Tag Archives: Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip, 10/8/17: Migrants and Malts.

Our 8th tour of the year with our partners, The Maine Brew Bus, ventured to Maine’s deep south and toured around the village of Kittery.

October in Maine can produce all sorts of surprises, and Fort Foster is a great place to find the unexpected. We started off with this BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO, a very late individual, that unlike most members of its species paused for photographs and long, satisfying views.

Another treat was an “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow on the beach and a nice little wave of Yellow-rumped Warblers among the residents in the woods, but then our biggest surprise of the morning – a wide band of steady rain! The rain impacted our visit (for the second year in a row!) to Seapoint Beach, but a small pocket of activity on the seaweed included at least 5 Northern Mockingbirds (one burst into song, despite the rain), 6 Yellow-rumped Warblers, and 2 Eastern Phoebes. Several adult Northern Gannets were just offshore, which was another highlight.

“Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow that breeds exclusively on Sable Island, Nova Scotia.

With rain still falling, I skipped the walk at the beach, and instead made a couple of short stops where we were able to hang by the bus. 20+ Bonaparte’s Gulls were off the Kittery Town Landing, and by the time we arrived at Legion Pond to enjoy 3 spiffy Wood Ducks among the masses of Mallards, the rain not only stopped but the sun began to return.

The first stop on the brewery tour was Woodland Farms Brewery, which opened only this February – but from the looks of things, had already gained quite a following! There, we sampled four brews from this lager-centric brewery. Very traditional and well-executed styles included Wolf Haven Extra Special Bitter (ESB) with a nice depth of flavor to balance the bitterness, and the Rowanbrau, a Dortmunder-style golden lager with a super-crisp-finish. We started with their light Cervaza Medico, a Mexican lager with a subtle sweetness from corn, and finished with a hop-forward Backyard Scientist IPL. A lot can be done with a lager, far beyond the basic American mass-produced swill, so it was a good lesson for us in the range of the technique.

We learned about the benefits and limitations of focusing on lagers, and the methods that produce this style of beer, which we then contrasted with ales on our second stop, Tributary Brewing Company, where a wide range of traditional and modern styles were sampled. Starting with Oktoberfest, a perfectly-simple and clean version of the traditional German-style marzen, we finished with their Oyster Stout (anything but traditional), with subtle notes of minerality.  In between, we tasted their Blueberry to find out what a beer with blueberries in the mash can really taste like (subtle, not in your face, and not overtly sweet at all) and their Pale Ale, their basic, but delectable flagship. In all cases, flavors were meant to be simple and subtle, complement the “basic” beer flavors and not overpowering them.

While comparing and contrasting this subtle, delicate use of flavors, it was not surprising that a discussion of “pumpkin/pumpkin spice” beers came up, and so Ian tapped the unfinished Pumpkin for us to sample – even though it was still weeks away from being ready and was un-carbonated. We were duly impressed, as the subtle flavors were quite apparent, and it offered insight into the brewing process as well, which is something we work hard on offering during these special tours.

With temperatures in the low 70’s, the rain was merely a nuisance, and it definitely impacted the middle part of our birding adventure. Regardless, a birding tour that begins with crippling views of a Black-billed Cuckoo and ends with stunning Wood Ducks is still a real winner! And if not, there was some great beer to enjoy and learn about!

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! “Beach and Brews,” 7/16/17

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The third new Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! itinerary of 2017 with our partners, the Maine Brew Bus, was a resounding success on Sunday, July 16th. The working title had been “Beach and Brews,” but I think “Terns and Taps” might be the new title. Whatever it ends up getting called, expect to see this outing return next year. It’s a winner!

Timing our visit to Hill’s Beach for the incoming tide, we thanked our friends at Buffleheads restaurant for giving us permission to park the bus in their lot. Nearby, we crossed over to the beach and began our birding adventure.
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Shorebirds and birders had to share the sand with many other beachgoers, but at Hill’s, there’s room enough for most everyone. Gulls had assembled along the western end of the beach, so we started with a quick gull identification workshop, sorting out tiny Bonaparte’s Gulls from massive Great Black-backed Gulls, and separating Herring from Ring-billed Gulls in between.
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Scattered shorebirds were here and there, but the action really started, as usual, as we crested the Basket Island Sandbar and scanned the rapidly-inundating flats to its east.  A growing number of shorebirds – already heading south (yup, it’s fall in the shorebird world!) included at least 50 total Short-billed Dowitchers and about 20 Semipalmated Sandpipers.
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We quickly learned how to pick out Endangered Roseate Terns from the ubiquitous Common Terns – one of the target species of the trip. With practice, we learned it’s not as hard as some field guides suggest to separate these species, using a combination of size, relative tail length, wingbeats, and overall color. Hint: Roseates are the white ones. (Photo from a here on a different day above).

A growing contingent of gulls at this end eventually included a spiffy adult Lesser Black-backed Gull; an unexpected treat in mid-summer, and a nice way to cap our introduction to the gull identification lesson.
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(Photo from another time and place)

All too soon, however, it was time to depart, but as we turned around I spottan interesting bird. One lone Willet, a tall but hefty shorebird, was standing on the flats. It struck my eye as very godwit-like, which got my heart racing at first. Tall, lanky, and very long-billed, a godwit-like gestalt is typical of the “Western” Willet, a subspecies that is rare but regular in Maine in fall, but very rare here in mid-summer.

