Thursday, June 20, 2013
By TOM ATWELL
The Kennebec River Brewery in The Forks is a great place to stop in one of the most wonderful, if a bit remote, places in Maine.
Kennebec River Brewery sells its beer in the pub upstairs at the Northern Outdoors Adventure Resort.
I dropped into the brewery earlier this month on the first day of a five-day fishing trip and met brewer Mike McConnell as he was brewing Whitewater Wheat, one of the seven beers on tap at the pub.
This was not my first visit to the pub, which has brewed its own beer at the Northern Outdoors Adventure Resort for a bit more than 15 years. I love fishing the area, and the pub is a great place to escape when the weather gets wet or we don't feel like cooking.
The specialty beer available when I visited was Honey Badger Rye, which was described in a news release as being similar to the beer in the White House brewed with honey from first lady Michelle Obama's beehive.
McConnell said the idea for the beer had nothing to do with the president's brew, however.
"I think this beer is unique," McConnell said. "I had been looking for a chance to use rye in one of my beers because I had never brewed with it before. And I wanted to use some honey. I'd never used honey before either. So it was a chance to try both of them."
The Honey Badger Rye had more flavor of honey than of rye. It was a little bit sweet, but not overpoweringly so, and the rye gave it just a little bit of a mineral flavor at the end. I thought it was a good mix.
The Kennebec River Brewery is small in every way.
"It's a 4.5-barrel system, a very basic and very manual system," McConnell said.
All of the beer brewed there is sold in the pub upstairs and at occasional beer festivals. The company has not sent kegs of its beer to other pubs around the state.
The beer is unfiltered and keg-conditioned, which means that the carbonation is created during a secondary fermentation after the beer is put into the keg rather than having carbon dioxide artificially introduced.
When you buy Kennebec River's beer in bottles -- almost always the company's IPA -- it has been brewed by Mercury Brewing, creator of Ipswich Ales in Ipswich, Mass. Casco Bay Brewing brewed Kennebec River's bottled beers before it went out of business.
McConnell has a guide license, so he works full-time for Northern Outdoors, although not full-time as a brewer. He worked first as a brewer for a company in Warwick, R.I., that went out of business.
Kennebec River Brewery was founded by Jim Yearwood, a co-owner of Northern Outdoors, who helped start Maine's rafting industry in the 1970s and continues to brew along with McConnell.
The brewery does a year-round business. Rafting is big throughout the warmer months, along with fishing and hunting. And in the winter, The Forks is a major destination for snowmobilers.
"More and more, though, people are driving up just to try the beer," McConnell said. "I think a large part of that is because of the Maine Beer Trail." (The trail was created by the Maine Brewers Guild. People who visit five, 10 or all of the breweries on the trail win prizes.)
In addition to a pint of the Honey Badger Rye, I got a sampler paddle of the other beers on tap while I was there. The beers are creatively named and are all quite good.
Deer in the Headlite is the beer for people not used to craft beers, designed to replicate Budweiser, Miller and Coors. It's OK, but doesn't have a lot of flavor.
Whitewater Wheat is a wheat beer with coriander and orange peel, but I didn't taste a lot of orange.
Big Mamma Blueberry is a good addition to the state's selection of blueberry beers. The blueberry was a subtle undertone rather than the dominant flavor, and the beer goes well with the pub-style food at the brewery.
The Double Brown was rich and warming, but maybe a bit sweeter than I normally like in a brown. An Octoberfest was a good, rich beer.
My favorite Kennebec River beer was the IPA, and I can understand why it is the one that the brewery has bottled. It's a cross between what you would expect from a British IPA and a West Coast IPA -- a good hop bite, but not at all overpowering.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: