Lobster Roll Season Opens

I was pleased to hear about Sherman’s Books & Stationery opening a new store in Portland. I learned about it when I emailed an old friend and colleague from my workforce development days. His son, Josh Christie, happens to be manager of the new Sherman’s. They held their grand opening on Saturday. I covered it for the Bangor Daily News. Christie is also the author of one of the best books about Maine beers, Maine Beer: Brewing in Vacationland.

Grand opening at Sherman's on Exchange Street.

Grand opening at Sherman’s on Exchange Street.

The news about the Sherman’s opening came via my own network. I tapped it and it’s provided opportunities for me as a writer. I continue casting my freelance net widely, and I’ve been landing writing assignments more frequently. Yesterday, my news story about the grand opening appeared in the BDN. I wrote a prior story about bookstores across the state. I have another article in the works about Portland being Maine’s literary hub.

Saturday was nearly a perfect day for me. I got to write a story about things I consider important—books and bookstores. I covered it for a newspaper as a freelance writer, which is in line with my goal of upping the ante on my writing, especially the bylined variety. My writing portfolio has undergone a nice makeover with a rash of new articles, across a variety of topics.

One area I’ve become increasingly interested in is beer. While I’m not planning to follow Christie in writing a beer book, I think the subject of beer is one that offers opportunities, especially my own interest in the entrepreneurial aspects of beer, as well as a belief that not every micro-brew has to be an overly-hopped ale.

I referenced Maureen Ogle’s terrific book about brewing in America, Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer, in a previous post. Ogle’s book was interesting to me for a couple of reasons—she captured the important role that Germans (I’m German on my father’s side) had in America’s history of beer—and she also helped me understand why lagers are under-represented in craft brewing circles. Coupled with Christie’s tome on Maine’s beer revolution, I got a great crash course in beer culture and it’s helped propel me towards a couple of ideas I have for the future.

After wrapping up at Sherman’s on Saturday, I planned to meet up with Miss Mary for lunch. Since we’ve been on a quest to sample lobster rolls for the past few years and haven’t had one since late in the fall, I suggested that we officially launch Lobster Roll Quest 2014 Saturday afternoon.

I had scored parking on Commercial Street prior to heading to Sherman’s, not far from Becky’s Diner. Mary was parked north of Exchange Street. I suggested we rendezvous at Becky’s for a lobster roll. My lovely wife liked my thinking.

Beckys Sign02

Becky’s Diner-a Portland food destination.

Here’s what I like about Becky’s; the diner on Commercial Street, in an area of the city that remains a throwback to days past, is the kind of place on the waterfront that used to be the norm. These no frills places catered to fishermen and workers doing tough, often dirty work. These men (primarily) wanted hearty, no frills food. That’s Becky’s basically. It was the perfect spot for us to kick off lobster roll season, too. Say what? There’s a season for lobster rolls and a protocol for eating them? In our little world there is.

Mary and I have basic rules about lobster rolls. One of them is that you can’t eat lobster rolls year-round. This is kind of arbitrary and we’ve violated it from time to time. However, for us, lobster roll season usually wraps up in September, or early October when most of Maine’s seasonal lobster shacks shutter for the season. Then, a new season comes along again in April and early May when these places are opening back up for another year. Becky’s, of course, is open year-round, so if you choose, you can get a lobster roll in December or January, if you want. Just don’t tell us about it. And if Mary and I cheat, you won’t be reading about it at the JBE, either.

We agreed that Becky’s lobster roll meets most of our core criteria; buttered and grilled hot dog roll, stuffed with lobster meat that’s just slightly dressed with mayonnaise. One thing that Becky’s roll has that both of us frown upon is lettuce at the base of the roll, which is really a no-no for us. However, we’ll give Becky’s a pass on this because it’s Becky and we can do that.

After Becky’s, Miss Mary had to run over to Hannaford’s for a few things she couldn’t find at the Portland’s Saturday Farmers’ Market. I decided that I’d try to locate Bunker Brewing Company before heading north out of Portland for home.

I first tasted Bunker Brewing’s Machine Czech Pils at Salvage while checking out Portland’s newest BBQ joint in early February. The taste was very different than most local craft brews, especially the Geary’s, Shipyard style of hopped-up ales common in Portland beer circles. Not knowing exactly what it was, I began doing a bit of reading afterwards, which took me first to Ogle’s book and then Christie’s.

The Bunker website and Facebook page mentioned that the brewery had tastings Thursday through Saturday every week. I had a plan to visit the brewery before now. It’s  April and Saturday was when I finally made it over to Anderson Street.

If you’re not familiar with East Bayside, it’s a gritty (as Portland is now configured), industrial neighborhood that seems to be transitioning in its own kinder, gentler way. On Anderson, there’s Urban Farm Fermentory and the building that houses a few other food-related businesses (including Portland’s Winter Farmers’ Market). That’s where I thought Bunker was located. The person I asked told me that Bunker Brewing was a few doors down on Anderson.

Once I got pointed in the right direction, I saw a group of people sitting on the deck drinking beer at a place that looked like a garage, which it basically was, with a bunch of stainless steel holding tanks—I was at Bunker Brewing.

The sign.

The sign.

At 3:00 in the afternoon, things were fairly mellow, so I had a chance to chat up Joe, the Bunker tap man pouring taste samples. As soon as he set me up with their dark bock, a large group walked in the door. Beer in hand, I peeked out the back door and sitting in the parking lot was the Maine Brew Bus.

I’d read about this beer tasting on wheels and thought I’d like to try it sometime. Well, here they were and I spoke briefly with founder, Mark Stevens.

Bunker serves their beer samples in a small mason jar for a measly $1 per tasting. For about 6 ounces of beer that’s a deal, and then, when it’s their flagship pilsner, or a dark bock like the one on tap Saturday, it’s a beer-lover’s driveby fantasy come true.

Joe skillfully filling my Bunker growlette with Machine Czech Pils.

Joe skillfully filling my Bunker growlette with Machine Czech Pils.

What I especially liked about Bunker on Saturday was the space’s casual, homey vibe, Joe’s knowledge and willingness to talk about their beer, and how they make first-time visitors feel like they are simply tapping a keg in the backyard; no hassles and no trouble. This really worked to make my visit perfect because in the past, when I’ve showed up for some of Portland’s “latest flavor of the month,” events, I’ve picked up on a “you’re bothering me” hipster-style customer service vibe that I find really off-putting and is way too easy to run into in the city, especially certain circles connected to food and drink.

If Saturday is the norm for summer lobster rolling and trolling for food and drink, summer 2014 should be a stellar one.

6 thoughts on “Lobster Roll Season Opens

  1. You know what this article tells me?

    That it was warm in Portland yesterday. Rolled up sleeves on the barkeep, the man in the background with a tee-shirt. Dead giveaways.

    But it is sad to see how Maine is so far behind in recovering local beermaking, as opposed to an ale house in every town. England is fighting this hard, the last of the local, “free” pubs are getting squeezed hard by the corporate SOBs, but even in my little village there were two pubs carrying not only the nationals, but local ales produced right in the same village. If you knew where to find the little pubs out in the farm villages, the seasonal ales that pop up all over are a treat.

    http://www.cambridge-camra.org.uk/ They are fighting to keep what we lost a long time ago, and maybe never had to the extent that they had. Perhaps you might find some ideas in here.

  2. LP, I don’t know how you came to the conclusion that Maine is”far behind in recovering local beermaking”. Maine is a Mecca for local beers with well over 2 dozen microbreweries (http://local-brew.tv/maine-breweries/). Amongst these, Allagash and Geary’s are making beers recognized as some of the world’s best beers. I’m also a big fan of Sebago, Baxter, and Maine Beer Company. Thanks to Jim, I’ll soon try Bunker. Jim has been talking recently about the lack of variety in Maine beer and microbrews in general. In his opinion, they are mostly ales and often too hoppy. Part of this is due to the water profile in Maine. Hard/alkaline water is good for hoppy robust beers. Pilsners are better brewed with softer water, which is not very prevalent in Maine.
    Anyways… the best pint I ever had was a Yorkshire Ale at the White Lion in Haworth. The aroma of Kent Golding hops knocked my socks off. The second best pint? Geary’s Hampshire Ale cask conditioned at the Great Lost Bear in Portland. I wish every place was as far behind in recovering local beermaking as Maine.

