Zach Poole, right, greets tour members as they board the Maine Brew Bus behind the Thirsty Pig for a tour of two beer breweries, a meadery, a coffee roaster, a fermenter and distiller over several hours Thursday.
Jeremy Miller of Buxton summed it up pretty well.
"What else are you going to do? Hop on the beer bus, and for the next four hours you taste all the best of what Maine has to offer," he said. "That sounds pretty good."
Miller and his buddy Adam Lamarre of Portland joined seven others Thursday afternoon for the Local Pour Tour, to sample some of Portland's best and most interesting libations.
The tour, hosted by the Maine Brew Bus, made its debut Thursday as part of Portland Beer Week, which celebrates all things hoppy.
Thursday's tour began and ended at the Thirsty Pig in the Old Port, and hit breweries, distilleries, fermenters and coffee roasters to call attention to the many and diverse beverage makers in Portland.
The tour operator, Zach Poole, said Maine is home to 39 breweries and more than 100 brands of handcrafted beers. Many of them, along with rum, mead and other beverages, are made in Portland.
They are a big part of Portland's evolving local food and drink scene, and a driver for local, regional and national tourism, he said.
"Micro-brewing is a really growing business, and there are a ton of craft beers right here in Portland," said Poole, who began running tours in a 12-seat green micro bus in September.
In addition to the new Pour Tour, he offers beer-only tours of breweries and brew pubs York County and Portland. He began the business because he sensed a money-making opportunity in shuttling people around from brewery to brewery for samples and behind-the-scenes glimpses of the brewing process.
As a promotion during Portland Beer Week, Poole offered Thursday's tour for $30. Otherwise, the tour costs $65.
Miller appreciated the detour at Tandem Coffee Roasters. "It's a quick sober-up stop," he said.
The tour stopped at Maine Mead Works, Bunker Brewing Co., Tandem Coffee Roasters, Urban Farm Fermentory, Rising Tide Brewing Co. and New England Distilling.
Perhaps no other brewery epitomizes Portland's start-small, think-big attitude more than Bunker Brewing Co. on Andersen Street, in the East Bayside neighborhood -- "Yeast Bayside" as the brewers like to call it.
The nickname is a nod to the cluster of tiny drink-makers that now operate within a few blocks of each other. Yeast is a key component in making beer.
In addition to Bunker Brewing, the neighborhood is home to Rising Tide Brewing and Urban Farm Fermentory, which makes mead, hard ciders and kombucha. Tandem Coffee Roasters roasts beans next door to Bunker.
All are small companies, with just a handful, or fewer, employees.
At Bunker Brewing, Chresten Sorensen makes and peddles the beer he sells in partnership with Jay Villani, who owns a couple of local restaurants.
"I started home-brewing, so this is a big leap," he said, showing off the few pieces of equipment he keeps in an unheated garage. "The scene is really amazing right now. ... You guys want to try a few beers?"
He served up samples of his latest beer, a Baltic porter that he calls Dark Wave. It had a rich, toasty taste.
Roland Morin of Rochester, N.H., loved it, and marveled at the entrepreneurial spirit of the tiny brewery. "You can't get be getting any more grass-roots than this," he said.
Higher up on the scale is Rising Tide Brewing, around the corner and down the block on Fox Street. Rising Tide, with three employees, has been making beers for about two years. It expanded recently from a 1,500-square-foot operation to about 5,500 square feet. It produces about 130 barrels of beer a month.
"Not only do we have a great beer scene here in Maine, but we also have a climate that works really well" for growing ingredients such as hops and barley, said production assistant Sean Spence.
He dispensed generous samples of five Rising Tide beers, including the popular American pale ale Daymark.
The last stop on Thursday's tour was New England Distilling, on Evergreen Drive in Portland's Riverside neighborhood.
Owner and distiller Ned Wight got into the business through his interest in home brewing. A family legacy in distilling led him from beer to hard liquors.
His recipes are based on Old World techniques, experimentation and a desire to create Colonial-era style liquors.
"Rum was a big part of the New England economy and the colonies," he said, pouring samples of his warm, molasses-based Eight Bells rum. "This is our interpretation of New England-style rum."
He founded the company just last year. Like his beer-brewing brethren, he has a business that's very much a labor of love. The company is tiny -- just Wight and one other employee.
"It's just the two of us," he said. "We're brewing in the morning and sneaking out and selling in the afternoon."
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:
Ned Wight, left, founder and owner of New England Distilling, tells of the family legacy that gave him the idea to resurrect a distillery and produce fresh, creative and different types of gin, rum and whiskey, as three members of the Pour Tour, from left, Jeremy Miller, David Lamarre and Adam Lamarre, taste and discuss the Ingenium Dry Gin.
Chresten Sorensen, owner of Bunker Brewing, says he owns the smallest brewery in Maine, giving him the freedom to make whatever type of beer he feels like making.