“The town is easy to miss if you don’t take that left turn off of 26,” Erika Melhus said about Norway, population 5,000, the eponymous location of her brewpub.
Coming from Portland, most people pass right by it as they head toward Paris.
But Norway is not just the town for which Norway Brewing Co. is named. It’s also the country were Erika’s husband, Charlie Melhus, was born. Charlie’s Norwegian father and American mother met in Europe. When he was in sixth grade, the family moved to the states, where his father coincidentally landed a job at Stephens Memorial Hospital on Main Street in Norway.
“It just kind of happened that way,” said Erika, who has two children with Charlie, both of whom were born overseas.
The couple lived in Stavanger, Norway, for several years before moving their family back to Maine in 2014 to pursue the brewery. They have been home brewing together for years, and, Charlie, who has a background in culinary arts, worked at Lervig Aktiebryggeri in Norway, a craft brewery that’s been known to contract with popular gypsy breweries like Mikkeller.
Erika graduated from Maine College of Art and has worked in beer advocacy and restaurants over the years. After looking at properties for their brewery, the couple settled on an old trolley building in early 2015, then spent about a year renovating and planning. Charlie’s parents, Brenda and Ola Melhus, are also part-owners of the brewery, offering planning, advising and help with guest experience.
“We decided early on we wanted to have a place that was our own so that we could work for ourselves,” Erika said. “First, we were going to open a brewery, but the demand in the area and love for food, it evolved into a restaurant brewpub experience.”
The brewpub opened on April 21 with 27 seats indoors and a spacious patio that can seat an additional 75 people.
Charlie does all of the brewing, focusing mainly on farmhouse style ales, pale ales, session ales and their flagship stout.
“Generally, we’re a full range of craft flavors, but we want to focus on farmhouse style, which is tangy, fresh and unfiltered,” said Erika. “There’s a lot of love put into the process of brewing.”
Although the couple is excited to continue experimenting with different yeast combinations for their beers with the use of fermenting foraged ingredients (berries, grapes, spruce tips, dandelion heads, apples), Erika said, they are pleasantly surprised to see that the food aspect of the brewpub has taken off.
Charlie helped develop the menu and kickoff the kitchen team but has handed over responsibility to head chef Corey Dilts and second-in-command Sayvepen Sengsavang.
“We have a very talented culinary team,” said Erika. “They are creating farm-to-table dishes utilizing our local farms and get to have a lot of freedom.”
On a recent night, guests were munching on big sandwiches like the spicy fried chicken ($10) and the full monte ($9), made with a fried egg, cheddar and maple candied bacon on herb French toast. Entrees are available, and snacks and small plates include sweet potato chips ($3.50), pimento cheese ($5), cheese board ($10), sausage ($8) and risotto ($7).
Norway Brewing Co. is not yet licensed to sell beer, wine or liquor other than their own, but at least five beers are always available in a 4, 12 or 16 ounces ($1 to $3, $3 to $7.50, and $4 to $6, respectively), and there are plenty of non-alcoholic and kid-friendly options, such as Maine Root sodas, San Pellegrino sodas, Ricker Hill Sparkling Cider, lemonade, coffee and tea.
On Aug. 13, the Melhus family and the brewery will be part of the Foothills Food Festival, which will include a mini beer festival.
“This is an amazing community with wonderful people, and I’m really happy that I’m going to be spending the rest of my life here,” Erika said, “and that my children will grow up here, too.”
WHERE: 237 Main St., Norway
HOURS: Wednesday and Thursday, 4-11 p.m.; Friday, 4 p.m. to midnight.; Saturday 2 p.m. to midnight.; Sunday noon to 4 p.m.; Closed Monday and Tuesday
AMENITIES: Ample outdoor seating, shaded outdoor seating, impeccably clean bathrooms, lots of parking.
BOTTOM LINE: Located in downtown Norway, Norway Brewing Co. provides this small but vibrant town with craft beer and a food menu that’s dedicated to local farms. Beers include what’s made on-site: pale ale, saison, session ale, farmhouse ale, amber ale and a stout. Non-alcoholic and kid-friendly drinks are available, as well as coffees and teas. The outdoor seating in the summer is the real draw here, and the service is friendly and prompt.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes