Beer Bloggers’ Conference starts — almost

The drive from Manchester, New Hampshire to Portland, Maine on the interstate was a little disappointing. We had assumed that while driving up the Maine coast there would be the occasional view of the Atlantic Ocean, only a few miles to the east. However, the highway cuts through a verdant forest, so all you see on either side of the highway is trees.

Portland is Maine’s largest city (pop. 65,000) and its motto, “Resurgam” (“I will rise again”), is a particularly apt description of the city’s fortunes. Back in the 1700s and 1800s, Portland was a prosperous ship-building port. However, with the advent of steamships, the need for sailing ships disappeared, as did the ship-building jobs. But steam power also resulted in railways, and Portland not only successfully transformed from ship-building to locomotive construction, it also became the main winter ocean port for goods shipped via railway to and from ice-locked Montreal. Devastating fires destroyed the downtown core several times, and the advent of icebreakers on the St. Lawrence River shut off railway trade with Montreal.  But true to its motto, downtown Portland has risen from the ashes, transforming itself into a tourist attraction. The old port district is now a warren of cobblestone streets, up-scale bars, coffee shops, restaurants, gift shops… and gridlock tourist traffic. (Can’t complain too much — we were were two of the tourists and we brought a car.)

moose

An impressionistic depiction of the moose we did not see crossing the highway

Having a half-hour to spare before the first event, we reconnoitred some of the shops on foot. Of course you HAVE to buy some sort of souvenir of the journey, right? Hence our new Christmas tree ornament, tastefully decorated with a hand-painted moose, in honour of the moose we did not see when it wasn’t crossing the road in Vermont.

Shopping completed, we checked in to the first event of the “pre-conference” , a beer and cheese reception at Cabot Creamery Co-op. We arrived at the same time as a busload of other bloggers. While we had idled away the day visiting Frank Lloyd Wright houses and debating the merits of various moose ornaments, they had spent their time visiting several local breweries.

The shop was soon filled with 35 or 40 bloggers, all noshing on a variety of various cheddars provided by Cabot. The noise level was relatively high — many of the bloggers already seemed to be acquainted from previous conferences, and probably some of the high noise level was also fuelled by beer encountered during the afternoon’s brewery tours.

The Cabot cheeses were very creamy, and particularly good were the older, sharper cheddars, and several specialty cheeses filled with various spicy ingredients.

beer and cheese

Cheese & beer: Wine can only wish it paired this well.

The beers — British styles of pale ale, IPA and a strong ale — were courtesy of Geary Brewing, founded way back in 1984, the earliest days of craft beer, by David Geary and his wife Karen.

Geary’s has specialized in British-style ales from Day 1, quite a similar story to every Ontario craft brewery of the same period such as Upper Canada Brewing, Glatt Bros. and Waterloo County (most of whom have since disappeared). David Geary made it clear to me that he has deliberately eschewed the move to other more off-the-wall styles and flavours, preferring to continue to brew traditional British styles, which makes the longevity of his brewery all the more impressive.

The earthy hop nose on Geary’s ales was elusive due to the overwhelming smell of cheese. However, the beers paired with the cheese quite well, especially the Pale Ale matched to a medium-sharp cheddar — the creaminess of the cheese was cut by the effervescence of the beer, while the slight caramel note in the British-style ale melded well with the cheese.

It’s interesting seeing what cultural differences pop out at us. I still remember back in the 1990s going to Alberta and being shocked that someone was smoking inside a shopping mall — all indoor smoking by that time had been banned in Ontario. Likewise, in Ontario you will almost always find water and soft drinks available at beer events. Not only are these made available for designated drivers, but as famous beer critic Fred Eckhardt likes to point out, drinking only beer will lead to dehydration; for many years he has advocated drinking equal amounts of water when drinking beer.  So I was somewhat surprised that there were no non-alcoholic drinks or water available at this event.

However, soon enough, it was time to move on to dinner at Sebago Brewpub a couple of blocks away.

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