Maine author Kate Cone is climbing on the Brew Bus to tout her new book and join fellow travelers in tasting a wide variety of the area’s best beer.
It’s been two decades since Cone penned her first version of “What’s Brewing in New England: A Guide to Brewpubs and Craft Breweries” at a time when the burgeoning beer scene was experimenting with “microbrews,” a term she said has been replaced by the more fashionable “craft beer.” By revisiting New England breweries, Cone found that much of the current regional success could be traced to brewing roots right here in Portland. For a mystery writer, this was an easy case to solve.
Her first immersion in the process of making beer came while working in a law firm in Brunswick that represented the brand new Shipyard Brewing Company.
“Back then, it was pretty much Geary’s, Gritty’s, Shipyard. Three Dollar Dewey’s and Great Lost Bear were the beer bars. Allagash had just opened,” she said. “Now, there are 10 to 15 craft breweries in the Portland/South Portland area, and as many as 75 statewide.”
A major development came when Maine State law regarding breweries allowed them to brew beer and have a tasting room where they can sell beer. “Many of those have food trucks that appear, so food is available, but the brewery doesn't incur that overhead of a brewpub and they avoid all the regulations of owning a restaurant,” she said. “There’s this new model of newly formed tasting rooms with the brewery out back. Beer is still distributed and packaged, but they can experiment with a lot of different beers at the bar. They can try out new tastes without having to distribute them, so it’s a lot less money from an overhead perspective.”
Cone is from Littleton, Mass. and attended Colby College. She has lived in Waterville for the past eight years with her husband, Patrick Brancaccio, who teaches Italian Literature in Italy. She’s going there in January for research, to enjoy immersing herself in the provincial potables and draw comparisons with her Mainestays.
“My favorite beers tend to be along the traditional British/Irish palate. I love Geary's Winter Ale, Shipyard's Prelude and their flagship Export Ale, Gritty's Stout, and Allagash's Curieux. Of course, I love visiting the new places and will try anything! Smoked and sour beers are not my thing, but I respect the brewers who make them and the people who like them.” She noted that there are some great little breweries getting into the scene, including Lone Pine brewery in Portland, Foulmouthed in South Portland, and Mast Landing in Westbrook.
“Beer tours are great because you get to taste a lot of beers in one day. At each stop, they give you a flight (think drinker’s paint palette) — three to five beers with a wide range of styles and flavors,” she said. “There’s this fascination with hops that’s coming full circle. Very hoppy beers are popular, and some places are making double and triple IPAs. Crafters are experimenting with new tastes all the time. One beer will try to fit into a trend, like ‘hoppy.’ With the other brews, they can create whatever they want. They could try honey, or flowers, or chocolate, or pumpkin — that’s really big now.”
There will be little trouble scaring up a bus full of ready samplers of all ages, swigging in Hallowe’en with nips of Smashed Pumpkin. Cone’s book launch and beer bus tour is a paean to the “old guys,” she says, as the more established breweries refer to themselves. “I started out in the business when they were young or just opening. I thought they deserved some attention after they paved the way for the rest of the younger brewers on the scene. Somebody born 21 years ago, who can drink now — they were introduced to drinking with craft beer. They didn’t have to drink Old Milwaukee all the time.”
Maine Brew Bus | Wednesday, Nov. 9 from 10:30am to 3:30pm | Craft Beer Cellar, Portland; 111 Commercial St. | The tour will visit D.L. Geary Brewing Company, Allagash Brewing Company, Shipyard Brewing Company, and features a full lunch at Gritty McDuff’s. Each participant on the tour will also receive a personally signed copy of “What’s Brewing in New England.” At the conclusion of the tour, Kate will available to the general public signing copies of her book in two locations: 3:00-4:00pm, Shipyard Brewing Company gift shop; 4:30-6:00pm, Great Lost Bear (during an Allagash Brewing Company tap takeover). | COST: $90/pp includes transportation, alcohol samples, lunch, bottled water, and gratuities paid at each stop, as well as a signed copy of Cone’s book.
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