Out of expected season, I was very careful in sorting through the salient features, and I admit to waffling a little about its identification at first. As we got closer, however, details became more apparent, such as the very long and thinner bill that suggested a hint of an upturn. It flew across the sandbar, landing close by, and in much better light, showing the overall grayer plumage, and paler undersides with considerably less markings than the browner and heavily-marked “Eastern” subspecies which breeds around here. It also began to wade in the water to feed, a behavior very typical of “Westerns.”
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Although our Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series is not necessarily focused on the challenging aspects of serious birding, like nuanced subspecific identification, the group admitted they enjoyed the process (and admittedly, enjoyed seeing me perplexed for a bit!). Having had our fill of the unexpected unseasonable rarity, we crossed the peninsula to the Park in the Pines to view the muddier flats of The Pool. There, at least a hundred “Eastern” Willets were present in their preferred habitat, but unfortunately, they weren’t close enough to really compare plumage details.

Scanning across the flats, we were able to sort through the masses, even though few shorebirds were very close here today, including a few Black-bellied Plovers and a stately Whimbrel – it’s disproportionally long, downcurved bill always nice to see.

And there’s no better way to celebrate a rare bird (or two today, the “Western” Willet and the Lesser Black-backed Gull) than with a beer or two. There’s also no better way to relax after a long walk on the beach on a sultry summer day than with a beer.

Good thing it was time for Don to take over, and guide us to Barreled Souls, our first brewery stop on the day’s itinerary. And they could not have started us off with a better first sample, the salty and refreshing Space Gose – perfect after a hot day on the beach.

Co-owner and operator Matt Mills was a gracious host, and shared with us their operation, methodology, and brewing philosophy. Fermenting 100% of their beer in barrels via a Burton-Union system and also ageing everything in barrels makes for some very unique and interesting flavors (I recommend checking out the “About Us” page of their website, linked here, for more information). They wanted to be different and stand out from an every-growing, crowded field, making big, malty, and high-alcohol beers but now including offerings of almost every variety.
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As we learned about the brewing process, Kristi kept us hydrated with additional samples, including the MEmosa, a take on a “beer mimosa” featuring lots of orange zest in a light blonde ale with a lemony hop profile. Next up was Transformer, a new pale ale that features rotating hops (this incarnation used Amarillo and Idaho 7).
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Fun (and for some, games)…
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..were had by all, especially after changing things up with Dark Matter, a big and bold 10.1% sweet dark ale, similar to a stout or porter, but much sweeter. Their description was simply a quote from NASA: “We are much more certain what dark matter isn’t than what it is.”  But what it definitely was today was a favorite for most of the group.

Don and I love to offer special opportunities on our Roadtrips, and today was no different. Just a half-mile away, we were the first tour group to visit the new production facility for Barreled Souls. In a mere three years they have so far outgrown their current space that they are increasing their production space from a mere 700 square feet to an incredible 7800 square feet!
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Including a custom-built, climate-controlled “cellar” to house their Burton-Union system.
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Back on the bus, we discussed our favorite beers, and Don introduced our next brewery, South Portland’s Fore River Brewing Company – a real neighborhood brewery nestled into the Ligonia section of town.
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Don took us on a tour of their brewhouse, as we sampled their Spring Point, a Belgian whit, smooth and lemony, with a distinct biscuit finish.
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Next up was their Timberhitch Irish Red, another favorite on the day for this group. It was sweet, with just the right amount of hoppiness, and with a sweet and malty finish. Last but certainly not least was the Lygonia IPA, a clear and crisp IPA with pleasant notes of tropical fruits. This round was enjoyed out on the “patio,” a lush lawn full with picnic tables reclaimed from the site of a former salt barn.
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But as we know, all good tours must come to an end, so it was time to say goodbye, celebrate our life birds and life beers, and make the short jaunt north to our Portland and then Freeport drop-off sites.
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Endangered terns and migrant shorebirds with a couple of rarities mixed in. The only 100% Burton-Union brewery in the country making some really unique brews and a fun and successful neighborhood brewery featuring some of the area’s most popular styles. I think it’s safe to say that we will see you aboard for this tour in 2018!

(By the way, as of the writing of this, we still have one space left for our next Birds on Tap Roadtrip! “Shorebirds and Beer” on Sunday, August 13th.

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Warblers and Wort.

Whether from a guide’s perspective or a participant, one of the great benefits of the Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! series of tours with The Maine Brew Bus is that no matter what the weather, no matter what the season, the breweries WILL be there. The same, obviously, cannot always be said for the birds, especially when rain and wind is forecast. Well, they will be there, but whether or not we get to see them is an entirely different thing.

And the forecast for Mother’s Day was not good. One of the local forecaster’s simply called it a “complete wash-out.” But rescheduling these events, outside of winter, is a real challenge, and like I said, we can at least guarantee that the breweries will be dry and open! Certainly, the radar, as we departed Portland, did not offer much in the way of optimism.
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But despite the forecast, the May 14th “Warblers and Wort” Roadtrip was anything but a washout. In fact, half of the birding was done without a drop of rain and even a little filtered sun. But yeah, the first stop was rather damp.

We began at the Waterboro Barrens Preserve in Shapleigh, where we enjoyed numerous and conspicuous Eastern Towhees. Several people commented that they had never seen so many towhees, and seen them so well. But with light rainfall falling steadily, the birding was rather slow. We only heard one Prairie Warbler, did not locate a single Field Sparrow, but we were quite pleased to have a singing Red Crossbill fly over. We did get to see a rather rare habitat for Maine – managed Pitch Pine-Scrub Oak barrens – and we compared the forest composition within the reserve to the degraded woods outside the property. We didn’t see all of the denizens of this specialized habitat, but plans were made for return visits on drier days.
Waterboro Habitat
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Female Red Crossbill and a Chipping Sparrow, from a different time and place.

