UNITY— Walking through meadows of apple trees, and by clusters of wildflowers and sculptures, I entered the grounds of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association in Unity on Saturday, August 17 intent on one thing: drinking beer and eating bread.
MOFGA’s first Bread and Brews Festival did not disappoint, drawing nearly 200 people from all over the state. I’ve been to many brew fests around the state, but this one felt small and intimate with 11 breweries in the main area of the Common Ground Education Center
“We heard from many of the brewers that they appreciated how small this was,” said Torie DeLisle, MOFGA’s Director of Development and Membership. “One of the brewers told us that at the large scale brew festivals, they often feel like they are just processing orders, whereas at this festival, they got to really had time to talk about their beer and ingredients with people who were very interested. So, they felt that they got some real interaction with the participants.”
Co-sponsored by the Maine Grain Alliance, the festival highlighted the many ways that Maine-grown grains are enjoying a renaissance in Maine, in both baking and beer. Many people didn’t know until they came to the festival how much the farmers, bakers, businesses and brewers all collaborate and intersect, using Maine grains in a variety of ways. For example, many brewers are sourcing their fermentables—barley, rye, wheat and oats—locally, rather than import from gristmills and farms out of state. See my 2017 related story below.
“The connection between farmers of Maine-grown grains and brewers has really deepened over the years,” said DeLisle. “To give you one example, one Maine brewer who came here, buys the grains from the farmer and runs it through the system to make the beer. When the grains are spent, the brewer then send them to a baker, who uses them in a special beer bread, so you have this full circle process—definitely a collaboration we’re trying to foster.”
The festival was also different from a typical beer tasting in that there was an educational component with multiple demos and workshops in both baking and brewing. Eli Rogosa, founder of Heritage Founder Conservancy, was one such notable presenter, who gave a workshop on “A Taste of Ancient Grains.” A renowned “seed steward” and author, Rogosa traveled the world to collect rare and ancient wheat species, called landrace wheats, which were on the verge of extinction when she brought them back to the United States. These heritage wheats are far superior in proteins and nutrients than commercially processed wheats and tend to grow exceedingly well in Maine’s short growing season.
“We were lucky to have people like Eli and other key people in Maine who are at the forefront of the grain revolution giving classes and baking bread with the participants,” said DeLisle. “We have a wood-fired oven and were kicking out wood-fired bread all night.”
And those who chose to stay the night and set up their tents on the grounds were treated to a “breads and spreads” breakfast Sunday morning. Beyond that, the festival offered food trucks, live music, samples from other vendors and for lack of a better word, a pretty organic experience.
Based on the success of this festival, DeLisle says there’s already plans int he works for a 2020 festival. “We may not make it too much bigger, but will round it out even more,” she said. “Our ongoing role is to create an educational experience that helps brewers connect with Maine growers. We’re even starting to have a conversation about creating a MOFGA-inspired organic beer for next year.”
Now, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one after drinking all that beer and eating all of that bread to think: “Time to jump back on that diet tomorrow.”
“We were joking that maybe we should probably start out the day with a 5K run,” said DeLisle, laughing. “We’ll see: stay tuned.”
For more information on future MOFGA events visit: MOFGA
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
BELFAST—A new brewery has quietly opened in Belfast, but unlike most hyper-local rural breweries, Frosty Bottom Brewing is choosing to operate not as a public tasting room, but as a “brew share,” similar to the Community Supported Agriculture model of farm shares and fish shares that currently enjoy a popular following in the Midcoast.
Roy Curtis is the owner of Frosty Bottom Brewing, with friends and shareholders Zafra Whitcomb and Jon Thurston helping him brew. All three were individual home brewers who enjoyed getting together as sort of an informal club and experimenting with a variety of styles before Curtis started the company this year.
Frosty Bottom Brewing’s rough-sawn pine brewery and tasting room sits at 18 Hunt Road in Belfast adjacent to Curtis’ house, which he built with friends using a stand of pine that was specially reserved for the brewery located on Frost Hill Road.
For that reason, “Frost” was incorporated into the name as well as the logo.
In addition, Curtis built an apartment over the tasting room that he intends to rent out in July as a unique Airbnb listing calling it “room with a brew.” Downstairs, half of the structure is the “brewing side” with a one-barrel brewing system that produces 30 gallons when they brew every two weeks.
“Ultimately, our goal is to have 60 gallons each month,” said Curtis.
The company’s model was born out of a hobby and aims to remain a hobby; that is, the purpose of the brewery is to generate enough product to sell to shareholders, who pay an annual fee and get in return, a growler (one gallon) of two different brew style each month—or 24 styles annually.
In addition, every shareholder has the privilege of stopping by the semi-private tasting room for an exclusive free tasting of whatever the brewers are currently making. Right now, the brewery has sold all of its 2019 shares, primarily to friends and family, many of whom, helped to construct the brewery.
