Dr. Dave and the family spent a week on vacation in Bar Harbor, Maine, around the middle of August. This is becoming the default vacation spot for our family, since we have gone there three of the last four summers. It’s a fun place with a wide variety of activities both inside and outside of Acadia National Park–hiking, biking, water sports, wildlife viewing, and a lot of other activities (or just hanging out if you are of that persuasion). We had more than enough to do on two previous four-night trips that we opted to rent a house for an entire week this year instead of staying in a no-frills motel. This gave us the opportunity to cook most of our meals at home rather than eating out, and to host some friends from home for a couple of nights in the middle of their Maine vacation. The trade-off was we were about a 20 minute drive from the park and the center of town, but the freedom and the peace and quiet were more than an even exchange in my opinion.Maine also has some fun things to offer on the beer front, so I’ll intersperse some travel notes with some beer tasting.
Upon arrival, after casing the house and finding the fridge totally empty (counter to our optimistic hope that there might be a few staples from the previous tenants) we drove to the nearest mini-mart to stock up on breakfast and lunch supplies for the next day. I also picked out a six-pack of Geary’s Summer Ale to see me through the first few days of our stay. This ended up being a nice, fairly light ale–citrusy, but not excessively so and still with a decent amount of body.
The first couple of days involved familiar activities including a long hike up two familiar peaks (Mt. Dorr and Mt. Cadillac), though our routes up and down were variations on what we had done the previous years, and a bike ride on the carriage trails in the park with a stop at the Jordan Pond House for a lunch that included their widely acclaimed popovers. Dinner after the first full day was our only night out and was also a familiar location, a restaurant by the name of Blaze (easy to remember because we have a restaurant right up the street from us at home with the same name). We enjoyed two interesting pizzas (lots of meat for the two adolescents and interesting veggies for the adults), and I ended up with a coffee stout from the nearby Atlantic Brewing Company (after the server’s report that the keg of Allagash Black had just run out). This beer was strongly reminiscent of the Beer Camp coffee stout and was a nice treat on a cool evening.
With messy weather forecast for later in the week, we made sure to get another long hike in on day three. After talking with the ranger and describing our first day hike, we came away with a recommendation that we should try the Jordan Cliffs trail as a route to the summit of Mt. Sargent, after which we could plot a variety of routes down and bag anywhere from one to four more peaks depending on how ambitious we were feeling. I suppose the word “cliffs” in the name of the trail should have warned us, but this turned out to be much more of an adventure than the grown-ups had bargained for, with several iron rung ladders set into a rock face that was, at times, a pretty sheer drop toward the pond well below. The physical demands of the trail were manageable, but the exposed setting left some of us feeling the after-effects of an adrenaline rush by the time we got to the next trail intersection. There we had a “small world” moment where we encountered a hiker and his wife and eventually discovered that the hiker, who also teaches high school chemistry, and I had earned our doctorates in the same small sub-field of physical chemistry and that I had read a couple of his research papers while I was in grad school. (In an unrelated small world encounter, the chatty driver of one of the free tourist buses that we rode during the week was also an AP science teacher. Among his words of advice were to never try to replace the guy after whom they are going to name the gym.) From that intersection, we completed our planned route to the summit of Sargent and then made our way down the south ridge across another peak and back to our starting point, saving the other small peaks for some other occasion.
The next day was cooler and ended up being mostly pretty foggy, but we ended up with a nice choice of activity for the day–a whale-watching excursion about 25 miles out into the Gulf of Maine. The fog cleared substantially as we got out to sea, and the whales didn’t really care about the surface weather, so the captain and naturalists on board were able to get us close enough to see both large finbacks and smaller humpbacks, the latter giving us several nice displays of tail flukes as they went down for extended dives. The seas were choppy enough that a couple of our party had to fight through some motion sickness, but it was still a fun experience and we even got a few decent photos, though it was nice to get back to dry land and (eventually) regain a sense of equilibrium.
