Gabby Schulz lives deep in the woods of Maine—it’s as far away from the city he can get.
As one of 10 participants on the floating artist residency in my story, Ten artists, two canoes and ten days down The Penobscot River, Schultz’s particular brand of artwork struck me. I thought I’d see photographs, poems, and sculptures at the artists’ reception (and I did, all good) but I didn’t expect to see hand-drawn comics with a biting tone.
Here’s an older comic, titled The only thing I know, that provides a window into Schultz’s mindset.
“I drew that comic while I was a working stiff in Chicago for a couple years,” he said. “Chicago is a really big city with a truly antagonistic stance toward nature or beauty of any kind. Every weekend I'd go mushroom hunting, which meant I had to ride my bike five miles to the center of the Loop, then catch a commuter rail an hour out of town, as far out into the suburbs as I could get, then bike another half an hour to the nearest green area on the map. It was hilarious to me that it took this much effort just to see grass without Roundup on it, but it was the only joy I could find out of life there. After a couple years of this ritual I did some research, and I learned the reason this one natural area hadn't been built up like the rest of Illinois was because it was the (unmarked) dumping ground for the world's first nuclear reactor. I guess this story is supposed to illustrate how desperate I was during this time to get to a place with trees instead of buildings, or plants instead of people, and how that must mean it's pretty important for humans to be outside of cities. But also it’s so fascinating and sad how hard it is to describe something so essential in any meaningful or articulate way.”
Part of his bio gives a clue into his rationale. “I've embraced ‘gallows humor,’ a lifelong friend of comics, as the only sane response to the forces hurrying our own kaleidoscopic collapse, and I see absurdity as one of our few remaining pathways to beauty and joy.”
“At this point it seems pretty self-evident that the world as we know it is dying, fast, and this can make an artist a little philosophical about what concepts like ‘obligation’ or ‘engagement’ or ‘posterity’ might really mean anymore,” he explained.
He applied for and secured a spot on the Village Canoe in August, an experience, he said that took him out of the woods and into a communal experiment with strangers, which is not always a comfortable prospect when one works alone.
“Overall it was just what I expected—a lot of paddling, some good nature communion, a little chaos, and some wonderful bonding with strangers,” he said. “The communal experience was definitely the highlight of the trip, as the group was such a great combination of different people with different focuses and interests and personalities — and yet, no one was pretentious or overbearing or unavailable or boring. We all gelled really nicely, and from what I hear that's a bit rare with a bunch of artists.
“I was very curious to find out how other artists might be processing our changing relationship with the natural world, but I'm not sure anyone knows what to do now. With the fresh awareness of the Sixth Extinction hanging over us, communing with nature suddenly feels fleeting, unreal. Any inspiration I can draw from wilderness now feels more like finding ways to say goodbye -- to the ocean, animals or plants soon to be altered forever by climate change. It makes one feel obligated to document this very special moment in our history — likely a final chapter, as I see it — but that's also a hell of a thankless job. You have to laugh to keep from crying, and luckily that's a talent cartoonists have honed for generations now.”
Out of his 10-day paddling and camping experience, Schultz created three comics for the final artists’ show; one titled Biolumes, one titled Time Capsule and one, untitled featuring a hug.
I guess the Biolumes one is pretty self-explanatory, but the Time Capsule comic was just a statement of despair on everything,” he said. “You have a wonderful trip camping on some islands, but really, how is it contributing to stemming the tide of doom? Even with our minimal impact, how can we hope to ally ourselves with the natural world instead of further poisoning it? Looking at our efforts with a wide lens, it all just feels so hopeless, and decades from now our consumptions and comforts will probably seem criminally dumb, and all our big plans to save the world is just so much comically impotent hubris. Ironically, I feel like if more people were willing to see ourselves in this way, maybe meaningful change could happen. But while holding my breath waiting for that to happen, maybe it's all I can do to at least try to make us laugh at ourselves a little.”
For more information about Schultz’s work visit: gabbysplayhouse.com and for more information about the project visit:villagecanoe.org
‘A drinking town with a fishing problem’
BELFAST—Penobscot Falls is not a real town in Maine, but it is very much a real place in the latest 3-D artwork of artist Eric Green. It’s a train set town set in 1/48th scale surrounded by buildings, tiny people, rural settings and of course, electric trains. It was constructed in a converted-attic room on the third floor of Green’s house in Belfast. Measuring nearly 14 feet across and taking up half the room, the mill town meets the ocean.
“The town motto is ‘A drinking town with a fishing problem,’ ” said Green.
Sprawling under tracks, every single building and tiny figurine, every piece of landscape and water feature have been made by hand by Green, a process that has taken three years.
“It’s only a quarter of the way done,” he said.
