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.
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.
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.
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.
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.