Our Maine Beer Weekend continues! After a lovely beer dinner and evening at the Stratton Brook Hut, we headed East to The Forks, a town with a year-round population of 35 people… and 6 bars! It is also the home of Northern Outdoors, an adventure resort open year-round for people visiting for Appalachian Trail thru-hikes, fishing, hunting, ATV, biking, snowmobiling, and of course, white water rafting. Opened in 1976, they were the first company to offer guided rafting in the region. Their lodging facilities range from hotel rooms in the main lodge, beautiful large private cabins (each with room for 8-14 people), smaller cabins for couples, Logdominium units (a condo-type building with large open loft rooms with sleeping for up to 6), plus permanent “cabin tents” and spots to set up your own tent or RV.
We arrived a little too early in the day to check in, but were happy to take a breather in the main lodge, log onto the free wifi, and do some exploring. The resort has a large pond to kayak in, a pool, hot tub, a gift shop, an arcade, and a beautiful fireplace that would keep guests warm in the winter. There are trails on the grounds, and we were given a list and directions to some nearby waterfalls and other hikes worth doing. After our excursion, it was time for a beer! We ordered the sampler tray of their current offerings, and headed out to deck to enjoy the beautiful weather and a game of cornhole. The eight beers available during our visit were: Deer In the HeadLite, a 4.1% ABV light lager brewed as a gateway beer for those new to full flavoured beers; Whitewater Wheat, a 5.2% ABV Witbier with light coriander and orange flavours, characteristic of the Belgian originals; Let ‘Er Drift Summer Ale, a very drinkable 4.9% Pale Ale with Cascade hops and lemon zest; Big Mama Blueberry, a 4.8% golden ale with a touch of blueberry flavour; Bawston Bock, a 7.2% Maibock beer; Magic Hole IPA, a 6.0% ABV hoppy and bitter IPA, complete with dry hops; Sled Head Red, a 5.2% malt-forward Red Ale with a very smooth character; Class V Stout, a 5.6% roasty stout served on nitrogen, for a creamy texture. All were very well made, and definitely thirst-quenching.
The Kennebec River Brewery is actually located in the basement of the main lodge. The 4 barrel (5 hl) system was commissioned in 1996, and has been going great guns ever since, serving the pub upstairs for onsite pints, and growlers to go. All of their beer is unfiltered, and keg conditioned, for a very smooth and flavourful end product. They also feature whole leaf hops and local ingredients whenever possible (in fact, they have been growing hops onsite for a few years now). We spotted some bags of Maine Malt House in the brewery, destined for the next batch of Let ‘Er Drift Summer Ale. Brewer Mike McConnell was nice enough to sit and have a drink with us, after returning from that day’s Kennebec River run. He was a very nice guy, dedicated to bringing quality craft beer to the area. He has been with Northern Outdoors for many years, after starting brewing in Rhode Island more than 20 years ago. In addition to brewing, also leads rafting tours, and grooms the snowmobile trails in the winter. He does it all!
Erin was a little nervous to do the rafting trip the next day but Mike did his best to assure her she would love it (and she did!). Mike took Chris down to the brewery and showed him around, and gave a great overview of his brewing philosophy. Some of his special one-offs brews, including a Hazelnut Brown and Bourbon Vanilla Porter have us feeling like we’ll need to return in the cooler months! In a town with a population of only 35, they still manage to go through lots of beer year-round!
After talking with Mike, we grabbed a bit of supper. They have a wide variety of pub and finer fare, with the ability to build your own burger from scratch. Several of their dishes are prepared using their beer, and pairing notes are found throughout the menu. After supper, we decided to check into our Logdominium. The building is similar to a motel: a large building with separate units, and parking right at your front door. However, the inside atmosphere is much like a log cabin, with exposed wood. It was very roomy and perfect for a family or group of 6. The downstairs had a kitchenette with stove and fridge (perfect for keeping a Kennebec growler cool) and a picnic table style dining area, a couch and chairs, a double bed, and a bathroom. The stairs lead to a loft area with another single and double bed.
After a great night sleep, we had a very light breakfast (so that we didn’t lose it on the river!), and headed on our rafting adventure. After a quick briefing in the main lodge, we took the 40 minute bus ride to the launch site on the Kennebec River. We launched right below Harris Station dam, which has a daily timed release of water. For those more adventurous (maybe our next trip?), there are high Turbine Test Days at Harris Station, as well as rafting on the Penobscot and Dead rivers, which offer more Class IV and IV+ rafting. Today on the Kennebec, there were 17 rafts in all, with more than 100 people on the river. Our awesome rafting guide named Emily was very knowledgeable and capable, and we were joined by a lovely family of five from Boston, who had done this trip before and had come back because they loved it so much.
For the first hour on the river, we hit some great and exciting white water and all managed to get soaked. No one fell out of the raft, but there were certainly some tense moments. We then stopped along the riverside for lunch, with the guides BBQing up steak, chicken, and veggies options everyone, along with a great rice side. They also served lemonade, ice tea, cowboy coffee, with fresh-baked cookies for dessert. It was such a beautiful day, we’d all dried quickly, so some people got in the water for a quick swim before we got back on the water.
With full bellies, we hit the water again and this time, each raft towed behind it a two-person inflatable kayak. We took turns taking the kayak out by ourselves, to test our river mettle. The current was strong that there wasn’t much work to do. However, we did manage to tip the kayak over (oops!), but the dunk in the drink was refreshing. Along this quieter part of the Kennebec, many of us hopped out of the raft (on purpose this time!), and floated alongside the raft. All along this whole trip, a pair of videographers in kayaks were documenting our day, and photographers were at various points on the river to capture pictures of the rafters. Once the river ride was over, we all hoisted our rafts up the bank, and loaded into the bus for the short five minute ride back to the resort.
After a fun look at the pictures and videos captured from our day on the river, we had a great visit with Russell Walters, President of Northern Outdoors. He hails originally from the U.K., and first visited and worked with Northern Outdoors in the 1980’s as a river guide. After a stint elsewhere, he joined the Northern Outdoors family in 2000 because of his love of the outdoors and the year-round adventure opportunities. He was a great guy who really believes in unplugging, spending time with family, and enjoying the outdoors as much as possible. He still guides rafts occasionally, to return to the passion that brought him to the region.
Thanks very much to Russell, Mike, and the entire Northern Outdoors crew! We had a great time on the river (and at the bar!), and are looking forward to a return visit soon. Be sure to check out their October 3rd Octoberfest Raft ‘n Brews event, which marks the last running on the Dead River for 2015, a BBQ cookout after the river run, and $3 Octoberfest pints all day, and live entertainment that evening.