Our second stop conveniently took place in the midst of a break in the precipitation. Unfortunately, wet, winding roads slowed down our transit, I spent a few more minutes than I should have at Waterboro, and a little communication error led to us falling well behind schedule. Therefore, we were on a mission as we marched into the Jagolinzer Preserve in Limington.
Group at Jagolinzer

This beautiful little spot, which was one of my favorite discoveries while writing my new book, Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide is home to several territories of the localized Louisiana Waterthrush – a bird that today’s group was really hoping to see. As soon as we reached the river, we heard one singing, and then, in my favorite viewing spot, got one to immediately pop out of cover and provide unusually long and unimpeded views as he was clearly challenging the bird singing across the river.
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Meanwhile, a rather confiding Veery competed for our attention. We would have worked harder for more of the breeding warblers here – this was “Warblers and Wort” afterall – but we celebrated our Louie success – the primary “target” of this visit.

The mixed woodlands here, and the deciduous-dominated riparian corridor on the banks of the Saco River were in marked contrast to the rather homogeneous pine barrens. A larger sample of the birdlife would show some significant differences in resultant avian species composition.
Jagolinzer Habitat
If “Louisiana Waterthrush Habitat” was listed in the dictionary, this picture would be it definition.

All too soon Andy, our driver and beer guide for the day, had to crack the whip and get us on our way. Back in the bus, we shed layers, and Andy took over on the microphone as we weaved our way back around Sawyer Mountain and over to Limerick’s Gneiss Brewing Company, fueled by our kale and feta hand pies for lunch.

Not only had they opened just for us, they fired up the woodstove, and we rapidly dried out the remnants of that rain in Waterboro. Concentrating on classic German styles, we learned about Gneiss’s brewing philosophy and operation. Having produced 400 barrels last year, plans are in the works for future expansion and canning. We glimpsed a Wild Turkey strutting through the backyard as we toured the facility and sampled four of their beers.
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Beginning with their flagship Gneiss Weiss, a full-bodied wheat beer with low bitterness and a subtle hint of banana, we moved on to Sonnenschein, a crisp and well-balanced Kolsch. I really liked this beer; crisp, clean, and easy-drinking but with really good balance and flavor. Next up was Obsius, a stout brewed with roasted wheat and fermented with their house hefeweizen yeast, making for a subtle banana note to go along with the traditional roasty and nutty stout flavors.
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Last but not least, we were offered a sample of any one of their ten beers on tap at the moment, and on recommendation, I sampled Pyroclast, a collaboration with Orono Brewing Company. Starting with a potent golden ale, it was aged for 13 months in various barrels, including those of both red and white wines, with several rounds of various wild yeasts. The result was an ultra-complex brew with lots of fruity and tart flavors. And, with the Brettanomyces, just a little bit of funk.
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The second brewery on today’s itinerary was the production facility of Sebago Brewing Company in Gorham. It was fascinating to compare the size of the facility and equipment, and learning how craft beer is scaled up to accommodate growing demand. Ahead of the curve, opening their first brewpub way back (in the world of modern craft brewing, downright ancient) in 1998, Sebago now operates four brewpubs, and supplies cans and bottles around New England.
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A generous helping of seven samples of a wide range of their offerings helped guide us through the tour and the discussion, starting with Yellow on Friday, their Czech Pilsner. Light in body, crisp, and mellow, this was a rare lager from Sebago. Next up was the Red X, a pale ale recipe using red malt. This one-time brew was surprising – the palette is expecting a sweet amber from the color, but this is an illusion – it was light and dry like a typical pale. It was definitely unique, and I quite liked it.
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A single hopped pale ale featuring a new New Zealand hop variety offered some tangerine and bitter blood orange flavor, before we relaxed with a new stand-by, the light and refreshing session, Simmer Down. One of their new top-sellers, this was already the fourth release this year of what will likely be a new summer go-to, featuring lots of tropical fruit notes and low alcohol.
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Sebago’s number one seller is their Frye’s Leap IPA, which may be up to 60% of what they produce in a month these days. Citrus and a touch of pine are featured in this classic IPA. Next up was one of my favorites from Sebago, the Whistlepunk DIPA, which has lots of citrus and other hop flavors, and although it’s a goodly 8% is not boozy to me. We then finished up with their Hop Yard Porter, with local hops, and a fairly light body for a porter.

Needless to say, we had all fully warmed up by now! The short trip to Portland and then on to Freeport, discussion revolved around the wide variety of beers that were sampled, and for many, life birds – especially the Louisiana Waterthrush – that were spotted. And the fact that it wasn’t even raining for the whole day; that is most definitely a win!

Birds on Tap: Gulls and Growlers!

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With windchills around -15F, even the gulls looked cold today. And there’s no way to sugar-coat it: it was brutally cold. The coldest temperatures in over a month – and one of the coldest days this entire winter – greeted the start of the first edition of the “Gulls and Growlers” tour in our “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” series with our partners, The Maine Brew Bus.

Donning plenty of layers, we hit the road and headed north to an unusual destination – well, only unusual if you’re not really, really into serious birding: the Hatch Hill Landfill in Augusta. And the swirl of birds that greeted us quickly explained why we were here on this bitter day.

1,000-1,500 Herring Gulls (with a few Great Black-backed Gulls sprinkled in) would rise up in a swirling cloud every time one of the 8-10 Bald Eagles made a close pass. Add to that 500 or so American Crows and a few hundred European Starlings, and you have a lot of biomass! We learned a little about aging of eagles as birds passed overhead and perched in the towering pines behind us. We sorted through the masses of gulls for any unusual species, and the sight of so many birds in one place allowed for us to forget about the cold – at least for a moment.
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My original plan was to spend 1 to 1 ½ hours here, watching and photographing eagles and studying gulls, hoping to tease out a rarity or at least foster an appreciation for just how approachable gull identification really is. But I’m also at least somewhat rational – well, unless I had spotted a rare gull! – so we knew when to say when and boarded the bus for a short ride to one of the local gull roosts.

