Down East and Outside Staffers on Our Favorite New England Beers
An essential 12-pack from two well-hydrated workforces.
Photo by Mark Fleming
You could spend years exploring the more than 600 craft breweries that New England has to offer and still never taste all the region’s incredible beers (Vermont leads the nation in craft breweries per capita, with Maine a close second). So when our pals at Outsidemagazine asked us to team up on a list of New England’s must-quaffs, we were only too happy to oblige. Naturally, our picks skew a little Maine-y, but with a sixer from the Pine Tree State and a sixer from our neighbors down south, you can consider this your essential New England 12-pack.
Maine Beer Company Freeport
I first tasted Maine Beer Company’s Lunch during dinner at a New York City restaurant last spring, a far cry from the charming coastal vibes of its home. The brew’s name created a great deal of confusion later on when I asked around about the perfect beer I’d been drinking. But it’s cool — Lunch, after all, is an apt moniker for the Maine-based craft brewery’s imminently drinkable IPA. As someone’s day might hinge on their midday meal, this bold but balanced brew immediately became the cornerstone of my beer-ordering habits. It’s frothy, malty, hoppy, and shot through with citrus and pine. At 7 percent ABV, I recommend pairing it with a sandwich if you’re drinking it at its designated hour, but you’ll be able to find it in stores and restaurants all over the Northeast no matter the time of day. — Xian Chiang-Waren, Outside associate culture editor
Allagash Brewing Company Portland
I kick off visits to my favorite Portland taproom with the beer that launched the brewery: Allagash White. Craft beer is beholden to fads — notice any hazy IPAs around lately? — but White started pouring 25 years ago, and it’s as popular (and delicious) as ever. Hints of coriander, pepper, and orange peel, underlying yeastiness, and the cloudiness and pillowy mouthfeel conferred by wheat, all combined for a dandy display of balance and restraint — qualities missing from too many beers nowadays. It’s refreshing, in both senses of the word, and while it sells in bars and bottle shops across the country, it tastes a smidge better fresh from the source. Lazing on the taproom’s sunny patio, I could drink it all day if I wasn’t tempted by other offerings: spontaneously fermented sours, Brettanomyces-inflected ales, barrel-aged tripels and stouts. I usually plan to swing by a neighboring brewery or two, but I rarely make it past Allagash’s patio. — Will Grunewald, Down East senior editor
Oxbow Brewing Company Newcastle, Portland, & Oxford
Here at age 40, most of my beer-cooler picks are dictated by low ABVs and cool fonts, and Oxbow’s immense roster of beers is big on both. When the Belgian-influenced outfit got off the ground in 2011, it was my local farmhouse brewery, HQ’d in a barn up the road, near an intersection known as Cowshit Corner, that had graffiti murals on the walls and a cool vintage vinyl collection. I fell hard for their spins on overlooked Old World styles: Loretta, an oh-so-crisp 4% grisette, what Belgian coal miners used to drink. Space Cowboy, a surprisingly full-bodied saison that clocks in under 5%. Oxbow’s brews are picnic beers and thirst quenchers. The brewery has since opened a cavernous tap room in a cool Portland neighborhood and a pizza joint in the foothills of Maine’s ski country, but they’ve stayed true to that Cowshit Corner aesthetic, a very Maine marriage of the barnyard and the skate park. — Brian Kevin, Down East editor in chief
Rising Tide Brewing Portland
This brewery holds a special place in my heart for many reasons. Not only has its Maine Island Trail Ale been my companion on numerous paddling excursions in nearby Kettle Cove, but my sister is on most of the company’s wedding marketing materials. In the summer, it opens the garage doors to a patio with gas fireplaces and a rotating selection of food trucks. My go-to brew is the Ishmael — a copper ale that provides just enough flavor without punching you with bitterness, and at just 4.9 percent ABV, I can afford to have a few. If you’re looking for an IPA, the Zephyr is an easy choice. A fun bonus: many of Rising Tide’s beers are named after Maine’s favorite outdoor hubs, and the brewery is a meeting ground for ski films, climate talks, and local activism. — Mitch Breton, Outside video curator
Lone Pine Brewing Company Portland & Gorham
I discovered Lone Pine Brewing Company’s Raspberry Sparkler in the Hannaford beer aisle just as Maine started reacting to the pandemic, and it has remained a faithful companion in trying times. I’ve always loved fruity, sour beers, and the Maine brewery’s American sour ale is the total package: tart, citrusy, refreshing, and light. I haven’t had a post-shutdown chance to visit either of the brewery’s tasting rooms yet, but I’m looking forward to sampling all five (!) of their collaboration brews with Portland pastry emporium Holy Donut. — Abigail Hilt, Down East digital marketing coordinator
Bissell Brothers Brewing Portland & Milo
It’s kind of amazing how fast Bissell Brothers, est. 2013, went from an obscure Portland nanobrewery to having two big old taprooms and a cult following among beer nerds. On a summer Saturday, when Bissell’s doing a can release, it’s not uncommon for the line at the Portland brewery to stretch out the door and around the block. Both taprooms are a blast: Portland is urban industrial, with bar tables on steel barrels, exposed ducts, super high ceilings, super loud music. (It’s also neighbors with the Bigfoot buffs at the International Cryptozoology Museum, which is just cool.) In Milo, the founding brothers’ north woods hometown, the vibe is a little more hunting lodge, with lots of barnwood and aging barrels stacked up left and right. Bissell’s reputation is built on big, juicy, hazy, hop-forward beers like the Substance and Swish — exemplars of the New England IPA — but they can brew a pilsner or a cream ale with the best of them. Oh, and they’ve set the gold standard for beer delivery during the COVID-19 shutdown. — Mark Fleming, Down East director of photography
Greater New England Suds
Lawson’s Finest Liquids Waitsfield, Vermont
Although I’m partial to my hometown of Stowe’s brewery, the Alchemist, and its classic Heady Topper IPA, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point brew lovers to Lawson’s. This taproom has tons of indoor and outdoor seating in an idyllic small-town setting, and Sip of Sunshine, a cult-favorite fruity Vermont IPA and my brew of choice, is always flowing. Farm-to-table appetizers, pinball machines, and lawn games will keep you here awhile, because what’s better than a lazy day of drinking with friends? When you’re ready to leave, walk less than half a mile south to Canteen Creemee Company for the best maple “creemee”—that’s Vermonter for soft-serve ice cream—of your life. — Abbey Gingras, Outside associate audience editor
Trillium Brewing Company Boston, Massachusetts
The people of Massachusetts truly hate to be outdone, and so when Vermont started getting all the craft-brewing attention, my beautiful Baked Bean State quite literally said, “Hold my beer.” While tons of breweries have popped up all over the state in recent years, none can outshine the beloved Trillium Brewing Company. Currently listed as the third-best brewery in the world, according to RateBeer, it has been concocting all sorts of amazing combinations for seven years now. Grab a cannoli at Mike’s Pastry in the North End, then walk a mile to the newly developed Seaport, where Trillium has set up a large but cozy taproom. After a beer and some poutine (or if you want to dive deep into the state’s coastal spirit, I suggest the lobster toast), head to the nearby Institute of Contemporary Art to see one of the city’s best art collections. — Kyra Kennedy, Outside photo editor
Throwback Brewery North Hampton, New Hampshire
Like the New Hampshire coast itself, Throwback is tiny and not very well-known, but it’s a heavenly place to visit in the summer or early fall. The brewery sources more than 70 percent of its beer ingredients, like fruit and hops, locally, including from the farm on which it’s located. Batches are small in quantity, seasonal in availability, and experimental in flavor, and although you can find them in some stores around the region or buy them to go from the brewery, they’re best enjoyed on the farm itself. I’ve spent several late afternoons in bliss on Throwback’s dog-friendly patio in scenic North Hampton, taking in a view of goats, chickens, and donkeys (the brewery’s mascot), and relishing the scent of salt in the air from the nearby Atlantic. Start drinking with the Spicy Bohemian, a pilsner dry-hopped with jalapeños. It’s crisp, light, peppery, and spicy—but not in an overwhelming way—and it happens to be one of the most popular beers on tap every year. — Svati Kirsten Narula, Outside contributor
Hill Farmstead Greensboro Bend, Vermont
Since my colleague beat me to the punch in praise of Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine (which is really only to be enjoyed after you’ve cooled the can in the cold water of Warren Falls in Warren, Vermont), I’m now free to lavish attention on my other steadfast Vermont companion: Hill Farmstead Brewery’s Edward. Edward is about as perfect as a beer can be: a crisp but smooth American pale ale with just the right amount of hops and citrus. It pairs well with absolutely everything, complimenting light summer fare as well as brightening hearty winter meals after a long day of skiing. You’ll want to drink it year-round, but since it’s only available for purchase at the Northeast Kingdom brewery in northern Vermont and select restaurants in the area, you’ll just have to make a trip there. Trust us, it’s worth it. — X.C-W.
Tree House Brewing Company Charlton, Massachusetts
If you find yourself in central Massachusetts, you have to stop by Tree House Brewing’s Charlton taproom and experience what can only be described as the Disneyland of beer. Get there via mountain bike, and ride the singletrack that connects the brewery to the abutting 86-acre Capen Hill Nature Sanctuary, then cool off by sipping the ever popular Julius IPA on the patio. Those looking for a more leisurely experience can try one of Tree House’s stouts and take a stroll through the on-site orchards, dotted with beehives. I recommend following this pilgrimage by driving 30 minutes northeast to Worcester and grabbing a bite to eat at Armsby Abbey. — K.K.
Narragansett Beer Pawtucket, Rhode Island
When I lived in Boston, I spent the summers with my girlfriend and her family at a small lake house in central Massachusetts. On a typical day, we’d go for a morning swim and then read by the dock, and when the afternoon rolled along, someone would head to the “packie,” Massachusetts slang for liquor store, and bring back an assortment of beer to have with dinner that night. My favorite pick of the bunch would always be Narragansett, which is opening a new brewery and headquarters in Providence later this year. I remember one day when we took a trip down to Narragansett Beach in Rhode Island and sipped on the namesake shandies and lagers in between sunbathing and dips in the ocean. Can you get more picturesque than that? — Jeremy Rellosa, Outside affiliate reviews editor
This summer’s travels require some extra prudence: staying informed of health advisories and closures, observing respectful distancing, being willing to adapt your plans. But with a little care and caution, you’ll find the Maine outdoors as welcoming as ever. Maine businesses are adapting their plans as the summer progresses — call or check the web before you show up. As of July 3, travel in Maine is open without restriction to residents of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Visitors from any other state must follow quarantine and/or testing guidelines and complete a Certificate of Compliance form. Read up on the state’s Keep Maine Healthy plan for details.