Few travelers are familiar with the mystique and charming beauty of Monhegan Island that lies 10 miles off the great Down East coast accessible only via boat from Port Clyde, New Harbor, and Boothbay Harbor. Maybe that’s a good thing as this island’s charismatic soothing aura will stay etched in your mind unlike other places that seem generic these days. My good friend and travel buddy Scott came up from Pennsylvania and we had the pleasure to spend some time here. Maine’s treasured island is blessed with only about 75 souls most of the year but swells to ten times that in summer months. The island is stunningly handsome with an artistry style of Winslow Homer and Andrew Wyeth making it quintessentially seaside New England at its best.
There are no automobiles, no chain fast food, no fervor of the modern world; nothing to make one’s blood pressure rise, only dirt paths acting as roads, charming inns, a century-old grand hotel, art galleries, a library, magnificent hiking trails, hundred foot-high cliffs, and still yet there’s a most highly regarded place that you wouldn’t expect to find here. The Monhegan Brewing Company.
In July of 2013, year-round islanders Matt and Mary Weber, a young couple, opened the island’s first and only brewery specializing in small-batch handcrafted beer. A successful undertaking has reaped great results and has become a stellar success on the island with the help of Mary’s dad Danny as chief brewer. Danny started the Lake St. George Microbrewery in Belfast Maine in the 90s with his expertise.
The brewery’s beer bear (there’s a tongue-twister) the names of island landmarks such as the popular ‘Lobster Cove APA’ that stands for easy mild American Pale Ale. American hops are noted as being lighter than those of Europe and are lower in alcoholic content, states Mary Weber. In the works they have Shipwreck India Pale Ale, in recognition of the famous tugboat ‘Sheridan’ that went shipwreck on the island in 1948. This brew features a stronger hoppy flavor and is more aromatic and darker in pigment.
Ginger beer is a favorite seller and unique in its craft. Non-alcoholic root beer is a favorite here as well for those teatotallers and children. Signs abound around the island and in the ports for this treasure trove on Monhegan, but word-of-mouth advertising claims most of the company’s success.
The Webers plan to distribute a small number of kegs to mainland restaurants in the fall, once the season on the island begins to wind down, but "as long as we can sell it all right here, we will," Mary Weber said.
Interestingly, the brewery incorporates the island as part of its craft by producing hundreds of pounds of waste barley here on Monhegan. The Monhegan Island Farm Project manages several gardens around the island and is composting the grain. The project will also grow hops for the brewery and will install a new septic system and brewing equipment to include fermenters, which hold seven barrels or 210 gallons of beer.
Matt is a lobster fisherman from late October on and returns to his boat once the brewery closes for the season. Mary Weber is a school teacher at the single classroom at Monhegan School.
The modest 500 square-foot brewery warmly welcomes visitors all during the day to stop by and enjoy a sample of brew as well as making purchases to tote back to the mainland. To get here just ask any islander or take the path past the Monhegan Inn on the way to Shipwreck Beach, and the actual shipwreck of the same name, and you can’t miss it on the right hand side.
Maine is sometimes synonymous with the mysterious shore-strewn fog that infiltrates from time to time. Don’t let it deter you from thinking it’s anything but gloomy here. ‘Balmy Days’ is a name here for a reason. Once you arrive at this somewhat ‘fairytale island’, within a few minutes mother nature exudes her sunlight from the frothy sea and anchors on the lush island flora glowing in the noonday sun here on Monhegan Island. It’s a place to slow down. Really slow down and relax. And have a beer. You’ll be one of the fortunate ones to have visited Maine’s emerald isle. Monhegan Island. You’ll be glad you did and might even come to terms with the fact that although you’re only ten miles away from the mainland, you’re light years away from reality.