October in Maine is a bittersweet time of year. The sun is still warm, the trees are at their peak color, but the days are so short you feel like you’re going to cry when you think of the dark winter soon to come. I was feeling a little bittersweet on recent — and perfect — October Maine day when I visited Tributary Brewing for the first time. Sun crashed through the large storefront windows, brightening up the deep, steely blue that covered the place from floor to ceiling. People had told me the room was supposed to feel like you were underwater, but the atmosphere that Saturday was more airy than under-the-sea. It was like sitting lake side, sipping from a fresh beer, flanked by my friends on one side and my daughter on the other. The brew, the room, the band playing jazz standards were slowly curing what ailed me.
I’m not sure how it happened, but I’ve been writing a lot about beer lately. A few freelance assignments headed my way, and a few pitches about craft beer were picked up. The money was good and beer makes a good subject. I was thirsty for more assignments. I just needed to do a little research.
The problem is, visiting breweries is not an easy task for me. As the parent of a two-year-old who is also married to a craft beer lover, trips to a tap room can be tricky. Neither one of us wants to be Those Parents — pounding back pints while their toddler ruins everyone’s day drinking. I could ask my husband to stay home with our child while I sample fresh and interesting beers with friends, but that just seems mean. Instead, I scan news clips and beer blogs for family friendly pubs where our daughter can stretch her legs without disrupting others in the brewery. Thankfully, there are more and more of those in New England these days.
West Coast breweries figured out long ago that parents need a pint just as much as the childless. Even more so, on some days. Breweries in Portland, Oregon now offer kid’s menus and Hopworks Brewery even features a play area for the tots. As the number of tasting rooms has grown in the Portsmouth/Kittery area, I’ve appreciated their welcoming vibe when my daughter is in tow. Neither the bartenders nor the brewers at Earth Eagle Brewings blinked an eye when we brought our daughter in last winter to fill our growler. When Tributary Brewing opened, I heard former Portsmouth Brewery head brewer Tod Mott was doing great things with beer. I also heard that parents of well-behaved children need not fear the stink-eye from the establishment.
Mott is best known in beer circles as the master behind the highly-rated stout Kate the Great. He owns and runs Tributary with his wife, Galen Mott, out of a storefront in small shopping plaza two doors down from the Kittery Post Office. Tributary Brewing is not located in the booming Foreside neighborhood, where you’ll find the beer-lover’s mecca, The Black Birch, but the little plaza is home to the summer farmers market and, for many, is on the way home from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
I ordered a four-beer flight, which included 4-ounce pours of all that Tributary had on tap that day. It started with a Pumpkin Ale, not a typical choice for launching a flight, but it’s October, so who cares right? At 5.2% ABV, this delicious ale was light on the pumpkin spice, allowing the hops to shine through. You say you’re not into the pumpkin beer thing? Well if any pumpkin ale is going to convert you, this one will.
Next was the Oatmeal Stout, a smooth, chocolaty, far-too-drinkable beer. I tend to stay clear of stouts and porters before the snow flies, and then only in moderation, but at 6.2% ABV, I could cozy up with a few of these and a cribbage board on a Friday night and be perfectly happy. The odd-man-out in the flight was Tributary’s Bier De Garde, a bright, bubbly and tart light beer that left your mouth smacking after the first sip. Not my favorite of the bunch, it was the strongest at 6.9% ABV. Following two beers that signal the end of the year, the Bier De Garde seemed more fitting for April than October. My final sample was Tributary’s IPA. At 6.5% ABV, this beer was perfectly balanced and a little bittersweet. Overall a completely drinkable beverage for a Saturday with friends.
I was downing my last gulp of IPA around the time the jazz combo started packing up their gear. It was getting dark and my daughter had eaten all the snacks we had brought. As glasses emptied, we brainstormed about finding dinner across the Piscataqua. Tributary Brewing was an easy weekend meet-up for a group of friends both with and without kids, but now we were on to the hard part — dinner for seven in Portsmouth on a Saturday night.