Root Wild serves its kombucha and beer on tap in its tasting room at the corner of Washington Avenue and Walnut Street. Photos by Carla Jean Lauter

Portland has sprouted a diverse and interesting set of microbrewery neighborhoods, including those in the Industrial Way/Riverton area, East Bayside and South Portland. But among them, there’s emerging a new micro neighborhood of producers of beer – and various other delightfully crafted beverages – that is well worth exploring.

The stretch of Washington Avenue between Congress Street and Tukey’s Bridge has recently experienced an influx of new businesses specializing in beverages. From kombucha to wine to cider to mead to beer and spirits, there’s many ways to explore locally-made beverages along this border marking the beginning of Munjoy Hill.

Root Wild, opened in 2018, brews kombucha, which is a lightly fermented drink made of tea, often with other fruits or vegetables added for color and flavor. This tart, sometimes funky beverage has only a touch of alcohol, with most kombuchas coming in under 2 percent. Root Wild’s kombucha often uses local ingredients, and the flavors change with the seasons. Root Wild also brews beer and offers a selection of both beverages on tap in the tasting room on the corner of Walnut Street.

I stopped in and had a rhubarb kombucha which, at 1 percent alcohol, was more akin to a flavorful and fresh rhubarb soda. The beer, too, uses interesting ingredients, and I was able to sample both a Juniper Orange IPA and, my personal favorite, Porch Song, which was a wheat beer brewed with lilac and honey. I never realized that lilac was a flavor that could be so delicately utilized in a beverage. It was not soapy-tasting at all, but the beer retained the signature fragrance from the blooms and added an almost violet-like flavor to the wheat beer base. All on-tap selections are available in growlers, and several flavors of kombucha (including mint, blueberry and ginger) are available to purchase in cans.

Maine Craft Distilling is mixing up slushies made with its spirits, including blueberry-flavored Blueshine.

Just down the street is Maine Craft Distilling, which has broadened its tasting room to include food, mixed drinks, frozen alcoholic slushies and even a few local guest craft beers on tap (and one draft wine). This is probably the first distillery that I’ve visited that feels more like a cocktail bar than a tasting room, and it has the licensing and ability to pour a variety of drinks to suit everyone’s tastes.

For the summer, I recommend one of the vodka slushies. There was even one made with Maine Craft’s blueberry spirit, Blueshine. If a gin-based slushie sounds better, you don’t have go more than a quarter mile down the road to Hardshore Distilling Co., which has kept its focus on that one spirit, mixing it up into all sorts of concoctions, including frozen ones.

But before all of these new places cropped up on Washington, there was a great destination for all my non-beer loving friends when they visited. Maine Mead Works is home to another unique fermented drink. Mead is a wine that is fermented from honey and can run the gamut between dry, crisp and complex to sweet, aromatic and pleasant. On my last visit, I tried a spicy and complex drink named Niwatoko, a collaboration with Liquid Riot Bottling Company. Niwatoko is a HoneyMaker (Maine Mead Works’ brand) dry mead with elderflower, chamomile and yuzu lemon, and is carbonated like a beer.

If you think all mead is super sweet, I encourage you to add this stop to broaden your definition of it. In addition to bottled meads, with flavors that are released seasonally or year round, Maine Mead Works also produces canned versions of some of its products, including lavender lemonade and iced tea mead.

Oxbow Brewing Company Blending and Bottling is just around the corner from Maine Mead Works and offers a slightly different take on beer than the hop-forward breweries in the nearby East Bayside cluster. Oxbow’s beers are usually complex, sometimes spontaneously fermented, often barrel-aged and, most of the time, defy easy categorization. Its huge tasting room is often home to music and themed events, and artists regularly use the space as a gallery. I also highly recommend people stop at Oxbow if they have palate fatigue from too many New England IPAs; the complexity should bring your head back around.

Last week, longtime Novare Res Bier Café manager Erika Colby announced plans to open a cider-focused bar and eatery in a building adjacent to the Oxbow tasting room, where Coffee By Design used to be, in late August. With a focus on Spanish and Basque cuisine and a broad variety of ciders, Anoche will fill a niche for many non-beer drinkers.

So among the cider, mead, kombucha, beer – and I didn’t even mention all the food – watch for this micro neighborhood to be the place to hang out for all things fun, fermentable and a little off the beaten path.

Carla Jean Lauter is a freelance beer writer and blogger who lives in Lisbon. Follow her beer adventures at:

Twitter: beerbabe

Maine Mead Works might change your mind about the beverage fermented from honey. It doesn’t have to be sweet.

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