What do the song “Champagne Supernova” by Oasis and the brewing history of Jim Denz, co-owner and head brewer of the newly opened Island Dog Brewing in South Portland, have in common? They were both born in the mid-’90s.
So it was fitting that when I sat down in the tasting room on a Friday afternoon to interview Denz, the Oasis song was playing through the speaker above the bar. But while the brothers Gallagher were self-destructing in the mid-’90s, Denz was only getting started in his brewing career, when he boiled his first batch of homebrew in 1994.
Since that first five-gallon brew, Denz has devised and brewed over 100 different beer recipes in his 23 year tenure as a homebrewer.
“I’ve kept careful notes over the years. I have all the recipes in a notebook, and we plan on scaling most of them up to brew here at the brewery,” said the avuncular Denz.
Let’s take a quick look at the origin story of Denz and fellow Island Dog owner and homebrewer, the equally avuncular Tim Francis.
Denz was living in his native Buffalo, New York, when he first caught the homebrewing bug. He quickly dedicated a room in his house for brewing only. When he moved to Maine with his wife, Jody, 11 years ago, Denz installed a three-keg kegorator in his new dedicated homebrew room, obsessively working through different beer styles and ingredients.
Five years ago, Denz and his wife were on a tour with The Maine Brew Bus visiting local tasting rooms, when Jody, who has always been supportive of Denz’s homebrewing and is also an owner of Island Dog, asked her husband, “Why don’t you start a brewery?” That planted the seed.
Fast-forward a couple years. Denz won an auction to brew for the day at Baxter Brewing. He showed up at 3 a.m. and brewed three batches of beer at the Lewiston brewery. It was a hot, tiring, difficult day — and Denz loved every second of it.
“That got me thinking: I can really do this,” he said.
This set Denz and Francis, whom he met, fittingly, at a brewfest, off on the arduous two-year journey of finding their site near the Maine Mall, scaling up Denz’s homebrew recipes, building out the brewery and tasting room, and taking care of all the other mind-numbing minutiae that come with opening a brewery. In early June, the dream became a reality.
All those years of homebrewing between Denz and Francis come through as loud and clear as the ’90s Pandora station sounding through the tasting room speakers.
There’s a common motif running through the six diverse beers on draft: perfect clarity in appearance, clean malt and hop flavors, and no astringent off-flavors.
That’s no small feat for the first few commercial batches from longtime homebrewers.
The Unit 15 Saison was the immediate standout. This farmhouse ale has beautiful fruity ester notes from the yeast. The grains give just the right malt undercurrent to the citrus flavors of the yeast and hops.
Captain Tucker, a cream ale, is clean drinking for days, a refreshing ale with no hop bitterness.
The American wheat beer, Rocky Coast, is made from all Maine ingredients. The malts come from Blue Ox Malt House in Lisbon Falls, and the hops are from The Hop Yard in Gorham. Like the best wheat beers, Rocky Coast is a big invitation to all beer drinkers.
Don’t be scared off by the brewery’s proximity to the Maine Mall. The tasting room has a warehouse-chic vibe, patrons can play cornhole and giant Jenga, and the outdoor patio boasts zero mall views. There’s even an Otto location in the same complex, delivering thin-sliced pizza to pair with Denz and Francis’s diverse catalogue of skillfully crafted beer.
WHERE: 125 John Roberts Road, South Portland
WHEN: 3 to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, noon to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. Sunday
ON DRAFT: Up to 10 beers on draft at the tasting room, including Unit 15 Saison, Captain Tucker Cream Ale, Rocky Coast Wheat Ale and rotating taps from the 100 recipes of head brewer Jim Denz
MORE INFO: islanddogbrewing.com
OTHER BEER HAPPENINGS
Bunker Buster Summer Luster with Zeme Libre and Gorilla Finger Dub
6 to 10 p.m. Saturday, 17 Westfield St., Unit D, Portland, $10. Facebook.
If you haven’t gotten in on the new trend of brewhouse concerts, let Saturday be your initiation. The afro-beat, reggae and ska band Zeme Libre headlines a show at the Westfield brewery. Part of Bunker Brewing’s vision in opening its new brewery was to host live music in the larger space. Mission accomplished. Saturday’s concert will also feature fellow reggae outfit Gorilla Finger Dub, fresh off its gig opening for Ziggy Marley at Aura. Expect heaps of Bunker beer, food trucks and endless Jah vibes.
Summer Session: Maine Brewers’ Guild 2017 Beer Festival
1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 29, Thompson’s Point, Portland. $49 general admission, $60 VIP. eventbrite.com
Summer Session is still a week away, but I feel a zealous urge to compel you to pick up tickets to what will surely be Maine’s best brewfest of the year. Though next week’s column will be solely dedicated to teasing out all the sumptuous details to this beer fest, here are some teasers: There will be more Maine brewers pouring beer than at any other brewfest, some amazing out-of-state brewers will be on hand, patrons can take Beer School classes with local brewers and the ambiance, food and live entertainment will be top notch. This event has sold out in the past, so pick up your tickets now and stay tuned for the full story next week.