These beers have a golden hue, are low in alcohol, subtle in moose urine, and drinkable
Since their inception in 2011, Oxbow Brewing Company has been the hip, free-wheelin’ child of the Maine beer scene. Though all of their brews are anchored in the old world style of Belgium and French farmhouse ales, the Oxbow crew attempts to bring this style into the new world by experimenting with American hops and infusing their brand with kaleidoscopic, acid-induced event posters and spray-paint murals in their facilities.
For their first three years of operation, Oxbow was solely run on farmland in Newcastle. If Maine beer enthusiasts wanted to drink from the Oxbow teat, they had to make the trek to the woods of Newcastle. This elusive location helped add to their hip mystique as brewers from afar wheeling their strange farmhouse ales into Portland bars on skateboards.
In the spring of 2014, there were murmurs among the beer world intelligentsia that Oxbow was opening a tasting room in Portland. Given Oxbow’s outside-the-box reputation, there was endless speculation on what the space would look like.
Last November, in the softest opening imaginable, their new facility on Washington Ave opened its doors, and Maine beer drinkers got to feast their eyes on the 10,000 square foot facility.
With concrete floors, exposed beam ceilings, a beautiful bar fashioned from unpolished wood, and a dozen picnic tables, the tasting room area of the new Oxbow facility has a rustic, industrial ambience. The low light and warm woods, along with the record player spinning vinyl behind the bar, make this a dream of a beer drinking room.
To the left of the bar, patrons can view the fifty or so barrels Oxbow uses for aging their bottled beer, in addition to the fermenting vessels along the back wall. All of the brewing still takes place in Newcastle, but they ship some of that beer to Washington Ave for aging and blending. In true Oxbow fashion, the far walls of the tasting room are plastered with spray-paint murals in vibrant blues and oranges and reds that juxtapose the rustic feel of the bar area.
So what’s pouring on Washington Ave? As noted earlier, Oxbow brews farmhouse ales using saison yeast. Farmhouse ales, to my palate, are an acquired taste. Beer drinkers who love farmhouse ales use the following descriptors when elucidating desired tasting notes: wet dog, horse blanket, hay, moose urine, and barnyard funk. You see why farmhouse ales take some getting used to?
The two beers that can always be found on draft at the tasting room are blonde ales that are identical in recipe other than the hops: the Continental is brewed using European hops, while the Domestic is brewed using American hops. These beers have a golden hue, are low in alcohol, subtle in moose urine, and drinkable. For now, patrons should not expect to find Oxbow’s flagship beer, Farmhouse Pale Ale, on draft at the tasting room. However, in addition to the continental and the domestic, look for ever-rotating taps of old-world-meets-new-world brews. During my last visit, I was digging on Harvest, a saison made with Maine hops and grains.
Oxbow Brewing is continually lauded for leading the way in brewing American-style farmhouse ales, and even if the descriptors above don’t tickle your fancy (mmm … horse blanket), the new tasting room is a must-visit for any Maine beer enthusiast.