Baxter Brewing Co. has been brewing beer since 2010 in a renovated mill building in Lewiston. From day one, the brewery set itself apart by deciding to package all of its beer in cans. While cans are now widely popular at Maine breweries, Baxter Brewing was the first in Maine to can its entire lineup. Baxter even helped correct public misconceptions about canned beer (that you can taste the metal, that it’s lower quality) and encouraged Mainers to take their beer with them on adventures in places where glass cannot go. Through the years, Baxter grew its brand across Maine, started The Great Falls Brewfest (still one of my favorites) and expanded the distribution of its beer to eight states. Although Baxter had become Maine’s third largest brewery, it was still missing one thing: a tasting room and hangout space.
Though Baxter maintained a small public space, its limited size and lack of seating made it suitable only for brief visits, mostly to have a sample or pick up some merchandise. It felt more like a small shop or retail storefront than a place to stay and hang out. When Maine’s tasting laws changed a few years later, new breweries leapt at the chance to develop more social and welcoming public spaces. Baxter, on the other hand, continued its steady growth, but never found the time or the space to create a more robust tasting room experience. It probably would have been straightforward to add a few more tables and pop out a wall or two to create a space where more people could try Baxter’s beer. But rather than retrofitting its existing space, the brewery looked for an opportunity to develop an entirely new one from scratch.
The new venture opened at the end of October and is located in part of the Lewiston mill complex in which Baxter’s brewery resides. Though its name is simple – The Pub at Baxter – the new space is anything but plain. Wrought-iron gates mark the entrance to the outdoor seating area from the road, and to enter, you walk down a stone pathway lined with elegant gas torches. The inside is an expansive 4,800 square feet with tall ceilings. The massive space has two levels, with a broad, open first floor with a U-shaped bar to one side, and a higher balcony that has additional seating and can also be reserved for private events.
I was taken aback by how large it was when I walked in. I had heard that a “tasting room” space was being developed, but I wasn’t expecting a large, standalone pub. (I was wrong not to.) But at the same time, its size doesn’t feel excessive or inappropriate. In fact, it felt cozy. Exposed beams and freshly-polished hardwood tables add a warmth to the industrial space. The historical elements from the mill, including some restored pieces of heavy machinery, add to the décor without making it feel cold or sterile.
In addition to more seating, The Pub offers Baxter opportunities it did not have previously. First, it now has the ability to pour 20 different taps. This allows the usual favorites, such as Pamola Pale Ale or Stowaway, to go on tap next to seasonals, experimental beers and other small pilot batches. This is an opportunity for Baxter Brewing to create brews that are fresh and novel for beer drinkers, and maybe get a bit more daring in some of its offerings. I was able to try a super piney double IPA named Project 641 that packed an awesome pine aroma that reminded me of Christmas trees, and I sampled a barrel-aged version of Baxter’s Phantom Punch Winter Stout.
At The Pub, you can order individual 10- or 15-ounce pours of any of the beers on tap or a flight. You can either choose your own flight of five beers for $9 or try Baxter’s “core” lineup of five beers (Ein Stein, Pamola, Per Diem, Hop Tryst and Stowaway) for $6. In addition to beer, there’s also wine and spirits available for a limited cocktail menu. The pub surpasses the typical tasting room in that it includes a kitchen, so you can order sandwiches, appetizers and salads to go with your drinks. These types of efforts can help to bring in new audiences and might make The Pub at Baxter a standalone success for the Lewiston-Auburn area.
This new tasting room/pub provides the opportunity for Baxter to create and get feedback on new beer and allows for more of an interface with customers. As a bonus, projects that are collaborations or fundraisers now also have a place to be released, especially if they are limited in scale. When I stopped in, Limb-It-Less, a beer brewed to benefit the Travis Mills Foundation, was on the list, as well as MHT, a hoppy lager that is a fundraiser for Maine Huts and Trails.
The vibe of The Pub at Baxter is one of familiarity. Walk in, and despite the shiny varnish and brand-new fixtures, the place feels like it could have been part of the local beer scene for decades. I’m thrilled that Baxter has a chance to break back into the Maine beer scene with The Pub, and I hope that its patrons feel as comfortable there as I did. I’ll be back soon to see what’s next on tap!