Months before Bissell Brothers Brewing Company opened their doors – or even installed their first set of brewing equipment – their logo started popping up around town. I will freely admit that their initial “all-marketing-no-beer” strategy made me a bit skeptical, and I worried that when the time came for them to release their first beer they’d be riding on the coolness factor alone – perhaps at the expense of the beer. So many of the new breweries I’ve seen open recently started in such a humble, grassroots fashion that the brashness and branding made me suspicious. Even after spending the last seven years or so watching the brewery scene, I rarely see such a business-focused drive coming right out of the gate. Maybe the beer would simply not be as good as the marketing was.
Then, I tried The Substance Ale – the debut and flagship IPA – and I knew, instantly, that I was completely wrong.
Let me back up for a bit. As part of the previously mentioned New Breweries Tour from the Maine Brew Bus, I got the excuse to visit Bissell Brothers’ space on Industrial Way for the first time. When you walk into the brewery and tasting room, there is an electric energy that greets you. It wasn’t just the reaction from Peter and Noah Bissell to the 15 people tour group – but the colors, lighting and surroundings added an air of attitude, and what I can only describe as a vision that is all their own. You know this place is 100% theirs the second you walk in – and that they march to the beat of their own drums.
The brewery was dramatically lit, with uplighting pointing not to the shiny stainless brew kettle or fermenters, but to the unique and beautiful wall art. A back room with a ping-pong table (hmmm… do I see an Industrial Way ping-pong tournament on the way?) and a wall of unfilled cans provides the backdrop for a place that feels partly like a brewery and partly like a skate park. The canning equipment delivery been delayed twice due to weather, and they are waiting for its imminent arrival any day now.
The Substance itself is a well-balanced and tasty IPA, with lots of flavor minus the back-end harshness of a lot of similar beers. It’s not trying to be aggressively and stickily hoppy, but it isn’t hiding behind its malt profile either – it is simply a very drinkable yet very hoppy brew. The aroma is fruity and juicy, and is one of my favorite parts of enjoying this beer, but so is its taste. Since the first time I’ve tried it, I’ve found myself coming back to the amber liquid and being happy each time I’ve done so.
During the tour, brewer Noah Bissell bounced around the brewery, sharing his home brewing background (reportedly started while he was in college) and his decision to open the brewery. It was not entered into lightly – and each move, including the decision to can, has been a calculated one. The restroom of the brewery is even plastered decoupage style with pages from their business plan and research. Makes for some fun reading while you are, well, taking care of your own business.
If you want to get your hands on The Substance, you can find it at many bars in downtown Portland, but also around the state in Brunswick and beyond (check out their Facebook page for updates on recent deliveries). Bissell Brothers are self-distributing their kegs in their bright green van, so wherever it goes, the beer goes. Having enjoyed a relatively popular debut on tap, I can only infer that if they are able to stay as consistent in their quality as they have been in their brand that the canned release should make a significant mark on the Maine beer scene.