Jen Irish lifts the garage door on a humid Sunday in July to let in the handful patrons waiting in the dirt parking lot.
Her two young daughters duck under the door and run into the brewery. Local beer lovers grip empty growlers ready to be filled.
Just two weeks after opening, Saco River Brewing Co. is officially open for the day.
Located off Route 302 in bucolic Fryeburg, Saco River is the latest Maine brewery to open its tasting room doors.
As I sip from a glass of Clearwater Pale Ale, an American ale brewed with the citrus-forward Citra and Mosaic hops, Mason Irish, co-founder, head brewer and husband of Jen Irish, takes me through Saco River’s origin story.
Seven years ago, western Maine was experiencing a mediocre ski season.
“I needed a hobby to occupy my time, since I couldn’t ski. I had brewed a little in college at Orono, but that winter I started homebrewing a lot,” Irish explained.
In the following years, homebrewing grew from a hobby for Irish and co-owner/brewer Kevin Antonucci into something they wanted to do professionally.
With the support of family and friends, Irish and Antonucci found an empty industrial building behind Two Black Dogs Country Pub, just a stone’s throw from Fryeburg Academy and a short walk from the eponymous Saco River. This past winter, they converted the space into a brewery and tasting room.
Irish credits the brewers at nearby Moat Mountain Brewing Co. with helping the two friends make the leap from homebrewers to commercial brewers. The Moat Mountain team was generous with advice and assistance, even offering extra yeast when Irish and Antonucci ran short.
Saco River Brewing Co. is starting small, brewing on a seven-barrel system. Looking through the plate glass windows behind the tasting room bar, however, there’s plenty of room to add more stainless steel tanks as the demand for their beer grows.
The tasting room, which formerly housed a sheet metal fabrication shop, maintains an industrial feel with concrete floors and rustic woods. A red Old Town canoe hangs above the poured concrete bar. On my July visit, the smell of sawdust and fresh paint still lingered in the air.
Pulling back driftwood tap handles, Irish poured me a paddle – literally – of Saco River beers.
After finishing the Clearwater Pale Ale, I swigged the Driftwood IPA. This golden IPA has notes of grapefruit and mango with a pine finish. The sugary malts standout a bit louder than the hops, but, overall, it’s a balanced IPA.
Though I don’t associate porters with summer, the Old Course Porter paired surprisingly well with the 85 degree day. Old Course, named after a section of the Saco River, features flavors of molasses, raisins, and burnt cereal.
The final beer was the Coffee Porter, which is Old Course brewed with locally roasted coffee beans. I like my coffee porters to gush with coffee aroma and flavor, and this beer didn’t disappoint. Irish said that, in the future, he’d like to play with different coffee roasts, featuring peak roast and dark roast versions of Coffee Porter.
With plenty of warm weather left this summer, head up to Fryeburg, grab some beer from the newly minted Saco River Brewing Co., and float down the scenic river while sipping beers from Maine’s newest brewery.
WHERE: 10 Jockey Cap Lane, Fryeburg
WHEN: 3 to 7 p.m. Friday, noon to 7 p.m. Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday
ON DRAFT: Clearwater Pale Ale (citrus-forward American ale, 4.5-percent ABV), Driftwood IPA (grapefruit and mango hop flavors with a prominent malt spine, 6.5-percent ABV), Old Course Porter (molasses, raisin and burnt cereal flavors, 6.5-percent ABV), Coffee Porter (porter brewed with generous amounts of coffee, 6.5-percent ABV)
MORE INFO: www.facebook.com/sacoriverbrewing
OTHER BEER HAPPENINGS
Beer & Oysters at Rising Tide Brewing Co.
4 to 7 p.m. Friday, 103 Fox St., Portland
Since Rising Tide Brewing is all about capturing the fresh flavors of Maine in its American-style ales, it’s fitting the brewery will feature a night of oysters from O’ Oysters. Rising Tide’s Pisces, a gose brewed with Maine seawater, will be heavenly after slurping down a fresh oyster. Rising Tide features oysters and beer on the last Friday of every month, so if you can’t make it this Friday, mark your calendar for September.
Return of the Belgian Beer Fest
Sept. 17, 58 Fore St., Portland. $55 per ticket. https://www.beeradvocate.com/belgian/tickets/
Though this event is a few weeks away, secure your tickets now. This brewfest is an homage to all things Belgian beer. Hosted by Allagash Brewing Co., this festival will feature beer from local brewers, as well as impossible to get beers from around the world. If you love Belgian beers or you’re looking to get into beers from this region, this is your brew fest. Expect tickets to go fast.