One of the most thrilling aspects of writing this column is witnessing a home brewer’s dream of owning a commercial brewery come to fruition. And no other transformation from dream to reality has been more enjoyable to watch than Charles and Erika Melhaus’s journey to create Norway Brewing Company.
Last February the husband and wife team sat down with me at Little Tap House to discuss the process of opening their brewpub in Norway, Maine. Between the permits, the inspections, the build-out, dialing in the beer recipes, and the other endless minutiae, I walked away with a new respect for anyone willing to undertake the laborious effort of opening a brewery.
But now after a year and a half process, Norway Brewing Company is open to the public, pouring up frothy pints of craft beer and serving artisanal plates in their Main Street brewpub.
On the sunny afternoon this April when I visit the brewery, the air is so warm it’s hard to remember that cold evening last winter when I met with Charles and Erika.
As I walk into the tasting room, I’m struck by how beautiful the room looks. The walls are lined with weather-beaten slabs of salvaged wood. The bar has been fashioned with poured concrete to look like natural stone. On the wall is a whimsical chalk mural of the brewing process. Sunlight pours into the tasting room from the grand windows that look out at Main Street. The room is the aesthetic vision of Erika, a graduate of Maine College of Art, and it looks every bit as beautiful in reality as it did when she explained her vision last year.
Before I get to the beer, let me give a nod to the food. Charles is not only the head brewer, but, with a degree in culinary arts, he’s also the head chef. The food is an inspired twist on pub food – corn-dog balls made with local sausage, a monte cristo sandwich and a peanut-butter-Nutella-banana-and-bacon dessert sandwich. As much as possible, all ingredients are sourced locally.
The space is gorgeous, the food is decadent, but accessible, now onto the goods. How’s the beer?
On this April afternoon, the Melhaus’s are pouring three beers. Green Machine session ale has a nice balance of grassy and citrus notes from the hops, and a nice body for a session ale that weighs in at 4-percent alcohol by volume.
Charles explains that the Left Turn Pale Ale has been their biggest seller since they opened. When I try the American pale ale there is a lot of pine bitter notes in the aroma and finish. As he dials in the recipe more, Charles plans to bring out more citrus flavors in Left Turn and pull back some of the bitter flavors.
The most striking beer on draft is the 2-percent alcohol by volume saison called Life’s a Beach. (2-percent!) Though saison yeast is pitched in Life’s a Beach, this beer has very clean flavors without the heavy earthy flavors often associated with saisons. Served with a lime, Life’s a Beach is refreshing without being watery like some beers this low in alcohol. Erika laughs when she explains that they call this beer a “craft Corona.” That’s a great way to explain Life’s a Beach.
With a spacious outdoor beer garden abutting the brewery, I imagine many a patron hunkered down with glasses of Life’s a Beach this coming summer.
After the countless hours of hard work, Charles and Erika Melhaus have realized their dream of opening Norway Brewing Company with a beautiful tasting room, great food menu and carefully crafted beers. Make the trip into the heart of Norway and experience their dream.
WHAT: Brewpub featuring artisanal pub fare, rustic-chic tasting room, spacious beer garden, and house-brewed beer
WHERE: 237 Main St., Norway
ON DRAFT: Green Machine (4-percent ABV), a session ale with citrus and grassy flavors, Left Turn (5.8-percent ABV), an American pale ale with pine notes, and Life’s a Beach (2-percent ABV), a mild saison served with a lime. Expect up to ten house-brewed beers by the middle of summer.
HOURS: 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Wednesday to Friday, 2 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday, and 12 to 8 p.m. Sunday
MORE INFO: facebook.com/norwaybrewingco
OTHER BEER HAPPENINGS
Eight Great Plates
6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Allagash Brewing Company, 50 Industrial Way, Portland. $55 per ticket. allagash.com/event/eight-great-plates/
Once again, Allagash Brewing Company is pairing up with eight local eateries to host Eight Great Plates, a fundraiser for Preble Street. This is a great way to enjoy superb food from Portland restaurants and drink Allagash beers while supporting a non-profit that assists those struggling with homelessness, housing, hunger, and poverty. Some of the eateries on hand will be Salvage, Eventide, and Pai Men. Allagash will be pouring, among others, Cerise, Resurgam, St. Klippenstien, and Astrid.
Blackfly Brewfest 2016
12 to 5 p.m. Saturday, John A Millar Civic Center, 94 Randall Ave, Houlton. $37.92 per ticket. eventbrite.com/e/blackfly-brewfest-2016-tickets-22422153264
As the Portland area beer scene continues to get better and better, Maine is seeing the craft beer buzz spread up the state corridor. The Blackfly Brewfest is a great example of this trend. Held in Houlton, this beer fest will feature most of Maine’s premiere breweries, including Foundation Brewing, Banded Horn Brewing, Allagash Brewing, and Barreled Souls Brewing. This event proves that Mainers up and down the Pine Tree State are hungry for great craft beer.