At least 300 gulls were present, with dozens arriving every few seconds, so it would have been the perfect opportunity to carefully sort through them. Unfortunately, the 20+ mph wind was directly in our face. We soon moved on.

After a quick coffee/hot chocolate/bathroom stop – perhaps the most welcome stop of the day! – we shifted gears a bit and focused on the Kennebec River. Starting at Mill Park on the north side of Augusta’s downtown, we made several stops as we traveled south to Gardiner (often using the bus as a windbreak!).
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In doing so, we spotted at least 4 more Bald Eagles, and a tallied 132 Common Mergansers. In fact, the mergansers stole the show today, with several rafts actively displaying and some birds fishing in close proximity, diving into the strong current and surfacing between chunks of ice. It was a good count for this time of year, but we enjoyed uncommonly good views of many of the birds.
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We checked through a few small groups of gulls – mostly Herring and Ring-billed as expected – and even though we were freezing, we were reassured that spring is right around the corner thanks to the Turkey Vulture that was weeble-wobbling its way through the gusty winds over Gardiner.

Mike, our driver and beer guide for the day, took over as we traveled between our last few birding stops, offering an abbreviated history of alcohol in Maine, and for a dark period, lack there of. Maine was at the forefront of the Prohibition movement, but now, we are back at the forefront of local, innovative, and cutting edge production of beer, cider, spirits, and much more.

Our first stop in the beverage half of today’s tour was Lost Orchard Brewing/Crooked Halo Cidery where David Boucher and his father, Nick are doing some really “crazy” things with hard cider. By using all sorts of different yeasts and adding lots of creative ingredients, David is working to make “a traditional style untraditional” with his self-admitted “mad science.” And speaking of untraditional, their repurposing of an old church as their tasting room – complete with a bar on the alter, which Nick constructed from the wood of old pews – made for a very unique place to visit. They even offered to turn the organ on for us!
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Closed to the public in winter, they opened their doors just for us, and treated us to some special drinks. In fact, we were the first members of the public to sample their new Exodus, a McIntosh apple cider fermented with farmhouse yeasts and Brettanomyces, which made for a well-balanced cider that was just tart, sweet, and dry enough.

Genesis was drier, “more like an apple wine,” and Hellfire – a strawberry-jalapeno-infusion – played with our taste buds with sweet strawberry up front and a jalapeno burn on the back end. Sour Sister used sour cherries and four strains of souring yeasts, and then David dipped into their private reserve to tantalize us with Dante’s Inferno. Aged in cinnamon whiskey barrels loaded with cinnamon sticks, this is my new favorite cider – and one of the favorite drinks of the day for the group. Our only complaint was that they didn’t have anything bottled for sale at the moment; I know I would have left with a case of Dante’s Inferno!
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Heading south, our second stop was the brand-new Flight Deck Brewing in Brunswick. This was another special treat for the tour as they opened a mere two weeks ago, and we were the first tour group to visit. And we immediately saw first hand how well it has been received by the community, as the place was packed – as it has been since the day they opened; over 5,000 people were served in their first week alone!

Another really cool renovated building, Jared and Nate’s burgeoning brewery is housed in the former indoor small arms range of the Brunswick Naval Air Station. The path is paved with cement blocks cut from the walls to install windows, and they have an entirely electric, seven-barrel brewhouse run on 100% renewable energy from the old base’s micro-grid powered by solar and biomass.

Head brewer Jared described the process and their brewing philosophy, while Nate joined us to describe their unique system, location, and goals for the new business. Meanwhile, we sipped a few of their delicious beers. We started out the Pilot’s Porridge Oatmeal Stout, a “session stout” that was light in body compared to many stouts, and fairly low in alcohol, it still had the flavors we know and love in stouts.
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Our next beer was 44th Parallel IPA, a traditional and straightforward IPA, and one that will no doubt be a standby for locals. But for me personally, both were overshadowed by the Irish Breakfast. A pale ale base with a day-long steeping of Irish breakfast tea made for a unique and fun beer. The tea definitely stood out, but its bitterness and herbaceous-ness was balanced by a sweet, malty backbone. I’m getting into some of these tea-beers, and I think this is a solid effort (they were already out of their Hibiscus Tea beer that was my favorite on a recent “scouting mission” here).
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Winds were still howling, and temperatures- believe it or not – were dropping again, so we decided to forgo a search for Snowy Owls (none had been reported recently here, or we would have definitely cowboyed up!) and head home. While learning that Portland (well to the south of our sojourn today) reached a mere 17 degrees above zero, setting a new all-time record-low high temperature for the date didn’t make us feel any warmer, it certainly proved we earned our afternoon beverages!

While I can’t control the weather, or the birds, I do love the Birds on Tap – Roadtrips! because I know the beverages will always be there for us! And I believe this was a great itinerary that I look forward to leading again next year…hopefully with a few more degrees on the thermometer (and a little less wind!).

I have a feeling it will be warmer on the next eight Roadtrips we have in 2017, starting with the annual favorite, “Spring Ducks and Draughts” on Sunday, April 2nd. Oh, and by the way, as of today, there are only two spaces available! I hope to see you aboard one of our unique and exclusive trips, all of which are listed on our website.
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2017 Birds on Tap – Roadtrips!