“We’re excited to try brewing new styles we’ve never done before and the ideal shareholder will be someone who is open to trying absolutely everything,” said Thurston.
While the CSA model for brewing isn’t new in other parts of the country, it is unique in Maine. Only one other Maine brewery has adopted this model. Side by Each Brewing in Lewiston, also offers a Community Supported Brewing program.
As both Curtis and Whitcomb are both currently employed full time and Thurston is retired, they aren’t looking to expand much more beyond this original goal, until the time is right.
Given their limited license with the city of Belfast, the brewery cannot sell beer at its tasting room location, but may only offer free samples to those in their shareholder program. For interested parties in a brew share, Curtis said he’s always willing to give a mini tour of the facilities when it works with his schedule and that those looking to sign up for a brew share may email him for consideration on the 2020 list.
“When we open up shares for 2020, we’re hoping to take on 40 shareholders,” said Curtis. “Forty of the gallons will be for them and the other 20 gallons per month will be for tastings.”
“Waldo county is pretty rich with the CSA-movement and brewing for us is very connected to local agriculture,” said Curtis.
Along with using hops from Thurston’s farm, the brewery buys Maine grains from Blue Ox Malthouse and once the grain is spent, it is fed to local pigs.
“And the brewery is really an outgrowth of the community-supported model,” he said. “As home brewers we all shared in the cost and labor to make a product, so this is really an outgrowth of that.”
For more information visit Frosty Bottom Brewery on Facebook.
Kay Stephens can be reached at email@example.com
BELFAST— The addition of Perennial Cider Bar & Farm Kitchen is exactly what Belfast needs right now.
The grand opening at 84 Main Street (formerly the yarn shop) took place in a cozy basement space dominated by a copper-topped bar. Chef-owner Khristopher Hogg took turns serving the dozens of curious apple lovers who came to see what a cider bar is all about.
With plenty of seating at the bar, several surrounding two tops and a nook that can seat up to six people, this small place can pack them in and still feel lively and comfortable.
On the liquid side of the menu, Perennial offers traditional and heritage hard ciders from Maine, New England and beyond. Each cider they’ve chosen is distinct and they offer upwards to 25 different ciders, from the bottle, can and on tap. See who they source from here.
Cider by the glass (8 oz pour) ranges from $6 to $9 and cider on tap (8 oz and 12 oz pours) range from $4.5 to $7.
Along with several ways to enjoy a flight of cider tastings, there are also ice ciders (served neat on ice) for $5 and cider apertifs, along with a non-alcoholic kombucha and a cider vinegar shot.
Most people are not cider connoisseurs and that problem is solved with The Pommelier’s Choice on the menu (a riff on Sommelier), allowing the taster to be interviewed on one’s beer, wine and spirit preferences, before the knowledgeable bartender determines the customer’s palate and picks the best flavor combinations in the form of a three-glass flight (three ounces each) for $9.
A flight of Rocky Ground Dahlia, Cornish Common Fruit and Whaleback Traditional Dry from Lincolnville, for example, ranged wildly in flavor. Whereas the Rocky Ground was more of an earthy, honeyed flavor reminiscent of adult apple juice, the Cornish, Common Fruit, with its ripe strawberry and oak, was effervescent, bright and sweet. Then, the Whaleback knocked it out of the park with hazy tartness and an overall harmony that made the third sip feel like the last act in a third-act play.
Though Perennial does not make its own cider (yet) Hogg is a cider enthusiast himself and wanted to create a space for others to appreciate this burgeoning scene. Over the past decade he’s managed farm-to-table kitchens in Boston, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington state where he started Perennial as a traveling supper club. The food side of the menu, as website describes, was inspired “in the tradition of the tavernas, tapas bars, farmhouses, and street corners” with the best available local ingredients. Small plates such as coppa (cured pork shoulder, fir-infused honey and chamomile mayo) run you $4.5 to $6, along with snacks such as deviled eggs, charcuterie boards, small comfort foods and a cold-frame salad.
This cider bar fits in perfectly with Belfast’s character and is sure to be a local’s favorite, along with a hot spot for visitors this summer.
Open Wednesday to Saturday, happy hour is 4 to 6 p.m. Dinner and full cider program goes from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and 6 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Check their calendar regularly for upcoming tastings, talks, and other events.
Photos by Kay Stephens, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
CAMDEN— The “quiet” side of the Camden harbor, the marina and boatyard owned by Lyman Morse at Wayfarer Marine, is about to bustle with more traffic this spring with the opening of Blue Barren Distillery, a small-batch craft distillery and tasting room that will sit right next to Rhumb Line.
Co-owners Andrew Stewart of The Drouthy Bear and Jeremy Howard, a seventh generation blueberry farmer, and part of of Brodis Blueberries in Hope, are behind the small operation.
Stewart, along with his wife, Shannon, owned the Hope General Store for nine years before moving to Camden and buying a house on Elm Street, converting the downstairs into The Drouthy Bear pub. The Stewarts still have deep connections to the Hope community, which is where their friendship with Howard was forged.
