Tucked in the corner of Swett’s Tire & Auto in Orono, Marsh Island Brewing Co. is about as unassuming as it gets. But don’t be fooled. Inside the cozy brewery and tasting room, head brewer Clay Randall is pushing out choice ales and lagers on his humble three-barrel system.
If you haven’t gotten your greedy mitts on a can of the juicy Pulp Truck IPA or the criminally clean Wooly Bugger Pils, do so now. It will give you a solid baseline for Randall’s impressive range as a brewer.
Along with longtime friend Richard England, Randall opened Marsh Island in 2015 on the back of Downrigger, an IPA brewed with Warrior, Citra, Simcoe, Amarillo and Galaxy hops. This IPA secured Randall a victory in the 2014 Bangor Homebrewer’s Expo.
As a prolific homebrewer interested in all styles of beer, Randall quickly added to Marsh Island’s repertoire. Last September, he and England opened a tasting room and began distributing four packs of 16-ounce cans, making Marsh Island’s high quality brews more accessible to craft beer fans.
On a blustery day in February, I met with Randall and England to get the lowdown on the small Orono brewery that is beginning to make big waves around the state.
With Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” pushing through the tasting room speakers, the two partners explained that demand for their beers keeps rising, and they’re brewing around the clock to try and keep up with orders.
Heading back into the tightly packed brewery, I’m astounded at just how modest their brewing system is — mainly, because I can’t believe how much beer (and really, really good beer at that) they’re able to churn out on this three-barrel system in a cramped room.
“We have our process down pretty good now,” Randall explained. “We’re really efficient when we brew.”
In a small windowless room nestled behind the brewing equipment, they showed me their manual-canning machine. One person fills two beers at a time while the other applies the lids, cleans the cans and packages them in four-packs.
“We’ve had some long canning days in this little room,” England said with a smile.
As Randall took me through the different beers he has fermenting and his process in brewing each style, one fact became immediately clear: He is a devotee of the science and craft of brewing.
Take, for instance, their flagship lager, Wooly Bugger Pils. Randall went through over 30 test recipes, meticulously playing with every step of the brewing process, from grains to mash temperatures to yeast strains to fermentation temperatures to aging times. He’s exactly what I look for in a great brewer; he obsesses over the minutiae of every step of the brewing process to dial in beautiful craft beers (and he has a formidable brewer’s beard to boot).
Back in the tasting room, with Beck’s “Loser” now spitting from the speakers, the partners took me through the beers on draft. With each one, Randall quipped about how he came up with the recipe.
Swhazye IPA is his dank take on the hazy New England IPA. The Maine Malt Blonde is a refreshing, malt-forward blonde ale made with mostly Maine malts. And the Flag! Stout is an American stout brewed with vanilla beans.
With each beer I sampled, it was clear I was in the deft hands of a talented brewer passionate about his beer. Make the trek to the Orono tasting room and find cans of Marsh Island beer to see what I’m talking about.
WHERE: 2 Main St., Orono
WHAT: Look for four-packs of cans throughout the state and visit the tasting room in Orono, featuring a bar made from a 340-year-old tree from Winterport
ON DRAFT: A rotating list of eight beers including Pulp Truck IPA, a juice-forward hoppy beer; Wooly Bugger Pils, a refreshing pilsner; Swhayze IPA, a hazy New England IPA, and rotating, experimental drafts, including sour beers this summer.
WHEN: Tasting room open 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 4 p.m. to midnight Thursday, 3 p.m. to midnight Friday, noon to midnight Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday
MORE INFO: marshislandbrewing.com
OTHER BEER HAPPENINGS
Grand opening: Flight Deck Brewing
3:30 to 8 p.m., Thursday, 11 Atlantic Ave., Brunswick. On Facebook
It’s time to celebrate the opening of another brewery in Maine. (Aw, these are glorious times.) Located in Brunswick Landing, this event marks the official opening of the brewery, though it has been in a “soft open” for a couple weeks. The event includes a ribbon-cutting with Sen. Angus King, brewery tours and beer tastings. Be sure to congratulate the Flight Deck team — remember, opening a brewery is a Herculean task. Look for a full write-up on the new brewery in this column soon.
Bring Your Own Baby at Little Tap House
3:30 to 5:30 p.m., Sunday, 106 High St., Portland. On Facebook
I have a 11/2-year-old and another baby on the way in May, so I understand how hard it is for parents to go out and have a craft beer in Portland. Little Tap House’s BYOB is the antidote to this parental quandary. On Sunday, the BYOB theme is Lil’ Saint Patrick. Along with pints of delicious Maine beer from Little Tap House’s extensive list, you can get adorable photos of the fam in the photo booth that co-owner Brianna Jaro sets up at each event.