Images of brick smokestacks rising into the sky from abandoned mill buildings conjure thoughts of a bygone era in Maine. It’s the kind of ruin porn Richard Russo turned into a Pulitzer Prize winning novel in Empire Falls, the eponymous Maine town where a once proud people are flattened by mill closings.
But what if there was a new, exciting widget that could be produced in the countless acreage of Maine’s abandoned mills?
What if that widget was beer?
Of course the mill desert along Maine’s riverbanks can’t be completely turned around by manufacturing beer; nevertheless, producing beer — and spirits and marijuana for that matter — could help chip away at this mill wasteland, putting Mainers back to work in industrial jobs.
Maine already has three breweries making beer in old mills: Baxter Brewing in Lewiston and Dirigo Brewing and Banded Horn Brewing in Biddeford.
This weekend, Banded Horn celebrates the expansion of its tasting room as the brewery takes over more of the 150-year-old Pepperell Mill.
When I walked into Banded Horn to speak with Ian McConnell, chief executive officer and brewmaster, the tasting room and brewery certainly had all the sounds of an industrial space. Pressure valves hissed, large fans whirred, brew kettles released steam as hops were added to boiling wort, the canning line clacked, and somewhere in the brewery someone was banging metal against metal.
McConnell emerged from these sounds in steel-toed work boots and a lumberjack-chic beard.
He explained that over the three and a half years Banded Horn has been open, it has experienced significant growth.
“When we opened there were only two employees. We now have 13,” McConnell said.
Not only is Banded Horn expanding its tasting room, it’s also more than doubling the size of the brewery by expanding its lease in Pepperell Mill from 5,500 square feet to 12,000 square feet. McConnell said that later this fall the brewery will acquire up to 4,000 more square feet in the building.
The expanded brewing space will allow Banded Horn to increase production of its flagship beers while also freeing the brewers to focus on small-batch beers and a barrel-aging program.
But this weekend is all about the new expanded tasting room McConnell and the Banded Horn team have spent much of the spring and summer building.
“We want to bring the experience in our tasting room to the next level and completely overhaul it. We want to highlight where we are, in this mill and in Maine. We used the old mill aesthetic and combined it with a sense of whimsy,” McConnell said.
To build the new tasting room, they repurposed old industrial equipment they found lying around in the mill. The result is simply beautiful. The tap line is a repurposed control cabinet spray-painted a sparkly orange. The CO2 purge line for growlers runs on old machine switches. The lighting controls are rigged from a series of old gauges. Droplights of Edison light bulbs wrapped in metal springs dot the room.
This is a striking space to a drink beer, one that captures McConnell’s vision of industrial whimsy, bordering on modern art. It’s the mill space brought into the 21st century.
To celebrate the opening of the new tasting room, Banded Horn has brewed Not If We Jam It, a raspberry wheat ale made with fresh raspberries and oranges. (Catch the Space Balls reference?)
McConnell said that, in the new tasting room, patrons can expect more special releases and brewery-only beers in addition to the solid lineup of flagship beers.
Banded Horn’s new tasting room fully embraces its mill heritage. Perhaps it will inspire future generations of brewers to look to the mills to brew their beer, and Maine’s mills can get the triumphant second act they deserve.
WHEN: Noon to 11 p.m. Friday
WHERE: 32 Main St., Building 13-W, Biddeford
ON DRAFT: Special release of Not If We Jam It, a raspberry wheat ale, and flagship beers, including Veridianasdk;fj IPA, Pepperrel Pilsener and Daikaijuasdfjk Double IPA
ENTERTAINMENT: Food from Eaux Portland and music from DJ Party with Ryssa & Timbr
MORE INFO: On Facebook: Taproom Expansion Party
OTHER BEER HAPPENINGS
Friday-Sunday, 28 Pearl St., Biddeford. Dirigo: We Are One! on Facebook
Speaking of breweries located in mills, Dirigo Brewing celebrates its first anniversary with a weekend of beer, music, food and revelry. Brewmaster Tom Bull is the OG of Maine lagers, brewing his first commercial lager at the now-defunct Bull Jagger Brewing. Over the past year, craft beer fans have reveled in the return of Bull’s lagers and ales to the Maine beer scene. The weekend will feature the debut of Dirigo’s barrel-aged beer series along with its signature beers. There will be music both Friday and Saturday, as well as food from The Poutine Co.
6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, 72 Parris St., Portland. $74 Individual ticket, $117 for a couple.
Brewbird has recently opened in coordination with Fork Food Lab in Portland. The mission of Brewbird is to host beer-centered events to educate craft-beer fans on all things beer. BrewNite takes patrons through the entire process of brewing, from sanitizing, to steeping, to boiling, all the way to fermenting. Participants will leave with a one-gallon beer kit and wort to ferment and bottle at home. If you’ve been dying to try your hand at zymurgy, here’s your chance to dip your toes in the wort. On Facebook.