Last Thursday, the second annual Bonjour!Fest began at the Novare Res Bier Cafe here in Portland, Maine. The annual strong beer festival at every craft beer lover’s favorite Portland bar, the fest offered an even stronger lineup than last year and gave visitors (including yours truly) a chance to try some vintage beers they wouldn’t get on tap otherwise.
Novare Res (Latin for “start a revolution”) is, for my money, the best Maine beer bar this side of Ebenezer’s. With 25 taps, a couple casks, and over 250 bottled selections, there is plenty of good beer to choose from at Novare. The place is tucked away in a back alley on the high end of Portland’s Old Port, and offers a welcome respite from some of the booze-soaked meat-markets down at the water’s edge. Owner Eric Michaud is unapologetic about choosing only the best beers to stock at his bar, and his love for good suds shows; there’s not really a bad beer to be had at Novare.
To be completely accurate, the full name of the festival is “Bonjour! We’re Still Not F@#king Around (but we love you and want you to be happy) Fest.” This laboriously titled event is the successor to the “We Love You and Want You to be Happy” shindig from last March. Apparently, it isn’t terribly kosher here in Maine to advertise a beer event by the strength of the beers that will be on tap. However, the event poster does make a point of mentioning that, if they were telling you the ABV of the drafts, they’d be telling you that all 25 taps are going to be pouring 9%+ beers. Take that how you will.
When I made it up to the bar a couple days into the fest, there were still plenty of beers to choose from – many I’ve never had a chance to try before. Although people tend to thing of the US as the home for big, ballsy extreme beers, the international flair from the likes of Schloss Eggenberg, Mikkeller, Dubuisson and others meant there were some available beers I haven’t had at, say, extreme beer festivals. Of course, there were plenty of US options too; on the night I visited, there four Dogfish beers, a few different vintages of the Bigfoot barleywine, a couple vintage and fresh beers from Rogue and Stone, and local(ish) brews from Smutty and Marshall Wharf.
I won’t bore you with too many tasting notes, but I will say that all the beers I had on tap were great. The Dogfish Olde School Barleywine, which is always a great brew from the bottle, came out way smoother on tap. I had a glass of the BrewDog Paradox Smokehead pulled from the cask, a Smokehead whisky-aged impy stout that tasted like drinking a liquid campfire (in a good way). Local doppelbock Attenuator from Marshall Wharf was a rich, chocolatey change of pace from the smoke, and the North Coast Old Stock was a vinous, fruity treat.
One of the few areas that Novare gets a bit of guff is the prices on their beers. I can’t say I agree with the argument – good beer, after all, costs good money – but the festivals and events always seem to drop the prices enough to make the beers within the budget of a broke-ass bookseller/blogger. Because of the strength of the beers, most of the pours for Bonjour! were between $4 and $7 dollars, with the most expensive brews topping out around $8 a glass. The pours were a bit smaller than a pint (most were between 8oz and 12oz), but with the high ABV you were definitely getting your money’s worth in the amount you received. Plus, the smaller pours meant a) people were a bit less likely to overindulge, and b) you could sample a few super-strong beers in a night without being palate-gobsmacked by the first one.
One final great note about Novare – their events tend to run until the kegs run out, which takes a good little while during the winter and spring here in coastal Maine. If you’re anywhere within striking distance of Portland, I suggest coming up and sampling a few of the fine beers Novare has on tap. Just remember that they are “ Still Not F@#king Around” with the strong beers – make sure that if you’re driving you’ve got a DD or a pal to stay with on the peninsula.
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