From lunchtime into the night, the Newcastle brewing company is serving their beloved beers, along with red, white and rosé, on the East End.
It’s no secret some of the best places to grab drinks these days are in the tasting rooms of Maine’s many craft breweries. But not all tasting rooms are created equal. Oxbow’s Blending & Bottling location in Portland, for instance, offers several things many of the others don’t: In addition to its own beer, it serves beer from other breweries, not to mention wine. Also, it’s a welcoming spot for artists and musicians.
Oxbow specializes in traditional Belgian-style ales, which are brewed in its Newcastle Brewery, and aged, blended and packaged in Portland at 49 Washington Ave. Located between Coffee By Design and Maine Mead Works, this warehouse operation seems at first glance like an unlikely spot for drinks, snacks, art and music, but that’s kind of the point. Concealed and removed from the street, Oxbow’s tasting room has a speakeasy feel yet it’s still accessible and approachable, even if you don’t drink beer.
Three wines are available alongside the beers – a red, a rosé and a white ($7-$8) – and the red, a Côte-du-Rhône, is served chilled on draft, which is a growing summertime trend. Old Overholt Rye Whiskey is also on the menu for $6/1.5 oz, as well as the liqueurs Averna, Cynar, Fernet Branca and Fernet Michaud. Etienne Dupont’s cider is available in a 375 ml bottle for $12.50.
Oxbow features rotating “guest drafts” in addition to their own beer on tap (Farmhouse Pale Ale, Continental, Grizacca, Bowie, Freestyle 36) available in eight or 12-ounce pours that range in price from $3 to $8. On a recent evening, beers from Italy and the Netherlands were featured (Birra Del Borgo Perle Ai Porci; De Molen Cuvee #5), in addition to Sierra Nevada’s NC Saison.
The copper bar seats 12 with stools originally from Duckfat that were repurposed by Oxbow’s Art Director Will Sears and fellow artist Sam Gilbert using some of Sears’ painted red, white and black signs. Eight custom picnic tables make seating easy and communal, and a makeshift high-top table is balanced by two oak barrels. String and drop lights decorate the space, with old wooden crates used as shelves behind the bar. A merchandise section sells hip hats, tees and onesies, too, and empty growlers are filled with fresh flowers.
Two art displays are now at “Gallery 49” in the tasting room while The Art Wall features Victor Plourde, and the Pentakis Icosidodecahedron Spaceframe hangs from the ceiling; it was designed by Clint Fulkerson and fabricated by Nelson Metal Fabrication. Check Oxbow’s event page on their website for upcoming summer events and shows. For example, on Aug. 19, artist and designer Keith Shore, the label designer for Mikkeller in Denmark, will have an exhibition.
And these sorts of things are really the best part of Oxbow’s tasting room – it’s more than your typical tasting room experience of $2 flights of beer off to the side. This is an expansive, creative and energetic space – you can watch as delivery trucks come and go while the Oxbow bottling team is at work – that supports artists, musicians and outside inventions. It signals to patrons it’s not just about Oxbow; Oxbow is about the much bigger picture.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Oxbow Blending & Bottling tasting room
WHERE: 49 Washington Ave., Portland
HOURS: Noon to 9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, noon to 11 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
AMENITIES: Views of the blending and bottling operation, merchandise, clean bathrooms, “outdoor feel” with the garage door open on warm nights, picnic tables, standing room, cheese and meat plates.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes
BOTTOM LINE: Oxbow’s Blending & Bottling tasting room in Portland is about more than beer. The expansive space, where wine, whiskey, and even non-Oxbow beers are served, is a veritable bar with up some 40 seats, plenty of standing room, and frequent music, art and design events.