    • @Dave-I appreciate the comment. In fact, I was planning to say that while Maine might be behind in some things, local beermaking isn’t one of them. Actually, a city like Portland has quite a bit going for it and I’m finding out even more stuff in some research I’m doing for another article I’m working on.

      I have been intrigued by the ale vs. lager thing and your comment about the water is the first time I have heard that mentioned by anyone; here’s the thing–I had a short-lived gig in the mid-1990s, just after leaving CMP, when I was working for an outfit selling water treatment systems for high-end homes. There is a great deal of the state afflicted with “hard” water that also has a high alkaline content. This would make sense.

      Interestingly, probably the best water in Maine for softness and drinkability is Portland’s, which comes from Sebego Lake, btw. I’m just throwing it out there that Portland could use one more brewery producing a craft-brewed lager, because at least given Maine’s water profile, this would be the best place to brew lagers.

      You’ll definitely have to check out Bunker Brewing–actually, the Great Lost Bear may have their pilsner on tap and if so, we’ll have to host a couple next Wednesday.

      @LP, I’ll definitely check out the link. I hope to get the chance to get across the pond at some point and try some of these English ales that everyone raves about.

  3. Re your last line: indeed. I plan to make my first official lobster roll of the season for Marathon Monday, as well as a big pot of bisque. (A yearly thing.) Re lettuce on lobster rolls. Not cool. Definitely not cool. 😉 Finally, re beer: a new home brew store is opening down the street from us. Amazing how much that market has grown! Here’s to a wonderful summer 2014!

  4. Devo, I appreciate your enthusiastic support of Maine’s beermakers, and that is a great list that you provided. I was especially pleased to see development away from Portland and the coast. As Jim noted, they are heavy on ales, but that’s the entry mix.

    My comment, though, was not really about the quality of the brews. What I wrote was, “.. it is sad to see how Maine is so far behind in recovering local beermaking, as opposed to an ale house in every town.”

    My village in England had its own ale (four varieties), and two freehouses. This was a village of maybe 3,000. It had four pubs until shortly before my arrival. I could go in any direction in the surrounding countryside, and in addition to finding uncured bacon from pigs reared in the open fields and grassfed beef because, well, that’s what you feed beeves, not grain, I could find a local ale in any pub that wasn’t owned by a chain. They varied by the season with what grains were available, and the best prizes were found in late autumn. Each town, each county, each region with its own pubs right there in the village.

    The forms are different, but all over continental Europe they are similar–local restaurants with Stammtisch, local meeting houses, local biergartens. Places locals walked to, and there they eat and drink with the parents of other children in their schools, the teachers as well, their team mates, landlords and tenants. In my village, nothing happened that wasn’t first vetted through the pubs.

    What pub is within walking distance of your house? Within walking distance of Jim? What is the local Durham brew? I suppose you could say Yarmouth has one, but do you have a pub that you walk down to on a warm evening? Where do you go to socialize with the parents of your daughter’s peers?

    As you can see, what’s missing is the local component. This is not new. You can google my name and find articles from a century ago by a namesake about Maine’s obsession with alcohol. Why isn’t there a pub on Main Street in Lisbon Falls, with ales and ciders from just up the road towards Bowdoin? Why were the only bars I ever knew in Lisbon dark, windowless and frightening? Granted, this is a societal problem, one closely tied to our petrochemical addiction and religious obsessions, and the brewers certainly can’t fix it on their own. But until society turns that diection, the brewers will never reach their full flower, either.

    Maine’s independent brewers are off to a great start after far more than a century of absence. It’s up to us to press them to step up to ever better beers, and to create the social environment that let’s those beers be appreciated to the fullest.

    • Loosehead Prop (Dave), I completely agree with you. I would love to have a variety of local pubs to walk to, to socialize with my neighbors, and to build community. There are a handful of places in Maine and throughout the country that have this, but it is the rare exception, not the rule. In Yarmouth, the closest thing we have is Gather, a farm to table restaurant with a small selection of local brews. It is within walking distance for me, but that’s because I don’t mind walking 1.5 miles for a beer. It’s not just around the corner (good thing!)

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