Fill The Steins Wakes Up with Maine Beer Tours

“You can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning.” – Chinese Proverb

photo 1There are few better ways to spend a cold February morning in Portland than hopping aboard a bus and being expertly escorted to three of the finest breweries in the area.  In an effort to warm our souls smack dab in the middle of this cold, snowy winter, that’s exactly what the (of-age, of course) Fill The Steins contributors did recently when we joined Maine Beer ToursMark Stevens on one of their signature “Saturday Wakeup” brew tours.

Our adventure began just before 10:30am at 180 Commercial St. in Portland, just in front of the Portland Lobster Co., when Mark and his (our) designated driver, Alison, pulled up to pick us, and a few other beer enthusiasts from all over the United States, up alongside the snowbank-covered curb.  Once the waivers (apparently, we’re not allowed to drive the bus…go figure!) were signed and the VIP stickers were stuck, we hopped aboard and started our journey toward our first stop, the Allagash Brewing Company.

En route to Allagash, Mark set a friendly tone by sharing his and Maine Brew Tours’ respective stories and by leading the group in a round of ice breakers that included name, town, and favorite type of beer.  Despite being the furthest thing from a beer aficionado (and proving it by answering the aforementioned third question with “whiskey”), Mark made sure to make me and the rest of the day’s tourists feel at home with Maine Beer Tours.  In fact, by the time we arrived at Allagash, Fill The Steins and our fellow tourists had already talked about other beer tours we’d been on, fully analyzed the Super Bowl, and nearly reached a solution to the ongoing conflict against ISIS.

photo 4Upon entering the impressive Allagash Brewery, more casual heads had prevailed and everyone’s attention fully turned to the subject matter at hand…beer.  After an informative, if somewhat stuffy and self-important, tour of the brewery, it was time to get down to business.  In total, Allagash provided samples of four of their brews as part of their post-tour tasting: their signature White, the citrus-y Saison, the sturdy-yet-smooth Tripel, and the limited edition four hop and four sugar Four.  With pours of 6 oz. each and an average ABV of 7.5%, well, let’s just say the rest of the stops on the tour were far less informative.

photo 2Upon re-boarding the Maine Beer Tours bus and snacking on some complementary seasoned popcorn, it was on to our second stop, the nearby Austin Street Brewery.  While the process of brewing is very similar to Allagash’s, the scale is significantly smaller at Austin Street.  Brewing on a 31 gallon system that produces one barrel at a time, Austin Street truly focuses on and takes great pride in their craft and their finished product.  We learned this first hand, as we got to tasting immediately upon our arrival and enjoyed samples of their Patina Pale, Oliver, and Snowblower creations.  I wish I could tell you more about the story behind each of these brews, but by this point in the tour, I was not in a tremendous position to do a lot of, how do you say, remembering details.

photo 5What was memorable, though, was that our third and final stop on the Saturday Wakeup tour didn’t even require us to re-board the bus.  Instead, we took a quick stroll to the other end of the industrial park where we stumbled (quite literally) upon Bissell Brothers Brewery.  Founded by titular brothers Noah and fellow UMaine alumnus Peter, Bissell Brothers started out, as admitted by Peter himself, as a bit of a party.  However, as their brewery has grown, the brothers have gotten more and more down to business.  Don’t let that “business” approach fool you, though.  Rap and hip-hop still blast over the speaker system in the tap room, where passionate fans of the brewery’s creations form a line spilling out the door to sample and purchase their favorite brews.  This stop on the tour was highlighted by the flagship Substance Ale, in which flaked rye malt is a great, subtle part of the flavor.

Like all good things, our Wakeup Tour, which had now extended well into the mid-afternoon, had finally come to an end.  The lovely (and very tolerant) Alison got us all safely back on the bus and back to our starting point on Commercial St. in downtown Portland.  All in all, the Saturday Wakeup was well worth the $44.00 ticket price and is something all of us at Fill The Steins would do again in a heartbeat.  Maine Beer Tours takes great pride in creating a fun, friendly, inclusive atmosphere on the bus while managing to stay out of the way of the brewers and letting them tell their own story at each stop.

Of course, if a formal tour isn’t your thing, there’s always the option to tackle any or all of these breweries on your own.  Just remember, there’s no VIP treatment when you’re not part of a tour, so be prepared to wait in line, particularly at Austin Street and Bissell Brothers.  Oh, and bring your own version of Alison, too…you’ll need it.


Have you been on the Saturday Wakeup or another of Maine Beer Tours’ journeys?  Have you sampled some or all of the creations at any of these three breweries?  Share your story with us in the comments section below and join the conversation on Twitter using #FillTheSteins!


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