Strange brews

Tapping into the drinking life
By BRIAN DUFF  |  August 13, 2008
DINE_NOVAR_RES-08-15-08insi.jpg
HIDDEN BEAUTY: The patio at Novare Res.

Novare Res Beer Café | 4 Canal Plaza/188 Middle Street, Portland | Open Monday through Thursday from 4 pm to 1 am, and from 3 pm on Friday. Open weekends from noon to 1 am | 207.761.2437

Prost! International Tap House | 446 Fore Street, Portland | Call For Hours | 207.772.6241

Of all the methods humans have devised to deploy alcohol in hope of temporarily deadening us to the stultifying burdens of life, beer-drinking is among the oldest and perhaps the best. Good beer, like the best approach to life, embraces the bitter, which makes the notes of sweetness that emerge all the more satisfying. Eventually beer will kill you in the most appropriate way. Liquor unimaginatively goes straight after the liver, and wine actually prolongs life (not counting heightened exposure to STD’s). Beer takes your flesh and bloats it until the effort of pumping blood through its lumpy shapeless mass convinces your heart to simply give up. That is the way to go.

This summer, Portland saw the opening of two notable spots to sip our way towards an obesity-induced infarction. While Canal Plaza’s Novare Res is the nicer place to do so, it is also going to cost you more. Serving mostly bottles of imported beers you have never heard of, most over $10, you pay a premium to find something you like. The spirit at Fore Street’s Prost’s is truer to the nature of the beverage they serve. With a selection almost entirely on tap and in the $5 range, they are generous with samples so you can find an affordable pint you like.

That said, Novare Res is better on the intangibles. Tucked away on the courtyard behind the corner of Exchange and Middle streets, Novare Res feels hidden in the middle of everything. Their leafy patio is big without being Porthole-capacious, and the picnic-style tables are spread out enough to keep the bustle reasonable. Inside, with its low ceiling, brick columns, and long semi-communal tables, feels like an especially nice European beer hall. It’s a great space.

But Novare Res makes you work to find the right beer for you. The many-pages-long menu is bereft of descriptions and the busy wait staff don’t appear to be experts. But most of what you order will come in an interesting bottle and in attractive glassware. The Hansens Oude Kriek, a Belgian lambic, was a deep, opaque amber in its medium-stemmed goblet. It was so cherry-tart that it was more like juice than beer. An Allagash Fluxus was available on draft and one of the bar’s few Maine beers. Served small in a tulip glass, it’s a refreshing wheat beer dominated by flavors of citrus and ginger. A pint of Delaware’s Dogsfish Head IPA 60 was just a touch bitter and had a bit of apple in its aroma.

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