Visit an Island Brewery: Monhegan Brewing Co.
For you, dear beer, I would climb a mountain and cross the sea.
To grab a brew from Monhegan Brewing Co., it’s not like you can just drive up and hit the tasting room after work. This remote brewery is one of the few existing island stops on the Maine Beer Trail. You’re going to have to set aside an entire day for the journey, but it’s going to be the best damn beer you’ve ever tasted.
The entire experience starts from the moment you take the mailboat from the Monhegan Boat Line out from Port Clyde. For $35 round-trip, you can make the 7:00 a.m. or 10:30 a.m. ferry out and take the return 4:30 p.m. boat back, giving you an entire day to explore Monhegan’s extensive trails.
The official ferry season starts Memorial Day, but the crowds start to hit around July 4, so if you want it to feel as though you have the island to yourself, go any weekday or weekend before then. With roughly an hour crossing (10 miles out to sea), stand out on the top of the deck and let yourself experience full sensory overload; feel the bracing salty wind, the churn of waves and take in the porpoises, seals, and shags. Close your eyes and imagine everyone else you know sitting in an air-conditioned cubicle, trying to decipher an Excel spreadsheet. Try hard not to cackle out loud.
After the boat docks, you’ll instantly see why this place inspires so many artists. There are no crowds or cars. Barely any stores. Just million dollar views everywhere you turn and a reclusive sense of silence. Maine: the way life used to be.
Have a good pair of hiking boots and bring a backpack with snacks and water or grab what you need at the island’s only year-round grocery store, L Brackett & Son on the main road just before the post office.
Buy the trail map at the boat ticket booth because your smart phone won’t likely work here. For those who want to boost the enchantment factor, take the easygoing Cathedral Woods trail, which reveals many tiny handmade fairy houses built alongside the path. (Just don’t cheese off the locals and alter the natural landscape or leave any items like beer caps).
If you want to get the biggest reward for your beer hike, forgo the easy trails and head straight for the cliffs. A short jaunt down the south side of the main road will take you to a fairly good loop starting with Burnt Head #4, which winds through the hushed forested interior of the island. Cut to the left slightly to Gull Cove #5, which takes you through a jagged cliffside path, (known as Trail #1) a spectacularly rugged hike that spans the perimeter of the island.
When you come out on Lobster Cove on the south side of the island, you’ll be sweaty and tired, but it’s going to feel like the chorus of angels just busted out in a cappella when you see the shingled cape taproom of Monhegan Brewing Co.
Owners Matt and Mary Weber started this family-owned brewery in 2013 and for the last three summer seasons, have seen traffic and sales exponentially increase. “The first year, people would sort of stumble onto the brewery, but now, especially with The Maine Beer Trail, we’re seeing more and more people come over specifically to go for a hike and sample a brew,” she said. “You earn your beer, that’s for sure.”
The inside of the taproom feels like a rustic clubhouse with cheerful blue and white decor and features about five to six brews ranging from IPAs and pale ales to a stout.
One of their most popular summertime brews is the Balmy Days Citra-Hopped Kölsch. After those cliffs, the light citrusy body with a touch of wheat is going to taste like Nirvana in a glass, no joke.
“A lot of people have told us it’s the best beer they’ve ever had, said Mary. “As much as it pleases me that they like our brews, I have a feeling that being hot and sweaty and having a cold beer at the end of the trail has a lot to do with it,” she laughed.
Each brew ranges from $5.00 – $6.00 per pint and they also offer handcrafted ginger beer and root beer as well. They take both cash and cards, but islanders always appreciate cash.
At this taproom, there is no such thing as a stranger. Many of those who came over on the ferry with you will end up here, or you might see an islander wheel up on an ATV to fill a growler. Mingle on the taproom steps or wander out to a shaded table in their lobster trap beer garden.
Out of all the day trips you take in your lifetime, you can honestly say you never went this far out of your way for a beer.
Okay, kick back and take a sip. You can die now.
— Text & photos: Kay Stevens