Our Maine Beer Weekend continues! After a busy Friday night in Bangor, we hit the road for the Carrabessett Valley Saturday morning. Our destination tonight was the Stratton Brook Hut, part of the Maine Huts & Trails network. On our way there, we passed along the outskirts of Skowhegan, and spotted a sign for Oak Pond Brewing, so of course we had to stop!
Brewer Adam Chandler was working that day, but took the time to share a few samples with us, and tell us about the brewery. The brewey opened in 1996, with the current owners now in their 12th year of operation. Operating on a 14 BBL (16 hl) brewhouse from DME, they offer both ales and lagers for sale at the brewery and bars across the state. They also do a brisk growler and keg business, as witnessed by the many visitors we spotted this Saturday afternoon.
We sampled the Nut Brown Ale, Skowhegan India Pale Lager onsite, and grabbed a bottle of the Storyteller Doppelbock to go. The brewery is open M-F 3-5:30pm, and Sat 12:30-5:30pm, and they are happy to lead a tour of their facilities at any time (except Monday, which is their brewday). Their motto is a great one: Try it ’cause it’s local… drink it ’cause it’s good! FYI, they are cash only, so come prepared. We weren’t, but Adam was gracious enough to accept some Canadian cash instead. 🙂
Back on the road, we arrived and parked at the trailhead for the Stratton Brook Hut, just across Highway 27 from Mountainside Grocers and the entrance to Sugarloaf ski hill. We were setting off on our hike at the same time as a delightful lady named Donna, and so we hiked together. As Donna had stayed at this hut before, she shared her previous experience with us, and was looking forward to a return visit. There are two trails up to the Hut from this trailhead. On our way up, we chose the 5km Oak Knoll Trail and as the hill is quite steep, there were plenty of switchbacks. The walk up was completely enjoyable and could be completed by those of varying skill level, though novices may require a break or two. It was well suited to mountain biking, with carved turns, and we did spot of few bikers along the way. It also happened to be the day of the Baxter Brewing Duathlon, featuring 50 entrants biking 15km and then running 10km along the trail system.
When we reached the summit, there was one thing on our minds, A NICE COLD BEER! And lucky for us, they had a great list of local beers for us to try. After Megan and Alex (the full-time staff at the hut this summer) checked us in, we slugged back an Allagash White and Rising Tide Maine Island Trail Ale. Our first impression of the “hut” was that this was no hut! Built in 2012, it was very well-appointed: The main building featured family-sized dining tables, suitable for 40 people, as well as a cozy lounge area with leather armchairs, sofas and two wood stoves. It also featured hot showers (and cold ones too, perfect after our hike up!). As they are open year-round, the wood stoves would be a welcome sight to a chilly climber or cross-country skier. At the reception counter, they also have a large selection of hot drinks, snacks, and any camping/sleeping accessories one may have forgotten to bring. Lunch was prepared fresh and available 11:30-1:30pm to guests, whether there only for the day, or overnight. There were fresh flowers everywhere and we later learned these were picked from both employee homes and along the trail up to the hut.
We made our way to our bunkroom and dropped our things. Our room had only one light and a bunk bed (folks are asked to bring their own bed linen), but it was very clean and roomy enough for us. Maine Huts and Trails prides themselves on being environmentally-responsible and urge you to leave electronic devices home and/or ensure they are charged before-hand. The washrooms have composting toilets and timed showers in an effort to reduce waste and save water. There are solar panels outside and there are signs everywhere that read “Pack in, pack out” referring to encouraging minimal garbage and reducing refuse.
After taking a short walk to Vista Point to view a lookoff, and spending some time in the lounge tasting a couple more beers (for R&D of course!), we got ready for that nights event. It was a chef-prepared, 4 course meal using as much local fare as possible paired with Baxter beers. We got an introduction of each course and to each beer by Chef Jarod Frigon and Baxter Brewing‘s Director of Brewing Operations Ben Low, and Brewer Matty Johanes, respectively. We were lucky to be seated at the table with folks from both Maine Huts & Trails and Baxter Brewing, and everyone was warm and friendly and handled our incessant questions admirably.
Our first course was several breads, cheeses, roasted tomatoes, fresh basil, and caramelized onions served buffet style. The vegetables and herbs were grown and harvested from around the huts. The first beer was Pamola Xtra Pale Ale, a 4.9% ABV APA whose hoppy aroma and bitterness worked well with the onions and basil.
The second course was a salad with fresh greens and raspberries, both picked at the huts. It also had goat cheese, slivered almonds and pears poached in red wine. The second beer was Summer Swelter, a 4.7% ABV unfiltered ale with kaffir lime leaves and lots of citrus notes.
Our third course was chicken pieces that were brined overnight and roasted root vegetables including: carrots in a sweet glaze, white turnips, and beets. There were also “smashed” potatoes which were roasted potatoes that had been smashed flat, seasoned and roasted a second time to crisp them. The murmers around the now-quiet table were in agreement that everything was delicious! The third pairing was a two-fer, as the brewers wanted to enhance the caramel and malt character from the Tarnation California Common beer, and use the hop bitterness from the Stowaway IPA to cut.
Our final course was a brownie topped with chocolate mousse and homemade vanilla bourbon ice cream. There was also homemade raspberry coulis and a garnish of pecans candied in brown sugar with a hint of cayenne pepper. Our fourth and favourite beer of the dinner was their Munich Dunkel infused with Ethiopian Harrar Coffee. A perfect note to end on!
A big thanks to Chef Frigon and his sous chefs for the evening! While dinner was being cleaned up, some folks chose to retire for the night but the folks that stayed were treated to an intimate performance by Megan, who with Alex, are members of the band Exit Glaciers. Afterwards, a combination of the hike, the beers, the large supper and the soft music had everyone in bed at a decent time.
The next morning, breakfast was served promptly at 7:30 am and it was fantastic. There was expertly cooked bacon, scrambled and seasoned eggs and homemade flaxseed biscuits that were extraordinary. We then showered, packed up and headed down the hill, but this time on the Newton’s Revenge trail, for a change in scenery. We’d been surprised at what a great evening we’d had and headed excitedly towards The Forks for our next adventure, at Northern Outdoors. Stay tuned tomorrow for part four of our Maine Beer Weekend adventure!
Thanks very much to Maine Huts & Trails for having us for the event. MHT is a non-profit organization that manages four backcountry eco-lodges (with several more coming soon), and more than 100 km of multi-use, year-round trails. Hiking, biking, snowshoeing, and skiing are the most common way to travel to, and between, the huts. The huts are open year-round, with full services available in the summer and winter, with staff preparing hot cooked meals (supper, breakfast and a self-prepared trail lunch is included in the overnight stay rate). In the spring and fall, the huts are self-service, with guests packing in their own food, and have access to the commercial kitchen. More details are available on their website. They are holding guided hikes, bikes, paddling, photographic and bird watching tours throughout the fall, with several events happening each week. Of particular interest are the 3rd Annual Harvest at the Hut dinner, coming September 19th at the Stratton Brook Hut.