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Freeport Wild Bird Supply and The Maine Brew Bus are excited to collaborate on ten great outings for 2017 in our popular and growing “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” (sm) series. The unique, relaxed birding and beer-ing adventures that you have come to love combine great local birding at seasonal hotspots with visits to sample the delicious creations of some of our favorite local breweries. These tours are a perfect introduction to birding and/or craft beer, and a great opportunity to travel with significant others, friends, and family that have interest in one topic, while your interest is primarily in the other (for now!). Seasonal birding hotspots and great local beer – a perfect combination, and we’ll even do all of the driving!

Who would have thought that, when I made that first call a year and a half ago to pitch the idea, we would not only be expanding to ten tours, but we would also featured in the Portland Press Herald (in the Food section no less) and Maine Public Radio. And then we went national via the Associated Press! (And for a little more about the history of our tour partnership, check out this blog entry from last year).

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For 2017, we have added several new itineraries, diversifying our birding and beering opportunities. We’ll visit breweries (and now a couple of cideries and distilleries, too!) from Newcastle to Kittery, and we’ll bird seasonal hotspots throughout southern Maine. Some of our most exciting new tours include March’s “Gulls and Growlers” where we’ll see dozens of eagles and look for rare gulls, and in July, we’ll spend a day at the beach looking at terns and shorebirds. In between, we’ll revisit all of our successful tours from 2016, including both Spring and Fall editions of Ducks and Draughts.

They still cost a mere $65 per person, which includes bird guiding, beer guiding, samples at both breweries, and round-trip transportation from Freeport or Portland.
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“Seaducks and Suds”
Sunday, February 12th – 9:00am-3:30pm.
(Snowdate: Sunday, Feb 19)
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This perennial favorite visits the rocky headlands of York County that host impressive concentrations of some of the most beautiful ducks in the world. This tour will head to two of the hotspots, seeking Harlequin Ducks, all three scoters, Common Eider (and maybe even a King, one of the most sought-after of North American waterfowl), and many others. Purple Sandpipers and alcids (including Razorbill, Black Guillemot, and if we’re lucky, Common or Thick-billed Murre, and perhaps, if the winds align, a Dovekie!). We’ll scan the ocean from The Nubble, looking for these species, and more, including Black-legged Kittiwakes and “white-winged” gulls. Afterwards, a casual stroll along Marginal Way will afford us the opportunity to get up close and personal with “Harlies” and Purple Sandpipers.

Breweries: SoMe Brewing Co. in York and Dirigo Brewing Co. in Biddeford.

“Gulls and Growlers”
SATURDAY, March 4 – 9:00am-3:30pm.
(Snowdate: SATURDAY, Mar 11)
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That’s right, we’re taking you on a tour to a landfill! While it might not be our most aesthetically-pleasing destination, the massive concentration of easy food can produce incredible concentrations of birds, especially a variety of gulls, and Bald Eagles.  Up to 40 Bald Eagles can be seen here in the winter, and photography opportunities can be outstanding. Meanwhile, among thousands of Herring Gulls, we’ll learn to identify – and yes, appreciate – the variety of species (yup, it’s not just one “Seagull”), starting with Great Black-backed Gull, the largest gull in the world, and visitors from the north: Iceland and Glaucous Gulls.  After we’ve had our fill (pardon the pun), we’ll head into downtown Augusta to work the river for more gulls, eagles, and likely Common Mergansers. If it’s an “irruption” year, we might stop at the Viles Arboretum instead to seek out Bohemian Waxwings or Pine Grosbeaks if they are around.

Breweries: Lost Orchard/Crooked Halo Cidery in Gardiner and Flight Deck Brewing in Brunswick.

“Spring Ducks and Draughts”
Sunday, April 2 – 10:00am to 4:00pm.
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This tour will focus on the impressive springtime concentrations of waterfowl that stage on Merrymeeting Bay. Awaiting the opening of ponds and lakes further north, large number of Green-winged Teal, American Black Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, and Common Mergansers build in the bay. Among the regulars, less common species such as American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, and Northern Shoveler are often found, along with rarities including Eurasian Wigeon. Visits to a few of the hotspots will seek the densest concentrations of ducks, and in doing so, we may see a dozen or more Bald Eagles. When conditions align, the concentration of ducks and the predators that seek them is one of the true spring birding spectacles in Maine.

Breweries: Oxbow Brewing Company and Split Rock Distilling, both in Newcastle.

“Warbler and Wort”
Sunday, May 14 – 8:00am to 2:00pm.
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We’ll be taking two easy hikes on this outing to enjoy breeding birds and migrants in the inland forests. Our first stop will be in pine barren habitat. Although not all breeding birds will be present in full force, some of our targets, such as Prairie and Pine Warblers, Field Sparrows, and Eastern Towhees will be. We’ll also look for a Clay-colored Sparrow should a territorial bird return, and there’s always the chance that Red Crossbills could be around. Our next stop will be a location in search of Louisiana Waterthrushes. Once thought to be rare in Maine, they are actually a locally common breeding bird in very specific habitat. We’ll visit one of two locales for this species taking another walk in search of this shy bird. Hearing them is likely, but we’ll accept the challenge of getting to see one!  A variety of warblers, Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and many others may also be encountered.

Breweries: Gneiss Brewing Co. in Limerick and Sebago Brewing Co. in Gorham.

“Grassland and Grains”
Sunday, June 4th – 8:00am to 2:30pm.
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Kennebunk Plains is an annual pilgrimage for Maine’s birders, and one of our favorite BoT outings. There are few places – and none this easy – to observe state Endangered Grasshopper Sparrows and Threatened Upland Sandpipers. Throw in what is perhaps the densest concentration of Vesper and Field Sparrows and Prairie Warblers in the state, along with lots of Chestnut-sided Warblers, Eastern Towhees, and many more. Then, add a rarity like a near-annual Clay-colored Sparrow to the mix or a visit with one of the local pairs of American Kestrels, Brown Thrashers, or Eastern Kingbirds, and you have the recipe for a tremendous day of birding.

