It’s no secret that Portland, Maine, is a haven for beer drinkers, thanks to the omnipresence of breweries, such as Allagash and Banded Horn, in the area. In fact, a number of companies will even take you on beer-tasting tours throughout the city. But what if you’re (gasp!) not a beer person? Or simply want to take a day off from hoppy brews and try out some of Portland’s other liquid offerings.
Whether it’s coffee, soda, or mead (yes, mead) that you want to check out during your visit to Maine’s largest city, Portland has plenty to offer. Here are a few places we recommend. Spoiler alert: Expect a healthy presence of Maine’s beloved blueberries.
Coffee by Design’s Diamond Street shop. (Courtesy: Coffee by Design)
This popular Portland chain took a page from the breweries and offers a tour and tasting at its Diamond Street location on the east side of town. The 20,000-square-foot roastery, which opened earlier this year, was designed by owners Alan Spear and Mary Allen Lindemann as “a playground for coffee geeks.” The roastery is closed on weekends, but you can get your java fix at any of CBD’s other Portland locations.
The copper still in front of Sweetgrass’s tasting room on Fore Street. (Photo: Lilit Marcus)
The actual Sweetgrass Farm is located about 70 miles from Portland in Union, Maine. But good news for people who don’t have time to get out of Portland’s city limits: The distillery has set up a small tasting room on busy Fore Street (close to the beloved restaurants Duckfat and Eventide Oyster Co.) so tourists can learn about the brand and its offerings. The big copper still in the front window draws plenty of curious passersby, but the good deal ($5 buys four samples, plus the sampling glass as a souvenir) keeps them in the shop. We recommend the sweet Rhubarb Smash (rhubarb and elderberries) and the fruity Bleujolais.
Take your pick of mead favors. (Photo: Lilit Marcus)
Why taste wine when you can taste mead? This five-year-old tasting room offers a new take on the syrupy-sweet drink you may have tried in Scotland or Ireland. Try different flavors of infused meads (such as blueberry — this is Maine, after all), or simply sample a traditional mead to get a sense of what the honey-heavy alcohol should taste like. The pretty bottles also make great gifts for friends whose liquor cabinets already hold everything or for the “Game of Thrones” junkie who will appreciate the chance to drink the same beverage her favorite characters quaff on the show.
A blackberry cream soda at Vena’s Fizz House. (Photo: Lilit Marcus)
One of Portland’s hidden delights is Vena’s Fizz House, a soda shop founded by a former high school math and science teacher who now channels his love of chemistry into custom-made fizzy drinks, which include everything from blackberry lemonade to a Tootsie Roll soda. The well-stocked store will provide the materials for making your own concoctions (boozy or nonboozy) at home, but it’s fine to ask one of the knowledgeable employees if you need help distinguishing among the multiple flavors of syrups and sugars. The shop also offers classes on topics such as different kinds of bitters.
Maine Craft Distilling takes a “farm-to-flask” approach. (Courtesy: Maine Craft Distilling)
Many people walk right past this cozy shop, located next to Rising Tide Brewery in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood. But the visitors who do stop in get to learn about founder Luke Davidson’s “farm-to-flask” approach, which uses local Maine ingredients to concoct distinctive spirits. The Alchemy dry gin is a big hit.
The new digs for Dobrá Tea on 89 Upper Exchange Street. (Courtesy: Dobrá Tea)
This Czech chainlet (whose name means “Good”) has a handful of locations throughout the U.S., and the Portland outpost is a haven of calm in the busy downtown port district. The lengthy menu includes Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and English teas, with tasting notes and other facts about the different varieties. If it feels too daunting, simply ring the bell at your table to call over a staff member, who can help you choose a tea — and a healthy vegetarian or vegan snack to go with it.
Note: Dobrá is movin’ on up. It has secured a bigger spot and should be in the new location at 89 Upper Exchange Street by late September or early October, so keep an eye on the progress via social media, and plan your visit accordingly.