Day five also started a bit gloomily, and since we were expecting guests that evening we spent the first part of the day re-organizing the household and making sure we were ready. In the afternoon, the weather improved a bit and we were able to schedule a brewery tour at the aforementioned Atlantic Brewing Company. This was a surprisingly small operation (compared to some of the other breweries I have visited over the years), so the tour was a bit of a disappointment, but the beers that they offered for tasting were interesting with what seemed to me to be a strong British influence. (They also had a blueberry soda for the non-beer-drinkers to sample, and they also make a root beer that the adolescents recalled from the last visit.) I chose a couple of large bottles to bring home and savor when I could take my time with them.
Our friends arrived about the time we were finishing our tour, bearing supplies to replenish the fridge that included a couple of beers they had picked up during their travels earlier in the week. I suppose it says something about the expansion of the craft brew world that exotic beers are finding their way into corner stores in back-woods Maine. During our stay, I also listened to an NPR story about the Western breweries (such as Oskar Blues and Sierra Nevada) that are expanding brewing operations to the East Coast and how they are dealing with the differences in water supply at the different brewing locations, which also speaks to the continued growth of the craft brew industry.
Anyway, on the first night of their visit we opened the Clown Shoes Burnt Caramel. Clown Shoes does contract brewing at Mercury Brewing in Ipswich, MA (the people that make Ipswich Ale) and in researching the brewery I discovered they were involved in a controversy a few years back about some of their label art. This particular label seemed pretty inoccuous to me, and the beer had an interesting sweetness with maybe a hint of smoke in the finish. It’s interesting that I can’t find this beer listed anywhere on their web site so I can’t compare my impression with their tasting notes, so you’ll have to rely on my impressions (or go look up other reviews if you’re really motivated).
On our last full day of vacation, the weather cleared again and we were able to get in a final round of hiking with our friends. This hike was another familiar one from our previous visits that took us to the opposite side of Jordan Pond over two steep little peaks known as “The Bubbles.” South Bubble is particularly fun since it features a great view of the pond and an amusing several ton glacial erratic perched on a cliff overlooking the park road. Since this was a short hike, there was also time in the afternoon for Dr. Mrs. Dr. Dave and I to take an extra bike ride on the quiet country roads near our rental house. Many of the roads on this side of Mount Desert Island are private and it appears to me that the residents have chosen their own evocative names. I was particularly amused by the one we passed on our ride south with a road sign for “Amscray Lane”–think Pig Latin if you don’t get the joke right away! That evening’s beer was Rosabi from Dogfish Head, and it really does use wasabi as an ingredient to complement the spiciness of the hops and I could definitely appreciate the subtle horseradish kick in the finish of this creative beer.
Saturday we had to clear out by 10:00 am, so after a hearty breakfast of banana pancakes we did all the dishes, stripped the beds, and packed up the car for the drive home. To maintain the vacation feeling a little longer, we stopped in Portland, ME, for lunch. Portland has a reputation as a “foodie” town, and I had learned a little bit about the town during a professional visit a few years ago, so we used the iPhone app Yelp! to help us find an interesting place for lunch and ended up at OTTO in the commercial district on Congress St. Creative pizza was again the order of the day, accompanied by a Magic Hat beer that was sold here under the name OTTO Ale but which the server told me is sold elsewhere as Single Chair, a nice light beer for the middle of the day. (The beer is hiding behind the menu in the photo at right.)
That wrapped up the vacation, but vacation memories were re-kindled by the two beers that I had brought home from Atlantic Brewing. One of these was Ellen’s Coffee Stout, the beer from the restaurant in Bar Harbor, which continued to impress me as a smooth and flavorful stout and which the label indicates includes vanilla as well as coffee. This went well with one of our standard late-summer dinners of pasta with home-grown basil pesto and corn-on-the-cob from the farmer’s market, particularly on a pleasantly cool late summer evening. The other beer that I brought home was a seasonal offering looking ahead to autumn and the tourists who will come to admire the fall foliage. Leaf Peeper Ale was a nice, easy-drinking ale, though not particularly interesting.
Pre-season for cross-country started the Monday after our return, so in some ways summer and vacation time have effectively been over for awhile for the Dr. Dave family, but we did manage to squeeze in a few fun outings that I’ll relate sometime soon. For now, beers related to our Vacationland adventure add six more to the tally, which now sits at 107 (with plenty more to come). School started in earnest today, which means it really is the end of summer, but we have plenty of nice weather and outdoor time to look forward to before the snow starts to fly. Cheers!