Does hiking and beer go together? For many people, yes. There’s nothing quite as refreshing or rewarding after a long trek than an ice cold lager or IPA — if you drink responsibly.
Just ask Carey Kish, author of the new guidebook “Beer Hiking New England: The Tastiest Way to Discover Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.” It hit bookstores in March.
When I learned that Kish had written such a book, I wasn’t surprised. My first thought was how fitting. After all, his trail name is “Beerman.” I can’t think of anyone who’d do a better job pairing 50 awesome trails with breweries throughout New England.
I first met Kish back in 2012, when I wrote a story about his role as editor of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s “Maine Mountain Guide,” which is basically the bible for hikers in Maine. Instead of simply interviewing Kish, I joined him for a hike up Bald Mountain in Amherst on a foggy summer day. The deer flies were atrocious, but we had a good time.
Over the years, we’ve kept in touch. Our shared love for hiking, writing and the state of Maine keeps us running in the same circles and rooting for one another. So, when I received a copy of “Beer Hiking New England,” I sent Kish a message asking him to join me on one of the trails featured in the book.
We chose the Orono Bog Boardwalk, an easy hike paired with nearby Bangor Brewing Company in the guidebook. We met on a sunny afternoon in May. A steady breeze kept the blackflies at bay as we slowly walked the wheelchair-accessible route.
“It’s been percolating for a long time, this beer and hiking book thing,” Kish said as we strolled past unfurling ferns and blooming highbush blueberries.
Originally, his idea was to focus on Maine. After all, the state has more than 170 breweries and countless trails to choose from. But the publisher, Helvetiq out of Switzerland, asked that he expand the book to cover all of New England.
With about 10,000 miles of hiking trails and more than 700 breweries, brew pubs and tasting rooms, New England is filled with hike-beer possibilities.
But Kish was up to the task.
“Piecing together a good geographic distribution of pairings was challenging, but I think I did pretty well,” said Kish, who lives on Mount Desert Island. “All of the hikes and every brewery has its own special character.”
With an eye toward variety, Kish used his extensive knowledge about trails and beer to pair 50 hikes and breweries. The hikes vary greatly from coastal walks to strenuous mountain climbs, and the breweries are just as diverse.
“There’s just everything out there. It’s a beautiful time to be alive, to be a hiker and be a beer drinker,” Kish said with a laugh.
The guidebook has a fun design, with easy-to-read graphics providing basic information about each hike and the beer that’s paired with it. So, while each section includes a trail map and elevation graph for the hike, it also includes a bitterness and sweetness scale for the chosen beer, plus words describing its color, aroma and taste.
In other words, it’s not your typical hiking guidebook.
Kish paired the Bangor City Forest and Orono Bog Boardwalk (which together form one hiking location) with Catchphrase New England IPA brewed by Bangor Beer Company. In the book, he states highlights of the hike including stately pine trees, a raised peat bog and an old railroad bed. And he describes the IPA’s flavor as “bready” with notes of citrus and melon.
During our walk, I asked Kish what his favorite beer was, and he was ready with an answer.
“The one in my hand,” he said, holding out his hand as if clutching a phantom mug.
Clearly, I’m not the first person to have asked him that question. While conducting research for the book, he sampled 230 different beers in an effort to showcase a wide range — from a blonde ale with blueberry undertones to a dark porter that tastes of coffee and chocolate. He even includes a Jamaican-style ginger beer from New City Brewery in New York.
While Kish is enthusiastic about beer, he seemed even more jazzed about the stories he gathered about the many breweries he visited.
“A lot of the breweries are actually anchors for redevelopment in some of these small towns,” he said. “So it’s pretty neat. They’re kind of like a community meeting place.”
Many of the brewery owners had fascinating stories to share, he said. For example, the owner of Lubec Brewing Company in eastern Maine used to be a nuclear physicist.
The brewery buildings often had a story, too.
“Farmhouses, barns, old mills, old machine shops, old bus repair shops — they all had these different characters, and I loved that,” Kish said.
And even though Kish has been writing about hiking trails for a long time, he found excitement in that aspect of the book-writing process as well. As usual, he hiked every mile of trail featured in the book — that’s 260 miles. But he estimates that he actually hiked about 400 miles to whittle down the selection.
“What I really enjoyed about the whole experience was the variety of everything I discovered and all of the surprises,” he said. “You can make all of the plans you want in the world, but there was a good part of this that was completely hit or miss. A couple of the hikes I just drove by and said, ‘I didn’t know that was there.’ And when I hiked it, I thought, ‘That’s gotta go in the book.’”
Kish has a busy schedule of book talks where you can learn more about this new guidebook and purchase a signed copy coming up including book talks at 4 p.m. June 2 at the Carrabasset Valley Library, at 5:30 p.m. June 6 at the Southwest Harbor Public Library and at 6 p.m. June 12 at the Raymond Village Library. He also has a book signing scheduled for June 11 at the Atlantic Brewing Midtown in Bar Harbor and a hike and beer tasting at Batson River Brewing in Wells Beach on June 25.
To learn more about Kish, visit his website at mainegeographic.com and follow him on Facebook and Instagram.