the best sources to track releases. Bier Cellar’s Twitter account and e-mail notifications keep you informed when new batches of popular local beers arrive, like Bissell Brothers’ hazy and hoppy cans, but you still have to hustle — they don’t last long there, either.
Larger breweries whose year-round lineup of beers is reliably available in stores also offer smaller batches of specialty releases on a catch-as-catch-can basis. For example, some of Allagash Brewing Company’s rarest seasonal or specialty releases are available for take-home sale only in their tasting room on Industrial Way.
Foundation Brewing Company (Industrial Way) and Rising Tide Brewing Company (on Fox Street in East Bayside) have worked out a nice balance between beers available exclusively in their tasting rooms, those with retail distribution, and the handling of special releases. They both pilot varieties in the tasting room which can then, as interest or demand dictates, graduate to become beers brewed in larger batches and packaged.
I’ve also been seeing more beer from Portland’s Liquid Riot (250 Commercial St.) and Bunker Brewing Company (17 Westfield St.) make it into distribution lately, but special releases are still best acquired at their respective locations. In Westbrook, Mast Landing Brewing Company has been ramping up their can releases via their tasting room on Main Street and through limited retail distribution. (Their Facebook page is the best source for the skinny on new releases.)
Breweries that consistently produce enough product to be available in craft beer shops, supermarkets and convenience or neighborhood grocery stores are in a final category. The three founding breweries in Portland — D.L. Geary Brewing Company, Gritty McDuff’s and Shipyard Brewing Company — are well distributed throughout the state, and Sebago Brewing Company’s beers are also more widely available these days. I love that even in a pinch I can pick up a six-pack of Sebago’s Simmer Down summer session ale or a 12-pack of Geary’s HSA – two great beers to drink with friends at a cookout.