February 23, 2013

Skiing in Maine: Raise a mug to brew pubs at the base

By JOSH CHRISTIE

There's no question that most skiers and snowboarders are big fans of beer. Blame it on the sport's European heritage. Or blame it on the relaxing qualities of imbibing after hours in the cold fueled only by adrenaline, or even on the legendary social nature of skiers and snowboarders. Whatever the reason, ski areas from Maine to California have brew pubs by their base lodges. Here in Maine, we've got two that are practically on-hill -- the Bag and Kettle and the Sunday River Brew Pub -- and others that could make an argument for being skier's brau.

The closest brewery-to-mountain pub is the Bag and Kettle, an English-style pub in Sugarloaf's village. There's plenty of room, especially at the multiple-u shaped bar, but the place gets full on weekends. If you're lucky, Uncle Al -- famed member of the Outerspace Band -- will be tending bar. The focus at the Bag is on classic pub food, though things are spiffed up by pizza made with dough from Portland Pie.

There are two things at the Bag and Kettle actually better than the beer, and they're the Bag Burger and cheeseburger soup. The Bag Burger is quite notorious, just voted best burger by Skiing magazine. The cheeseburger soup feels like a heart attack in a bowl.

Brews on regular rotation include an Alpine raspberry ale and a beer brewed with locally roasted Carrabasset Coffee. The pick of the bunch is a malty and earthy Potato Ale, brewed with Maine spuds.

Just slightly farther afield from the slopes is the Sunday River Brew Pub at the end of the resort's access road on Route 2. The pub opened in 1992, when Sunday River was experiencing serious growth and the little brewery boomed right along, growing into a strong enough brand that founder Grant Wilson started another operation, Stone Coast Brewing, in Portland a few years later. Though Stone Coast folded in 2008, Sunday River Brewing still thrives. Super cozy ski-chic, it has a decent menu with everything that screams brew pub.

Bray's Brewpub and Eatery isn't, strictly speaking, at the base of a ski area. However, its location in Naples on the prime thoroughfare between Portland and Shawnee Peak (and the roof racks in the parking lot) suggests Bray's is definitely a skier's bar.

The pub, squeezed into a 125-year-old Victorian farmhouse, probably has more character than all the bars in Portland put together. If you're not one for a quirky layout, there's also an attached beer garden that offers a great space for nearly nightly musical guests.

Bray's is also known for beer dinners, which feature special menus, guest chefs and beer pairings.

Other Maine breweries have courted the ski crowd. The Shipyard Brewing Company, Maine's largest brewery, has established branded restaurants at Sugarloaf and Sunday River. Portland's Gritty McDuff's brews Mt Abram's Red Ale served on a nitrogen tap. First brewed in honor of the Greenwood resort's 50th anniversary, the draft-only beer is now served every season at Mt Abram and in Gritty's pubs. The Gorham-based Sebago Brewing Company brews Saddleback Ale, a light all-malt beer with a label sporting the 2,000 vertical foot ski area.

While this should be painfully obvious to anyone, I will stress one thing: While skiing is great and craft beer is great, the two don't mix. Just as thou shalt not drink and drive, thou shalt not drink and ski.

Josh Christie shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. Josh can be reached at:

joshua.j.christie@gmail.com

 

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