Breweries: Funky Bow  in Lyman and Banded Horn in Biddeford.

“Beach and Brews”
Sunday, July 16th – 10:00am to 4:00pm.
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There’s no true “beginning” or “end” to migration as something is always on the move. This tour is designed to capture the ebb and flow of the season, including shorebirds that may be “oversummering” here, breeding locally (including Piping Plover and Willet), or already returning from the Arctic. We’ll start at Hill’s Beach, where shorebirds that are both coming and going can often be found. We’ll also look through the masses of Common Terns for the Federally Endangered Roseate Terns that often come here to feed. Piping Plovers usually breed here, and we’ll look for them too, while keeping an eye out for any other shorebirds.  Our next stop will depend on the tides, but will focus on seeing more shorebirds, likely via Biddeford Pool Beach or the mudflats of “the Pool” itself.

Breweries: Barrelled Souls in Saco and Fore River Brewing in South Portland.

“Shorebirds and Beer”
Sunday, August 13th – 9:00am to 3:00pm.
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The original BoT Roadtrip!  in 2015, our most popular tour returns to Scarborough Marsh at prime time for a good variety of migrant shorebirds. We’ll learn how to identify our common species, and search for the rare. Up to 20 species of shorebirds are possible! We’ll practice identifying our “peeps” (Least, Semipalmated, and White-rumped Sandpipers) and attempt to tease out a Western or even a Baird’s among the masses. We’ll look for local breeding American Oystercatchers and Willets, while searching for migrants on their way from the high Arctic to the southern tip of Argentina. We’ll also take a look at everything else, such as Common, Roseate, and Least Terns; herons and egrets, and who knows what else? We may even get a chance to see Nelson’s and Saltmarsh Sparrows depending on time and wind.

Breweries: Foulmouthed Brewing in South Portland and Lone Pine Brewing in Portland.

“Migration and Malts”
Sunday, October 8th – 8:00am to 3:00pm.
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Migration is in full swing in early October, with a wide range of species on the move. The tail end of warbler and shorebird migration coincides with the increased movement of sparrows and other short-distance migrants. Raptors are also on the move, and the first of the migrant waterbirds begin to arrive. Early October is often also punctuated by the appearance of a rarity or two.  This trip will take us to the southernmost hotspots in the state, Fort Foster and Seapoint Beach in order to sample a great diversity of habitats sought by migrant birds of all types

Breweries: Tributary Brewing Co. and Woodland Farms Breweries in Kittery.

“Fall Ducks and Draughts”
Sunday, November 12th – 9:00am to 3:00pm.
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This trip will visit Sabattus Pond at the peak of waterfowl numbers and diversity. A combination of the shallow water, sheltered coves, and an invasive snail combine to make this one of the best locales for duck-watching in all of southern Maine. Hundreds of Ruddy Ducks, Lesser and Greater Scaup, Mallards, and Common Mergansers are often present at this season, with smaller numbers of all sorts of species, including American Black Ducks, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Mergansers, and much more. It’s also the time of year that rarities show up, such as Redhead and Canvasback.. And we’ll look for the Peregrine Falcons of Lewiston and keep an eye out for Bald Eagles.

Breweries: Baxter Brewing Co in Lewiston and Maine Beer Company in Freeport.

“Farms and Fermentation”
Sunday, December 10th – 9:00am to 3:30pm.
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This itinerary will be flexible in order to take advantage of a seasonal hotspot, unusual concentrations of birds, or even a rarity. Most likely, we’ll begin the tour by birding the fields of Mayall Road on the Gray/New Gloucester line or in Durham to look for Snow Buntings and/or Horned Larks and perhaps Lapland Longspurs. Our second stop will also be dictated by current conditions, but most likely, we’ll visit either Lake Auburn, where diving ducks such as Greater and Lesser Scaup, and Ruddy Ducks tarry, as do waterbirds that are rare inland in Maine, such as Horned Grebes. Or, we’ll bird the Androscoggin River from the Auburn Riverwalk or the fields of North River Road, looking for unusual dabblers among the Mallards and Common Mergansers, as well as Peregrine Falcons and Bald Eagles.  And if Pine Grosbeaks or Bohemian Waxwings are present, we’ll seek these “irruptive” visitors from the north.

Breweries: Bear Bones Beer in Lewiston and Norumbega Cidery in New Gloucester.

So whatever your birding interests are, we have a tour for you! Complete details of each tour and links to trip reports from prior outings, along with information about registration (including online sign-ups with a credit card), are available on the Travel, Tours, Workshops, and Events page of our website:

We look forward to seeing you aboard the bus this year. Great birding and beer-ing opportunities await!
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Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Farms and Fermentation, 12/11/16

Our seventh and final “Birds on Tap – Roadtrip!” of 2016, entitled “Farms and Fermentation” traveled inland on Sunday. Unlike most of our itineraries, Farms and Fermentation has a very flexible birding route, affording us the opportunity to take advantage of seasonal highlights and variables including weather, northern bird irruptions, and local food supplies.

The theme of the tour is the connection between agricultural lands and birds, but we also spent plenty of time checking out the region’s most significant bodies of water as recent cold weather has slowly frozen small ponds and lakes, pushing waterfowl to the open waters of the deep Lake Auburn and the fast-flowing Androscoggin River.

