October 19th, 2020
A Beer-Lover’s Guide to Aroostook County
Aroostook County is known as a four-season outdoor-lover’s paradise, especially for winter recreation enthusiasts into cross country skiing, snowshoeing, or snowmobiling. The microbrewing revolution that has recently exploded in Portland, Bangor, and other points west and Downeast, has yet to be fully realized in “The County.” However, there are as many beer-lovers per capita here as anywhere else in the state of Maine, and things are happening, beer-wise. Here is just a sampling:
As you pull off Interstate 95 into Houlton, the first stop for any craft beer enthusiast should be the Thirsty Dawg beer and wine store, just off Route 2A on Florence Avenue. Established by Kent Good in 2010, the beer selection is one of the best in the state of Maine, with over 30 Maine breweries in stock. He is also one of the chief organizers of the Black Fly Brewfest, which will be held on May 20, 2017.
Aroostook Hops currently grows four popular varieties at their hop yard: Cascade, Centennial, Mt. Hood, and Nugget. Back in August, the CFO of Gritty McDuff’s was in the County with his Gritty’s balloon for the Aroostook Balloon Festival, and stopped by to pick up some fresh Centennial and Cascade hops to use in their “Wet Hop Ale.” Geaghan Brothers Brewing also used some of their fresh hops in making its “Aroostook Hop Harvest” ale.
Heading northeast on Route 1A from Westfield to Fort Fairfield you will find The Hop Yard’s northern farm on the Maple Grove Road. This was their first commercial hop yard and they have since established another in Gorham.
Another area farm producing quality ingredients for the Maine craft beer market is Buck Farms’ Maine Malt House, located in Mapleton, just east of Presque Isle on Route 163. Brothers Jared, Josh, and Jacob Buck, along with father Bruce and uncles Brent and Barry, started the Maine Malt House in February of 2015.
If you head about 10 miles north on Route 1 from Presque Isle, you will arrive at Aroostook County’s only microbrewery, Northern Maine Brewing Company in Caribou. Of their six brews on tap, I sampled the Maine Logger (a crisp Pilsen lager), the River Driver’s Red ale, the Skidder Grease Stout, and the Farmer IPA, with an IBU of 63 and ABV of 6.9%.
30 miles further north in Fort Kent, where Route 161 ends and U.S. Route 1 begins (ending in Key West, Florida), you can make your way to Walker’s Pub on West Main Street where you’ll find fine food and several Maine craft beers on tap.
Continuing on Route 1 to the Northeastern most point in the United States, just across the St. John River from Madawaska in Edmunston, New Brunswick, is Les Brasseurs de Petit-Sault brewery (“Little Falls Brewery”). It is worth the trip to tour the brewery and sample the beers on the Canadian side of the border, but bring your passport and a designated driver.
Aroostook County may be behind the rest of Maine in the number of local microbreweries, but the scenery is great, the people are friendly, and they are ready to ride the craft beer wave that is sweeping over the state. Most of these establishments can be found on Facebook and it would behoove travelers to bring their skis, snowshoes, or snowmobiles and check them out this winter. Upcoming winter events include the Holiday Light Parade in Presque Isle on December 3rd and the Caribou Winter Carnival in mid-February.
Text: Paul Lamoreau