Sunday, February 12, 2012

Portland, Maine: Novare Res

New England has it's ups and downs as far as food culture. We do cheap food really well in the bigger cities, and I think for the nosebleed expensive stuff, it can be very good, but also teeters on dull and kind of WASP-rific cuisine. But then there is Portland, Maine. I honestly couldn't tell you why such a fantastic and flawless food-centric culture has grown in this small city in the Northeast, but it is undeniably amazing and always a great time. They have everything from fantastic beer, to incredible seafood, to cutting edge molecular gastronomy, and even a very legitimate ethnic food scene. Plus, everyone there just seems to have such a chill disposition. If I had to move anywhere, I'd move there and be proud to call it home.
So, as it happens, the bigger half's birthday was this weekend, and as we tend to celebrate with special edibles, he wanted to make a little jaunt up to Portland. I thought this was a fantastic idea. Since we would only be making it a day trip, the places to visit needed to be carefully selected. But there is always one gimme when making the trip up to Maine... the first stop needs to be Novare Res.
Novare Res
Novare Res is one of the best beer bars I've ever had the pleasure of visiting, and like I said, we always go when in Portland. It has none of the superficial, sports bar, 1000 bottle gimmicky nonsense that tends to accompany franchise beer bars that pop up in major cities. This place is downright spooky perfect. It's kind of located behind a large brick bank and creeps up on you from around a corner. After spotting a sign out by the street, you're led through a parking lot, and there it is, iron gate, and little outside seating area. Walk into the brick building, and there you are, a few long shared tables, one long bar, and then a smaller one. Then there is the Chalice Room, reserved for those who over time have done a tour of all the offerings carried by Novare Res. The general space is dark, but warm and inviting on a winter's night. Every man and woman in the bar at first glance is either a regular, or a beer-loving pilgrim.
Our view
Fortunately for us, on this occasion there were two stools at the end of the main bar. We seated ourselves next to a gentleman with a gnarly beard and infinite knowledge of all things malty, and settled in. And now for our beers and snacks.
LoverBeer Madamin
LoverBeer Madamin: My first choice of the afternoon was a beer from Italy, which is unusual since I don't normally associate beers from Italy as being all that renowned. But this was one hell of a dry, oak aged bruin. With a fruity, crisp aroma at first whiff, you'd think that this beer would be a little sweet. And while it was a touch sweet and had nice cherry notes, the beer itself was crisp tart, and exceptionally dry making this a delightfully different example of a nice sour, funky beer.
Schlenkerla Kraeuse
Schlenkerla Kraeuse: The bigger half went for a smokey helles beer. This golden beer had a vigorous carbonation with a hint of smoke resulting from the use of smoked wort during brewing. It also had a slightly spicy, hoppy taste that hit you at the back of the throat at the back end of each sip. This was another very interesting beer, and a nice one to be able to try on tap.
Mahr's ETA Hoffman
Mahr's ETA Hoffman Dunkel: The next choice for us was this dark, malty, chocolaty dunkel. The beer was smokey, a little bit sweet, but a perfect beer for anyone who really needs to have something smooth, kissed by mocha and smelling of a wonderful breakfast oatmeal throughout.
On cask! Castle Rock
Harvest Pale
Castle Rock Harvest Pale: An on cask offering for the win! The blond ale, served slightly below room temperature, was crisp and refreshing, just like a great beer should be. Brewed with British hops, the beer had an unexpectedly woodsy flavor, detected with each sip. It kind of had the umami flavor of a delicate mushroom broth, and as odd as as that sounds, it only made the beer more delicious throughout the entire pint. I certainly hope that I run into this beer again.
Cuvée De Ranke
Cuvée De Ranke: Well, it was a birthday wasn't it? So for our last beer, we sprang for a fantastic bottle of Cuvée De Ranke, paper-wrapped bottle and all. In the world of tasting interesting beers, I almost always begin with my favorite category, and then likewise try to end with a different offering of my favorite category. And my favorites are always sour and funky. What a clean bit of tartness on the nose! What a wonderful, funky, yeasty depth of flavor! I would be amazed to find any beer drinker who did not find this as an interesting, complex beer to share with a friend. To be clear, the beer is orange color, and has a lovely fluffy head. It is sour, but simultaneously fruity with a little bit of honey sweetness, and the slightest hint of bitterness that only helps to round out every sip. This is a very balanced beer, and I hope you have a chance to try it.
So amid our beer tasting, I must also point out that it is important to ward off the evils of the wasty pants monster. And luckily for us, Novare Res has some exceptional offerings appropriate for snacking while sipping. I highly recommend the following:
Mediterranean plate
The Mediterranean Plate: This plate is chock full of items that serve as palate cleansers, and salty tid bits that you might crave while drinking excellent beers. There's house made hummus, which is so creamy that it borders on cheesy. There's also a handful of salty olives, ranging from meaty large green to the smaller salty black. Then there's pickled fennel, so sour and tasting of liquorice that you wish you could order a plate full of these alone. A few marinated beets and artichoke hearts, and of course, the pita bread slices that make a perfect vehicle for dispatching hummus and pickles from plate to mouth, and this antipasto of bites is the perfect item to share.
Finochetta and pork pate
Meat!!!! At the bottom of the food menu, you have a variety of meats and cheeses that you can pick from to assemble your own cheese plate. Since we had already ordered the Mediterranean Plate and were pretty satiated, we nearly didn't order a couple items from the meats listed from the pick and choose section. But I can't resist a few slices of cured sausage, and a bit of pate. If you have the chance, definitely go for the finochetta, a sweet, smokey fennel flavored pork salami. You can also opt for a serving of their pork pate, which was sweet, deeply savory, and I could have sworn that there are bits of mushrooms throughout the pate. With slices of salami and smears of pate on little slices of baguette, this was another wonderful food offering from Novare Res.
I hope you have the chance to make the journey to Novare Res. Unfortunately, at this junction in my life, it doesn't look like I'll be living close enough to try my hand at running the full tour of the beer offerings and having a key to the chalice room. But maybe you will? Good luck!

Novare Res Bier Café
4 Canal Street
Portland, ME

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