Loons and lager, ducks on draft: Birders, brewers form flock
SABATTUS, Maine (AP) — In the worlds of birders and craft beer lovers, there’s a new paradigm, and it involves searching for ales along with the eagles, pairing stouts with swans and enjoying some bocks in tandem with buntings.
Tours and events aimed at attracting both beer nerds and bird enthusiasts are popping up all over the country, attracting bearded microbrew lovers, field-guide-wielding bird buffs and folks with a passion for both suds and sparrows. Bird-and-beer happenings are taking place from Los Angeles to Minneapolis to Hampton, New Hampshire.
Beer and bird hobbyists say they are united by their mutual love of minutiae, rarity and variety, whether searching for an Indian peafowl or a limited release of India pale ale.
Typically, the trips begin with a hike and end at a brewery. One of the more successful tours is “Birds On Tap Roadtrip,” located in beer-loving, bird-rich Maine and now in its second year.
“There happen to be a lot of people who like birds who like beer — we’ve analyzed this,” said Derek Lovitch, who leads Birds On Tap Roadtrip tours. “And then, after the third or fourth pint, we really analyze this.”
Birds On Tap Roadtrip is coordinated by Freeport Wild Bird Supply, which is run by bird nut Lovitch and his wife, Jeannette. They partner with Maine Brew Bus, a lime green bus that shuttles people to the state’s many breweries and serves as a kind of Mystery Machine of Maine beer. The tours are $65 — libations are included, but binoculars are not.
This year’s slate of tours began in February and will run every several weeks until Dec. 11. Each trip has a theme, including “Surf and Suds,” which is a winter waterfowl tour, and “Grassland and Grains,” a late-spring search for sandpipers and sparrows on the Kennebunk Plains, a nature preserve.
This November’s tour was “Fall Ducks and Draughts,” a chilly march around Sabattus Pond on the hunt for waterbirds including hooded mergansers, common goldeneyes, buffleheads and green-wing teals. All were located, and the group of about a dozen hearty birders then departed by bus for trips to Baxter Brewing in Lewiston and Maine Beer Co. in Freeport.
The beer end of the trip was as successful as the bird bit. The group located a peregrine falcon resting on a steeple just outside Baxter after imbibing. At Maine Beer Company, the brewery was able to provide fresh glasses of Dinner, its sought-after double IPA.
Participants agreed there was no harm in having a lager along with the loons. (Though they actually saw only one loon.) Brandon Baldwin, 40, of Manchester, Maine, went with his mother, Carole Baldwin, 73, of Skowhegan, and said the trip appealed to both of them.
“She’s an avid birder who likes beer. I’m an avid beerer who likes birds,” he said. “It seemed like a perfect crossover.”
Bird-and-beer events sometimes take different forms. One, held on the rooftop of the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, brought bird experts from the National Park Service to help people observe birds in an urban environment. Libations followed. In Minneapolis, a group called “Birds and Beers” gathers to brainstorm about secret hotspots and tips on how to take bird pictures using a digital scope.
Smuttynose Brewery in Hampton, New Hampshire, hosted a bird walk and brewery tour on the brewery’s own grounds. And in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, people met for a hiking and birding tour of Black Run Preserve in Evesham Township followed by tours of Berlin Brewing Co., Lunacy Brewing Co. and Flying Fish Brewery.
Some of the trips are organized by private companies and nature societies and others are the product of local meetup groups that form online. Prices vary from nothing to about the price of a pro football ticket.
Don Littlefield, a partner in the Maine Brew Bus company that hosts the Maine tour, said it has proved to be a way to make beer fans out of bird lovers — and vice versa.
“It allows us to reach another different demographic,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who are not necessarily there for the beer. They are there for the birds. And then there are others who are not there for the birds — they are there for the beer.”