Maine is a magical place in many ways. Once a center of all things maritime such as ship building and commerce, it still very much retains its connection to the sea. On a recent trip to Portland, ME, Suzanne, my traveling companion and I experienced a taste of Portland's maritime history aboard a sunset cruise with The Portland Schooner Co.. They specialize in sails around Casco Bay and one of its inner ports, The Port of Portland on historical Maine-crafted schooners. What is a schooner you ask? It is a sailing ship with two or more masts with its sails parallel to the length of the ship. Unbeknownst to us before the sail, we were in for a real treat. The sail took place on The Timberwind, a schooner built in 1931. It is listed on the The National Register of Historic Places.
|The Timberwind, Portland Schooner Company|
Even better, the sail featured a talk on Maine's lobster industry by Ben Coniff, one of the owners of Luke's Lobster (LL). LL is an empire of almost 40 restaurant locations nationally and internationally. They also own a lobster processing facility south of Portland that processes about five percent of the total lobster catch of Maine. Additionally, a representative of Allagash Brewing Company, a Portland brewery specializing in bottle- and can-conditioned beers, provided samples for tasting. This promised to be something really special on our first night in Portland.
|All hands on deck, The Timberwind|
Before the ship set sail, some of the passengers were recruited to raise the sails, a group activity I was more than happy to watch.
One thing I found interesting were the wooden timber mast hoops that allow the sail to move up and down the mast. Real old time!
Once we set sail, Ben of Luke's Lobster gave us a primer on lobstering and how LL came to be.
Luke Holden, Ben's partner, is part of Maine's lobster royalty. His grandfather and father were lobstermen, his father evolving into a lobster buyer opening up one of the first lobster/crab/fish wholesale/retail business in Portland. This progressed into the first licensed lobster processing facility in the state of Maine. A processing facility takes in lobster, cooks it and breaks it down into a value added product, or a product worth more than that in its original form.
Luke started out as an apprentice in anticipation of becoming a licensed Maine lobsterman. The licenses are so coveted though there is typically up to a ten year wait for a full license. He then went to school in business, working in Manhattan at a financial firm for a time. Luke was frustrated with a lack of restaurants serving lobster rolls and other traditional Maine seafood. By then he had partnered with Ben. Using Luke's family seafood connections in Maine they opened a small 200 square foot retail space (shack) in Manhattan in 2009. Many more were to follow. Unfortunately, many of their retail spaces (shacks) had to close for the time being due to COVID. They are at present kept afloat because of diversifying approximately five years ago into becoming a commercial supplier to grocers such as Whole Foods.
|Lobster traps, Portland Pier|
Maine lobster management by the state has been impressive in terms of its sustainability. Escape vents for smaller lobster are mandated to be incorporated into lobster traps. The traps must also have biodegradable fasteners on them so the trap will break apart allowing the catch to be freed should the trap be lost. There are catch limits on the size of lobsters that are either to small or big. The latter size limits are in place to maintain hearty breeding stock. One sustainability measure I thought interesting was the practice of v notching.
|V notched lobster tail. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia|
If a fertile female is brought up from the trap, a v notch is cut into the tail and the catch returned to the water. Should the lobster be ever caught again before producing eggs, this is a marker that the lobster is a fertile female and should not be harvested.
Non commercial lobster fishing became legal for Maine residents in 1996. I found some of the history and regulations published by the Department of Marine Resources for the State of Maine interesting. For more detail go Here.
We were also given a brief history of a noted Portland brewery, Allagash Brewing Company
by their Southern Maine representative, Tessa.
When Allagash was started in 1995, craft beer was much more difficult to market. The whole premise of the brewery initially was to make up for the lack of Belgian Wheat Beer, beers that are made from mostly wheat rather than barley. These beers are also bottle or canned conditioned. This means that they undergo a secondary fermentation after bottling or canning by the addition of additional yeast and sugar. This is similar to the way champagnes are made using The Traditional Method. The first beer made at Allagash, Allagash White, is still their flagship beer. We were given a can of this and another beer, their River Trip, a Belgian style Session Beer, on our sail.
|Allagash Beer Sampling|
|Lobster Roll, Luke's Lobster|
This was one of the better lobster rolls I have ever had. The cooked lobster is drizzled with lemon butter and a spice mixture of oregano, thyme and celery salt. Absolutely delicious. The slaw was also a nice side, incorporating cider vinegar, poppy seeds and honey.
On a roll (sorry!), we stopped by Luke's flagship restaurant in Portland the next evening to sample more of their fare.
We started with an order of their whole belly clams, which were excellent. Our server told us they used rice flour on these making them gluten free.
|Whole belly clams|
We also tried a lobster BLT. Lobster on a sesame seed bun with applewood smoked bacon, lettuce and tomato. It was something I had never tried and another excellent dish.
All the food sampled on the sunset sail and after at Luke's was excellent. I am not a fan generally of wheat beer but the Allagash beers were top notch and very much enjoyed. Last but very much not least, the sunset cruise with Portland Schooner Co. is a must do when visiting Portland. I could go on and on and on but will stop here and say,
It's a wrap for another post on Forks.
Portland Schooner Co. Facebook Page
Maine State Pier
Portland, ME 04101
Luke's Lobster Website
60 Portland Pier
Portland, ME 04101
Sunday-Thursday: 11AM-9PM; Friday-Saturday: 11AM-10PM; All major credit cards accepted.
Allegash Brewing Company Website
50 Industrial Way
Portland, ME 04103
Call for ordering and resumption of tour schedules.