His plans include lengthening the track and carving tunnels through the walls of the house so that the train can circumnavigate several rooms on the attic floor. So, it will never leave the confines of this house; if anything, it will morph into the bones of the house. Very few people will be lucky enough to see this train set in person.
This isn’t just a train set; this is Green’s childhood world set in 1956, the year Green was born, on a day in October. The trees are all turning muted yellow and orange colors. Having grown up in a mill town in Maine, Green recreated in miniature the down-and-out the buildings, the depressive atmosphere of a working town which doesn’t know that the primary engine that runs it–the mills– will eventually die out.
“This is the kind of world I grew up in, that I feel so comfortable in,” he said.
“From about the late 1920s and the 1960s there was this beautiful train equipment,” said Green. “The steam engines were masterpieces.”
In this town runs historically accurate Boston & Maine (B&M) trains, box cars, and passenger cars as they hum through tunnels and above water features on both two-foot gauge tracks which interchange with standard gauge tracks.
I’ve always loved trains, but this place reminds me of my dad when we’d drive through the town underneath the tracks and get fresh bread from a tiny bakery, really early in the morning, when he was still sober,” said Green.While he admits his relationship with his father was scarred, this train set and town is a tribute to the good times they had together. A column he wrote for PenBay Pilot provides much more context to he and his father’s shared hobby of building models.
“I started building train sets when I was seven years old,” he said.
It has been a lifelong hobby that he still derives deep satisfaction from.
“There are train nuts, people obsessed with trains and I think I know why,” he said. “When you’ve had a chaotic childhood, there is something calming to the relative levelness and predictability of those train tracks. I really feel good when I’m riding on railroad tracks in real life.”
There is also something soothing to making a miniature train world piece by piece, tiny building by building.
In Green’s Penobscot Falls, there is a wee diner that looks as though it’s open til 3 in the morning; an adult bookstore, a decrepit pool room, a biker bar with two choppers out front that Green had to painstakingly craft by hand. There are two train platforms, numerous brick mill building, a hangar, even a small spot down by the bay—Hobo Jungle—where Green’s miniature bums drink and tells stories over a trash fire.
“These people want to leave Penobscot Falls,” he said of his diminutive characters.
Because he is also a writer, this town is populated with tons of back stories; each character, hand-forged by him, has a purpose and they all have a reason for being there. In the diner, for example, the cook is the bent over the hot grill and the one lone man sitting there (recalling the Edward Hopper painting) is based on a White Tower hamburger spot Green had once, while riding freights across the country, tried to patronize in Minneapolis when it closed at 1am.
The trains, with one flick of a switch, come to life and the passenger cars reveal tiny people in various poses, reading, staring out the window, while the boxcars chug along through tunnels over bridges.
“This has been an obsession,” he said. “It’s a world I want to live in and every time I go up there and spend some time on it, I’m right back in that world.”
All photos courtesy and ©Eric Green.
BELFAST--She works hard for the money, that’s for sure. Captain Sadie Samuels catches lobster all week on her own boat, FV Must Be Nice.
The afternoon I’d stopped by her new lobster shack, located right on the Harbor Walk in Belfast, she’d already been up at 4 a.m. to go haul.
“The bait guys were late this morning, like 5 a.m., so I got a late start,” she admitted. Yet, by 10 a.m., when most of America is only an hour into their work day, Sadie got off the boat, and headed for her lobster shack, Must Be Nice Lobster Co., to begin churning out lobster and crab rolls all day to hungry customers.
And even when her day was done, at 6 p.m., she said she was still going to cook and shuck the lobsters that she’d caught today for tomorrow’s lunch menu.
Sadie is 27 and has been lobstering since she was a child.
“I got my student license when I was seven, and then my commercial license when I was 14, which is when I got my first boat,” she said. “I was fishing off my dad’s boat, and he allowed me to fish some of his gear, like 20 traps. I wanted more but my dad was like ‘you can’t take all of my gear; you need your own boat.’ So I got a tiny little outboard with an electric hauler.”
Even though she has lobster fished all of her life, Sadie’s father insisted she go to college, but even while she was attending college in California, earning her degree in printmaking, the sea still called every summer.
After graduation, she came back to Maine and began lobster fishing full-time.
As for the boat’s name, it’s a cheeky reference to how the lobstering life is perceived by those who don’t work in the industry.
“My sister and I came up with it,” she said. “We were like, ‘what will people say when they come down to the boat?’”
“We don’t know for sure what the future of lobster fishing is going to look like, so, I’ve been expanding a bit,” she said, of the lobster shack. “For the last three years I was selling my lobster rolls at the United Belfast Farmer’s Market, and recently found this mobile truck, so this was the next step. I kind of jumped on the opportunity. For this year, yeah, it’s a lot. But, that’s what’s winters are for.”