It was a frigid day, but with temperatures rapidly rising through the 20’s and virtually no wind at most of our stops, we enjoyed a very pleasant and productive morning of birding. Our first stop was a large, open agricultural field in Gray and New Gloucester, where we immediately found 16 Horned Larks within about 30 yards of the road. No Snow Buntings, as I had hoped for, but the views of the four larks that stayed with us were hard to beat.
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Letting the temperatures climb a bit, we hit the road for a longer stretch to arrive on the north shore of Lake Auburn. Unfortunately, the ducks were elsewhere today – perhaps flushed by an eagle or two  – but we did view two Horned Grebes (rare inland in Maine except for here and Sebago Lake and a rather late date for them away from the coast). One distant Common Loon was also spotted.
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A short hop to North River Road sampled the birds of early successional forest, undoubtedly the first step in reforestation of an abandoned farm. American Tree Sparrows, quite a few Northern Cardinals, and a number of House Finches were present, while a Bald Eagle soared over the river beyond the cornfields across the road (still no Snow Buntings). The highlight, however, was a Red-tailed Hawk that circled up and then glided low over our heads, with the reflection of the thin coating of snow on the ground acting as a spotlight to really light up its pale plumage.

Three punk-rock Hooded Mergansers were at the nearby boat launch, and we finished up with some more waterfowl along the Auburn Riverwalk. Nearly 200 Mallards were present, affording us the chance to study individual variation and hybridization, as well as taking a moment to savor a truly beautiful critter.
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As for this individual, I am not sure how to interpret its odd plumage: a very old female taking on male characteristics, a hybrid with something domesticated, or perhaps a male that for some reason is unable to fully attain an adult plumage. Whatever it is, it was a perfect example of how much there is to be learned from looking at our most common birds!
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Four American Black Ducks and some odd Domestic things were present, but I was hoping for an unusual dabbler or two to have joined the masses with the recent freezing. However, we did have two more Hooded Mergansers, and downriver, two spiffy drake Common Mergansers. A Common Loon was a little out of place on the river, likely a bird that woke up to encroaching ice on a lake this morning!
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Don then took over as layers were shed for good, as we crossed the bridge into Lewiston on our way to Bear Bones Beer. Don was giving us some of the history of this new brewery, but I interrupted to have him pull into a parking lot. We quickly disembarked to temporarily resume our birding with scope views of the local male Peregrine Falcon eating lunch atop of the steeple of the Franco-American Heritage Center, as per our tradition during “Birds on Tap – Roadtrips” to Lewiston!

Arriving at Bear Bones Beer, a nanobrewery with a focus on sustainable production and ingredients, co-founder Eban Dingman welcomed us into the comfortable space in a renovated portion of a former department store in the heart of downtown.

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We began our tasting with their 2X C.R.E.A.M, a smooth cream ale that featured a very nice balance, avoiding overdoing it with the hops. Dry-hopped with fruity Mosaic hops, Robot Bear Porter finished with a fruit flavor not typical of porters, putting a nice twist on a good winter stand-by. Picea, a dry stout brewed with spruce tips added to the whirlpool process, featured a subtle hint of spruce/resin, especially on the back end.

After sampling some of their applewood smoked barley malt, we tasted it in action. I went with the New Dead Smoked IPA, with just the hint of the smoky flavor and a more subtle hop kick than most IPAs these days. The “over-hopping” bandwagon had definitely not arrived – thankfully, if you ask me – here on Lisbon Street.
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Winston provided additional entertainment

Trekking back across country, keeping an eye out for Northern Shrikes (we did spot two Northern Mockingbirds today however, much rarer in winter in interior Maine than shrikes!) as we returned to New Gloucester for a special visit to Norumbega Cidery. Open to the public only for the occasional special event, this was a real treat to learn about Noah Fralich’s family farm and his four-year-old cidery. Discussing his plans for the property, including the cultivation of a wide variety of heirloom and specialty apples, we also discussed the value of orchards to birding: in fact, if Pine Grosbeaks or Bohemian Waxwings had made it this far south by now, we likely would have visited an orchard or two on today’s tour – and wondered if in a few years, we might see these species right here at Norumbega.
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I’m not a big cider guy, as I usually don’t like sweet drinks in general. Many of the most popular hard ciders today (at least from the national brands) are loaded with sugar, and are more akin to soda. Dry ciders, however, are closer to wine, and the white wine yeasts that Noah uses produce a very crisp, very dry, and very delicious product that retains aromatics and subtle flavors.

We began with the clean and crisp Classic, with just a hint of tartness followed by the Berry Medley with a sweet and bitter contrast from the tannins and sugars found in four varieties of berries. Sweeter than the others, but still finishing very smooth and crisp, the Honey (technically, a ceyser because of the use of honey) was next up, featuring its very subtle honey notes and nose. And finally, we tried the Spice – my new favorite cider that I left with four bottles of – with a really complex taste profile and depth of flavor produced by only three added spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves (admittedly, I also tend to love anything with nutmeg) that made me think of an unsweetened apple pie.
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Taking the back roads back to Freeport, we slammed on the breaks when a Barred Owl was spotted, and quickly unloaded. Unfortunately, the Barred Owl was less excited and melted away into the woods, bringing our birding day, and our successful “Farms and Fermentation” tour to a close.

With ten tours on the schedule for 2017, including some really exciting new itineraries, we look forward to having your on board soon. All of the tours are posted on the “Tours, Events, and Workshops” page of our website, with direct links for online reservations.

Birds on Tap – Roadtrip: Migrants and Malts, 10/9/2016

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The forecast called for light showers ending in the early morning, and the sun coming out. With rain developing overnight with the passage of a cold front, dreams of a fallout danced in our head as we headed south on the Maine Turnpike on Sunday for our latest installment of the “Birds on Tap (sm)– Roadtrip!” series.

