This is definitely one of our most unique Birds on Tap - Roadtrips! with our partner, The Maine Brew Bus. Not only do we travel quite a distance, but we are actually seeking specific bird species (and rather rare ones at that) as well as visiting the only location on a Brew Bus tour where a beverage is not actually produced! It's worth it.
It's a decent drive from Portland to Fryeburg Harbor (with a bathroom stop on the way), but as we arrived in the fields and sod farms that are of seasonal significance, we immediately found one of our primary target birds: 5 SANDHILL CRANES. We enjoyed pretty good looks at them too! Stately, elegant, large, and charismatic, they are always a treat to see. Slowly but steadily increasing in Maine, the Fryeburg Harbor area in the early fall is one of the best places in the state to see this once-mega-rarity in the state.
We worked hard for the group of shorebirds known affectionately as "grass-pipers," or for our alliterative purposes, "sod-pipers." While conditions (a few muddy areas, recently-harvest sod, overturned fields, and even one shallow puddle) looked great, we were not seeing shorebirds. Finally, we found 6 Killdeer - the only regularly-occurring member of this group of shorebirds. Buff-breasted and Baird's Sandpipers and American Golden-Plovers will have to wait for another day.
But we did enjoy a good show of raptors, including a great look at a male American Kestrel, a surveying Merlin, and a fly-over Bald Eagle.
While many folks were hoping for Buff-breasted Sandpiper in particular, there are no guarantees in birding. But there are guarantees in "beer-ing," so we knew our next stop would be successful. And it was epic.
Ebenezer's accolades are countless, and deserved. It's also deserved of the only location the Brew Bus visits on any of their tours where no beverages are produced. But this is no regular bar, this is a very special place!
Yeah, we were in heaven as each of us got to peruse the two-page menu to select a pour (or 1-2 half-pours) of some of the best beers - especially Belgian and Belgian-style - in the world. Nathan and I, with assistance from Liz of Ebenezer's, helped people choose. There were a few once-in-a-lifetime pours chosen, and Nathan began a discussion of the various styles, as many folks shared sips.
We were then surprised by owner Chris Lively, who presented us with a truly special beer from his private reserve. Brewed just for Ebenezer's in Belgium, it was then aged in a hand-selected bourbon barrel. Only one barrel of this beer was ever made. We were honored.
Chris shared the history of Ebenezer's, his pride beaming of what this world-class destination has become. But yeah, that beer: wow! Really complex, the bourbon essence shines through, especially on the finish, calming the mild tartness. I picked up a little funk at the front end, but it washed away with the fruity complexity. We're not sure sure if Chris's stories or the beer was better, but combined, we had an absolute blast.
Our next stop was a more traditional stop, one of Maine's fine craft breweries. I continue to argue that Saco River Brewing is one of Maine's most underrated breweries, and today demonstrated why - they do every style well. It might not be your favorite style, but it's a darn good version of that style. This is particularly helpful on a Roadtrip! where we are really trying to teach and learn the wide range of what "beer" really is.
We began by lightening things up after our Belgian quads and imperial stouts with a refreshing and cleansing "D.O.T. Special," a simple Czech Pilsner. Next up was their flagship Lazy River IPA, a New England IPA-style "juice bomb." Our third selection was the Old Course Porter, another classic style that is well-executed here.
Nathan led the discussion as we compared styles and talked about the various tastes found within. We then finished up our wildly enjoyable day with a sample of our own choice, and the group pretty much ended up with one of everything, many of which were then passed across the table. And immediately, plans were being made to join next year's "Sod-Pipers and Sips," which is always a great sign!