In Maine, we like to think that by drinking our craft-brewed beer you’re getting a taste of our state’s heritage. We quietly pioneered the craft-brew movement before it became trendy. Here in Maine, craft breweries flourish because they produce the best tasting beer, not because they’ve been featured in the latest food blog. Our tradition of craft brewing has now extended into the arena of craft distilleries, with seven craft distilleries opening across Maine since 2005. Handcrafted bottles of vodka, gin, apple brandy, whiskey and blueberry moonshine are produced right here in Maine. Many of the distilleries are open for tours and all reflect the flavors and traditions of Maine.
Maine Distilleries, LLC, is the granddaddy of Maine craft spirits. Their craft empire now includes Cold River Vodka, Cold River Blueberry Vodka, and their newest addition to the craft spirits family: Cold River Gin. The distillery proudly sources only Maine-grown potatoes and uses fresh, pure Maine water from the Cold River Aquifer. Maine Distilleries is the only “ground-to-glass” distillery in the nation, giving them unparalleled control over their small-batch production process. Their specialized process begins with planting and harvesting Maine potatoes, extends to their triple-distillation process and bottling method, and ends with a bottle of their handcrafted spirits being used for artisan cocktails in Portland or a good old-fashioned shot while ice fishing on the Kennebec River. Maine Distilleries’ Cold River Blueberry Vodka is a testament to the distillery’s commitment to sourcing only local Maine ingredients for their product. In this special spirit, Maine potatoes meet Maine blueberries from Wyman’s of Maine in a perfect Maine union. No visit to Freeport is complete without a stop at the Cold River Distillery (call ahead for times).
Tree Spirits, located in Waterville, concocts wine and spirits inspired by all that the trees of Maine have to offer. Their maple syrup is sourced from The Bacon Farm in Sidney, their cider is pressed from apples and pears harvested from the Apple Farm in Fairfield. Tree Spirits’ co-founders, Bruce Olsen and Steve Buchsbaum, are inspired by Maine’s farm-to-table renaissance and hope that their distillery will grow with the movement. Try their small-batch Knotted Maple in a “hot knotty” or “mapletini,” and sip their limited edition pear brandy on the rocks – that’s how Bruce takes his.
Bartlett Winery has been making carefully handcrafted wine from Maine-grown blueberries and other fruit since 1975. Starting in 2007, they applied that expertise and their love of Maine’s bounty to the creation of Bartlett Spirits of Maine Distillery. Their award-winning spirits include Fine Apple Brandy, a crystal-clear Pear Eau-de-Vie, and their new Rusticator Rum. Their newest offering is distilled in small batches using organic molasses, creating robust aromas of vanilla, toffee and cigar smoke that promise a long, sweet finish. Such beautiful craftsmanship deserves a beautiful showcase, which you’ll find in the Bartlett Winery tasting room. Located in Gouldsboro on the Schoodic Peninsula, they are open from June-October or off season by appointment.
Chief Distiller Luke Davidson opened his distillery, Maine Craft Distilling with like-minded friends in Portland after dreaming of a way to combine Maine’s tradition of community, commitment to sustainable agriculture, and his own desire for the perfect whiskey. The result is Maine Craft Distilling and their unique and vibrant spirit offerings. Stop by their shop and sample their Alchemy Gin, Ration Rum, and exceptional botanical spirits.
The craft distilleries of Maine highlighted here are only a gateway into all the distillery stops one should make on a craft tour of Maine. There’s Northern Maine Distilling Co. of Houlton, New England Distilling of Portland and Sweetgrass Farm Distillery in Union, to name a few other essential stops. Each small-batch distillery in Maine is distinctive in its own right and representative of Maine’s authenticity and commitment to the craft-movement. Buzz words? Maybe. But for us, small-batch, craft-brewed and distilleries that only source local ingredients are just the way we’ve always celebrated the spirit of Maine.