Fort Foster in Kittery was our destination, and there are few other places I’d rather be in Maine if a fallout was going to occur. But had the winds shifted early enough? Did birds take to the air before the rain arrived? Would the rain stop in time for sun to shine on the hottest corners of the park?

With anticipation – and quite a bit of apprehension because most of us were dressed for a few brief light showers – we stepped off the bus at the entrance to Fort Foster in a light, but steady rain. I was watching a plume of moisture offshore; moisture that was being sucked up from Hurricane Matthew.  It was supposed to remain offshore.

It didn’t.

It kept raining. And then it rained some more. We got soaked to the bone, and suffice to say, there was no fallout. (And for the record, the “showers ending in the early morning” continued to fall, moderate at times, through about 11pm that night!).
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But luckily it was fairly warm, we were mostly in shelter from the wind, and we found a few good pockets of birds.  Our first bird of the day was a low and close Blackpoll Warbler along the entrance road, which stoked the fallout hopes briefly. But other than a couple of pockets of White-throated Sparrows, the woods were rather slow.

We spent some time with plant ecology, and talked about the importance of the shrub-scrub habitat in the park. We played in the wrack line on the beach to observe Springtails and Seaweed Flies.  A large male Gray Seal on offshore rocks dwarfed the Harbor Seals around it.  A Great Cormorant posed for us to compare it to the plethora of Double-crested Cormorants nearby, and Common Eiders and a couple of Common Loons, joined by 8 newly-arrived Surf Scoters, plied the waters.
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A couple of cooperative Least Sandpipers were on the beach, while a single mixed-species foraging flock that contained a truant Wilson’s Warbler, a Blue-headed Vireo, and a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers amongst a band of Black-capped Chickadees hinted at the migrant potential of the place, as did a low and close late American Redstart a little earlier.
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Four Semipalmated Sandpipers were studied at exceptionally close range at nearby Seapoint Beach, which also hosted 6 Semipalmated Plovers. Unfortunately, Legion Pond only contained a handful of Mallards today.

These were all new locations for everyone on the tour, so the value of exploring new areas (to return to on a sunny day!) was recognized, even if the birding was on the lackluster side of things. As was the weather.

So with our rather damp birding time coming to a close, Don Littlefield took over and delivered us to Kittery’s Tributary Brewing Company.

After working at several breweries throughout his career, New England brewing legend Tod Mott – the creator of the Harpoon IPA that is often credited with beginning the American IPA revolution – and his wife, Galen, opened their own brewery in September of 2014. With a focus on “traditional, well-balanced, full-bodied beers” and locally-sourced ingredients, Tributary has rapidly become a favorite tasting room destination for many aficionados.
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And it just happened to be down the road from Fort Foster – which, when it’s not pouring rain – is one of Maine’s premier birding destinations and therefore was a natural fit for a Birds on Tap (sm) – Roadtrip! destination.  One half of the Ian and Ian tag-team duo of brewers, Ian Goering, came into work early to open the doors to welcome us out of the elements.
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We began our tasting with an American Mild brewed with an experimental hops that offered an essence of strawberry. Downplaying malts in order to showcase the hops, it was a little bitter by design, with a less sweet finish.

Next up was the Oktoberfest – which turned out to be the favorite beer of the day for many –a fuller bodied lager, heavier in malts, yet with a crisp finish.
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As we sipped it, Ian gave us a tour of their ultra-clean and efficient brew house.

Next up was their Blueberry Ale which – unlike many blueberry beers that add artificial flavors or blueberry syrup – added real blueberries into the kettle to allow the sugars of the fruit to be fermented by the brewing yeasts. The result was a decidedly un-sweet pale ale that had just the essence of blueberries.

Last but not least, we enjoyed a taste of their smoky and very chocolate-y – while still being nice and hoppy – Black IPA.
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New fans of Tributary. Well, and/or just cold and needing another layer?

We were able to dry out further as Don filled us in on some of Maine’s brewing facts and history as we headed up the road to Hidden Cove Brewing Company in Wells.

Formerly a restaurant with a small house brewery, the building has been creatively re-purposed into a growing brewing operation.  A “tale of two breweries,” as Don put it, with “traditional offerings alongside more creative barrel-aged” options, Hidden Cove offers a wide array of options in their tasting room.
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Today, we sampled five diverse offerings, beginning with their Patroon IPA – their best selling, flagship beer which was rich in juicy hops.

Next up was the Compadre Pale Ale, “the sidekick to the flagship IPA and is a classic West Coast IPA that utilizes a single hop, Belma.”  The tropical fruit flavors really came through for me, with a very crisp and clean finish.

Rich with the flavor of Meyer Lemon peel, the refreshing Summer Ale brought us back to warmer days. Bitter (remember, that is not always meant as a negative when tasting beer!) and yet quite bready from the yeast, the hop-forward Belgian IPA was the last planned sample.
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However, Don wanted to show off the creative brews that are coming out of their aging barrels, so we were treated to a sample of the very complex Mo-Lay, a sour pumpkin with chili, chocolate (mole), and finished in bourbon barrels with Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus. Like a lot of complicated beers, some people loved it, some didn’t, but everyone enjoyed the opportunity to see what people are doing with beer these days.

Afterall, part of the goal of the Birds on Tap (sm) – Roadtrip! series is to introduce folks to new breweries and new birding sites, new beers and new birds, and broaden horizons and open eyes wider to each!

Speaking of, our next Birds on Tap – Roadtrip! tour is coming up. On November 13th, join us for our second annual “Fall Ducks and Draughts” when we venture north to the waterfowl hotspot of Sabattus Pond, followed by stops at Baxter Brewing and Maine Beer Company!

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