Starting a brewery is not a venture to enter lightly. Between the permits from city hall, the build out, the meetings in Augusta, and the learning curve of brewing a consistent product on a professional system, opening a brewery is like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube with one hand tied behind your back, underwater, without much oxygen in your tank.
But breweries continue to open in Maine at a breakneck pace. Why? Because brewers are a passionate, tenacious bunch. Every time a brewery opens, a small group of people have reached the end of an arduous journey so they can bring you beer. God bless them.
The latest Maine brewery to open its doors to the public is Fore River Brewing Co. The South Portland brewery is a labor of love for John LeGassey, T.J. Hansen and Alex Anastasoff.
Head brewers LeGassey and Hansen are longtime homebrewers who have spent the last month honing their recipes on a commercial system. When I visit the brewery on a Saturday morning in early January, the two are clad in knee-high muck boots and pouring grain into 5-gallon buckets as they prepare for a 10-hour day of brewing John Henry, their milk stout.
Standing in the brewery with LeGassey and Hansen, the only word to describe the new tasting room is “gorgeous.” Mainly the work of Alex Anastasoff, the room is industrial-rustic-chic: all warm woods and concrete floors. Wood beams abound. A wood stove burns next to a brick chimney. Handcrafted light fixtures blink on the walls. Custom wood boards line the ceiling. I know I write about beer, but the tasting room alone is worth the visit.
But, let’s get to the beer.
LeGassey and Hansen explain that, to start, Fore River will offer three beers: the aforementioned milk stout, an Irish red ale, and an IPA. (I’m told that the fourth addition will be a farmhouse ale.)
Named for the steel-driving man, the John Henry Milk Stout is a beer that begs to be poured on nitro. Thankfully, Fore River has a nitro system in place at the tasting room. John Henry has an aroma brimming with notes of roasted malts and milk chocolate. The flavors have the subtle characteristics of a stout with burnt cereal, chocolate and a nuanced sweetness from the lactose. This is a great stout perfectly timed for Fore River’s January opening.
On the other end of the flavor spectrum is Lygonia. This IPA pours a golden color with a head of small beads. The aroma coming off Lygonia is all tropical fruit notes of mango and grapefruit from the generous helping of Ella hops used in the boil and dry hopping. The tropical fruit tour continues as you take a drink, but at the end there’s a shift to pine flavors from the Chinook hops. I love an IPA that has a balance of juicy fruits and old school pine bitter. Though don’t fear the bitter in Lygonia; it’s just the right amount to let you know you’re drinking an IPA.
As I leave the brewery, LeGassey begins weighing hops to add to the John Henry Milk Stout, while Hansen returns to the grain buckets. It’s back to work for both brewers, but after spending time with these guys, it’s clear that they are invigorated by having the doors open and beer pouring out of their draft lines into your tasting glasses. God bless them.
WHERE: 45 Huntress Ave., South Portland
ON DRAFT: John Henry Milk Stout, Timber Hitch Irish Red, Lygonia IPA
WHEN: 2 to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday; noon to 8 p.m. Saturday; and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday
MORE INFO: facebook.com/foreriverbrewing
OTHER BEER HAPPENINGS
WHERE: 37 Exchange St., Portland
WHEN: 5 to 11:59 p.m. Friday
For five years, the Thirsty Pig has been rolling out handmade sausages and some of the finest taps in the Old Port. With a homey, brick-lined interior and a spacious deck in the summer, the Thirsty Pig is one of my favorite spots to drink Maine beer. Owner Allison Stevens not only works tirelessly to be sure she has kegs of the best Maine beer on draft, she is also a powerhouse in the Portland beer scene. She was a driving force behind last year’s Portland Beer Week. I urge you to get to the Pig – as it is affectionately known among locals – to celebrate this integral beer bar on Friday night. I guarantee you will find some tasty beer treats on the draft list.
WHERE: 50 Industrial Way, Portland
WHEN: 8:30 to 11:30 a.m., Saturday
Wild beer enthusiasts around the globe seek out beers that are exposed to the air during brewing so that they incorporate naturally occurring yeasts, giving them tart and tangy flavor profiles. If you like wild beers, this event is for you. The Wild Beer Roundup will feature the first-time release of Helena, along with bottle releases of some favorites from Allagash’s wild beer stash: Farm to Face, Cuvee d’industrial, Resurgam, Coolship Red and Golden Brett. This is an amazing lineup of beers available on one day, but be sure to get there early. Doors open at 8:30 a.m. and the beer sales will begin at 9.