For better beer – Words and images by Mike V. Sardina
When I first visited Bunker Brewing in Portland, Maine, well over three years ago now, the brewery was located in an oddly shaped building in East Bayside. The building, a repurposed scrap-yard garage, is still there, behind Tandem Coffee Roasters. It’s a squat, yet tiny, brutish building that resembles a—well, you guessed it—bunker.
Chresten Sorensen started the brewery in 2011, gaining a somewhat “cult” underground following in Portland and throughout the Northeast. Coming into Maine for a visit from San Diego in early 2016, I’d heard of these guys, and when I walked into Novare Res for the first time that trip, a Bunker beer was the first beer I ordered in Portland (Salad Daze, their Citra dry-hopped session IPL).
Chresten and the Bunker crew relocated the brewery to its current location in late 2016, and their space on Westfield Street is very different than the old diggs. The 9,000 square-foot facility features an outdoor beer garden in the parking lot that carries the vibe inside into a spacious beer hall. Communal seating, long benches in the open, naturally lit space, line the way up to the bar where there are leather bar stools pulled up to a long bartop.
Off to the right, a space for games—ping pong and cornhole. Or maybe there is band set-up in there right in the building, rocking out dub music or reggae on a makeshift stage. If the tunes aren’t live, the folks at Bunker are always spinning vinyl, a record player and albums stocked on the left side of a beautiful tiled bar. The punchy, fun vibe and aesthetic embodies all of the best things about Bunker.
The brewery is best known for Machine, a Czech-style Pilz that is a staple at bars and restaurants in Portland. The beer is printed on the menus at finer establishments like Hunt & Alpine Club, and it’s also a constant tapline at dive bars like Ruski’s. Machine was one of the many amazing pilsner beers featured at Pils & Love when Oxbow hosted the Pilsner-centric festival here in Maine in 2017, and the beer is by far and away their flagship.
But this isn’t just a lager house. Bunker flexes it’s brewing chops, brewing a bevy of IPAs, an Oktoberfest beer every year, and one of the best brown ales around, Libbytown Brown. This year, they also brewed my favorite wet-hopped beer—Green Mind. This pale ale featured all-Maine grown malt from Maine Malt House, and fresh, wet hops from the Hopyard. The beer was simply refreshing, the state of Maine poured into a glass. And considering that Bunker is the closest brewery in proximity to my place of work, it was a real pleasure this year to take cover in Bunker’s Taproom over a pint.