PenBay Pilot readers may remember Sadie from a recent story on Susan Tobey White’s series painting “Lobstering Women of Maine.” (See related story).
Sadie said it has been interesting to see customer reactions when they realize she is both the captain that supplies the lobsters as well as the lobster shack owner.
“Some people look at me in disbelief, and say to me, ‘you don’t look like you could do that [haul lobsters for a living].’ But, I want little girls to see me and say to themselves, ‘I can be a fisherman like her!’”
The best part about Sadie’s shack apart from her infectious smile, is how affordable she makes her product.
She offers $16 lobster rolls and $12 crab rolls, all freshly picked. And here’s something you never see: she also offers mini rolls for half that price. A crab roll mini costs the same as a McDonald’s quarter pounder with cheese.
“I just figure a lot of the time young kids can’t afford the full roll, so that makes it affordable for them, or for people who just want to try the taste of it,” she said.
Must Be Nice is open from Wednesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. near Heritage Park on the Harbor Walk until October.
Stay in touch with their Facebook page.
Kay Stephens can be reached at email@example.com
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
BLUE HILL—If you’re looking for a fun little road trip this summer no farther than an hour from the Midcoast, Fairwinds Florist, a shop in Blue Hill, is an artistic destination with a whimsical attraction. On the left side of the shop stands a vintage cigar machine. Instead of cigarettes, however, the glass partition for each knob reveals a tiny piece of art made by a local artist. For $15 you get a token to feed to the machine; the choice of artist is yours.
There’s a childlike feeling to tapping a coin in the slot, pulling the knob and watching a little white box slip out into the metal tray. You don’t know what you’ll get exactly, but the surprise is worth it.
On Monday, July 22, Fairwinds held an “Art Box Party” to celebrate the sixth anniversary of The Art Box and to invite people to try out the vending machine.
The Art Box is the idea of Michele Levesque and Michael Rossney, owners of EL EL FRIJOLES Mexican food a taqueria in Sargentville and Makers’ Market Shop & Studio in Brooksville.
“The cigarette machine dispensing art is not my idea,” said Levesque. “It’s an idea we came across in Chicago from a machine in a place called The Artomat and I was really intrigued, so I bought a piece. It stayed in the back of my head for awhile and we decided to find our own vintage cigarette machine and offer art that was more local. We wanted to do something for the artists of the peninsula and advertise their work a little, as well as provide an affordable way for people to collect art. We’ve got kids who come in here and are already art collectors because of the Art Box.”
Levesque and Rossney are artists whose work The Art Box dispenses.
“We currently have 11 artists that are involved with the project and sometimes we have artists who rotate through, but 11 is about all I can handle,” said Levesque. “ Every artist except for one lives here right here on the peninsula.”
Art ranges from hand-painted wood blocks, mixed media, altered books, found object sculpture, textiles, photography, handmade tiny books and other personalized items that can fit into the regulated sized box. For more backstory on the individual artists visit: The Art Box
One of the artists on hand that evening was Amelia Poole, who makes encaustic collages by layering vintage book pages and drawings with wax and resin. One particular piece that Carol Gregor of Brooksville bought through the vending machine was constructed from old handwritten letters.
Poole was happy to discover that someone had chosen her artwork, so she explained what it was: “This is a son in Korea writing back home to his father, in Bangor, named Sterling Diamond in 1951.”
“Sterling Diamond! What a name,” said Gregor.
The Art Box is a permanent feature of Fairwinds Florist shop. You don’t have to wait for one of their artist receptions; you can come in at any time and purchase a token to get some art from the cigarette machine. $10 of the purchase goes to the artist.
Kay Stephens can be reached at email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com
ROCKLAND—This past November, Ada’s Kitchen Bar Manager, Stacy Campbell, was invited to Portland,Oregon, during Portland Cocktail Week, to learn the latest trends in Event Management and mixology.
“There were 20 purveyors of every kind of alcohol you could imagine, but at one point, I was offered a non-alcoholic Negroni,” she said. “I tried it and had to ask again, ‘is this non-alcoholic?’ It was awesome!”
(Side note: Ada’s Kitchen is sort of know for their Negronis, as our last PenBay Pilot story “What’s In That Cocktail” attests.)
While bars have always offered a non-alcoholic choice of beverage, in Maine, the non-alcoholic craft cocktail, or mocktail, trend had to originate with Vena’s Fizz House in Portland, Maine, which debuted the botanical-infused mocktail when it opened in 2013.
After Campbell got a taste of the flavorful non-alcoholic spirits in Portland, Oregon, she began to imagine its possibilities at Ada’s Kitchen.
“First of all, I have a lot of friends in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), who would like to come out to a bar and be social, but have the option of ordering something that’s non-alcoholic and good, ” she said. “I put out a short survey on my Facebook page asking if people would be interested in mocktails and within a short period of time I had more than 100 comments saying yes.”