The Drouthy Bear is the only establishment in the Midcoast that focuses on rare Irish and Scottish whiskies, so opening a distillery wasn’t a far leap.
“My entire adult life in Scotland was spent working in restaurants and bars from the time I went to university,” said Stewart. “And I used to travel all around Scotland visiting the distilleries. So one day at the pub, where most good ideas start, Jeremy and I got talking about how the blueberry industry was having a real hard time on the market, with prices dropping from $1.75 per pound to 20 cents a pound. We were just thinking of ways to use blueberries in other products and thought we could make a brandy out of them.”
The small talk turned into a serious interest when two years ago, the duo traveled to Boston to tour Bully Boy Distillery in Boston, the first distillery in Boston opened since Prohibition.
That visit solidified their intent and from there, they began to educate themselves on the distilling process through books, the internet, multiple interviews with other distillers and even a course on distilling in Chicago.
The biggest pieces to fall into place involved finding the right location, getting a loan from The First, working through the endless hurdles of federal and state licensing and choosing the best still.
They eventually landed in a small dark blue building that abuts Lyman Morses marina, an industrial space, which used to be a machine shop. It took months of research to decide upon a small batch Vendome Copper & Brass Works still from a venerable company that has been making stills since 1900.
The stainless steel and copper one-hundred-gallon pot still dominates the corner of the room while four giant plastic vats called totes, containing the purple mash of fermented blueberries take up the other half.
On the day of my visit, Stewart was confined to the space for a period of 12-14 hours on the first stripping run. Multiple mason jars sat on top of the vats containing the clear alcohol in its various stages–the foreshots, the hearts and the tails of the stripping run. The point of this run is to strip as much alcohol from the mash as possible—the result of which is called “low wine.”
What’s left over is the leftover water, sediment and yeast and bits of blueberry stem and hull, which eventually they may use in secondary products such as soaps, hand creams and fertilizer.
“A blueberry brandy is going to be our first product,” said Stewart. “But, it will be a once-a-year small batch.”
‘We want to sell it, but our goal is to make a local product that the community is proud of.’
co-owner of Blue Barren Disillery
Stewart and Howard initially envisioned it would only take a month or two to harvest the blueberries, ferment them and run through the boiler on their initial stripping run back in August. But, between paperwork and the delay of getting the still, it took so much time, they had to harvest the blueberries and have Oyster River in Warren ferment the product for them.
“We’ve already learned a lot, so next year, we’ll be able to take the fresh blueberries after the harvest, mash them and directly distill the brandy that way,” said Stewart. “Every year, every batch of blueberry brandy will taste different based on a number of factors, such as the weather and harvest time, which affects sugar content. Even the various different blueberry clones that have developed naturally over thousands of years have completely different flavor profiles from each other. Our goal because it will be an annual product is that each batch have its own identity.”
As Stewart poured the clear alcohol into multiple glass jars, he has learned by sniffing the product to know at which phase of the stripping run it’s in.
“I’m learning as we go, but a master distiller will know just by smell after if it has had air or after its been in a barrel, they have enough experience to know how the flavor profile will change,” he said.
After the blueberry brandy, Stewart and Howard will move onto a Scottish-inspired gin styled after a Plymouth gin as well as rum with six new products by May or June.
“Everyone thinks of Scotland as the ‘whisky country,’ but there has been an explosion of gin over the last decade with more than 100 gin distilleries in Scotland, and a huge exploration of styles and flavors,” he said.
Blue Barren Distillery had hoped to debut their brandy, eau de vie, at the U.S. Toboggan National Championships February 8-10 with a vendor booth. However, due to labeling issues and delays caused by the government shutdown, the product is again delayed and they will be selling cocktails using other Maine distillers to support the growing craft distillery movement in Maine, as well generate income to launch their space.
By May, they hope to renovate the machine room into a tasting room with a lab and include outdoor tables on the deck with an awning facing the ocean.
“Drew [Lyman] has been incredibly supportive and kind and really excited to have something for people who come in on the boats for also for the community at large,” said Stewart.
The opening will be a boon to Camden, which has never had a distillery before.
“Our goal this year is to stay local; not even try to distribute,” said Stewart. “We want people to enjoy it here first. The goal is for people to think of us as part of the community and something they are proud of.”
For updates stay tuned to their Facebook page.
A comprehensive run down of each establishment’s mood, offerings, hours and prices
Now that it’s officially fall and dark at an unholy hour, we’ve updated
The Midcoast’s Guide To Happy Hours.
Bookmark the link above when you want to figure out where to go on any given day of the week.
The Killer Convo
This blog is a is a killer roundup of all arts, entertainment, brewery & distillery, food trucks, happy hour happenings in the Midcoast Maine. Feel free to email me anything about Midcoast arts, entertainment & the creative economy.