Apart from the typical seltzers and juices, Campbell knew, after what she’d tasted in Portland, they were going to need to up Ada’s game.
“The botanical non-alcoholic spirit in the Negroni I tasted in Portland is called Seedlip and it is different from anything out there,” she said. “It’s more complex and and you can smell and taste the natural flavors that come through the distilling process.”
Seedlip is a UK company that produces the distilled non-alcoholic spirits, based on herbal remedies published more than 300 hundred years ago by a physician named John French. The company, which produced its first batch using herbs and a copper still in 2015, became a international sensation, with iconic restaurants such as The Savoy, The Ritz and even Buckingham Palace vying for a bottle. Read more of their story here.
A bottle of Seedlip is £27 or $35 and Campbell was able to purchase several for Ada’s Kitchen and have them shipped to Rockland.
“Then I got to work, putting together a number of recipes that work best with the flavor profiles,” she said.
The Garden Tonic is Ada’s best seller on the mocktail menu. Using Seedlip’s Garden 108, made from natural botanical distillates and extracts (peas, hay, Spearmint, Rosemary, Thyme, Lemon hops), the mocktail contains jalapeno, lemon and just a splash of Brooklyn-based Fever-Tree Tonic.
“When you open the bottle, it’s this incredibly bright, fresh, smell,” she said. After she mixed the non-alcoholic spirit with the other drink’s ingredients, the visual result was like a garden in a glass with fresh basil, a long strip of cucumber and an expertly peeled coil of lemon rind swirled throughout.
Given the complexity of the mocktail and its imported ingredients, it costs just slightly under what a cocktail would be priced (around $8-9), but then again, what you’re getting is the little black dress of mocktails, not just tonic from the gun and the plop of a lime wedge.
“Right now, I’m trying to create our own version of the non-alcoholic Negroni,”said Campbell.
The discovery of Seedlip has led her down the path of searching for other fizzy mixers and high-quality ingredients.
“I found a soda from Italy that tastes just like a Campari. And now I’m working on trying to find something that approximates a Vermouth to complement that.”
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.
ROCKLAND—It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks for Lacy Simons, owner of hello hello books in Rockland.
In mid-January, she got a call at the bookstore from a representative of Publishers Weekly, who told her that hello hello had been chosen as one of the five nominees on their shortlist for the 2019 PW Bookstore of the Year Awards.
“My first reaction was that I was just really stunned and then I honestly had to stop myself from crying a little,” she said. “ I can’t remember that last time I was so caught off guard. I’m a serious over-preparer and overthinker as a mother, a business owner, as woman in general, so to be truly surprised was a big deal. I had to pull it together.”
It just so happened Simons was traveling to attend the Winter Institute, the annual conference of the American Booksellers Association Conference (ABA, the trade association for independent booksellers in the U.S.) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on January 24 where the official announcement was made.
She serves on the ABA's invitation-only Bookseller Advisory Council and frequently gives talks and moderates panels about bookshops and small business practices. Simons was present when Publishers Weekly announced hello hello books as one of the nominees.
“I got to be surrounded by the people who truly understood the significance of this and it was especially extraordinary,” she said.
2019 PW Bookstore of the Year Shortlist
— Lacy Simons
The PW Bookstore of the Year Award has been given every year for the past 26 years. Five bookstores were nominated this year, from a pool of more than two dozen nominees. Each winner was chosen by a carefully selected panel of five jurors, each with years of experience in the publishing industry. The decision was based on a long list of criteria including: buying, marketing, customer service; community involvement; management-employee relations, and merchandising and what makes the store unique.
The motto of hello hello books, which opened in August of 2011 in the space behind Rock City Cafe in downtown Rockland, is “small but powerful.”
“When they called me, they emphasized that they wanted to focus on newer and smaller stores this year, stores that are having an outsized impact on their communities,” said Simons.
“For me, it means an opportunity to talk about the larger picture of starting a small business in Maine and what it takes to keep it going year round. We’re all thinking of creative ways to improve the sales margins, and one of the benefits of being so small is that we’ve been able to evolve with our customers.
“On this micro level, we’re able to grow certain areas of interest on particular subjects of books, and as a result of that, cultivate this loyalty among our customers and have an impact on the reading culture of Rockland. And that’s what strengthens the ties to the community.”
Last November, Simons spoke on a panel discussing how challenging it was to not only start an independent bookstore, but to delegate aspects of it to her three employees. (See related story.)For now, Simons is just getting back to work. Winners will receive a write-up in Publishers Weekly in May 2019 and will be honored at an awards ceremony in New York City. This year’s winner will be named in late March and will be featured in the pre-BookExpo edition of Publishers Weekly magazine. The awards will be presented at BookExpo in New York City in June
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.