You know you’re driving through a mill town in Maine just by rolling down the window, I have a feeling that when you drive through Orono, Maine you’ll know you’re in a beer town by the smell of mashed grains and hops in the breeze. Orono is home to Black Bear Microbrew, Orono Brewing Company and a new player in the beer game, Marsh Island Brewing Company.
I visited Orono’s newest brewery recently to chat with Head Brewer, Clay Randall and Brewery Manager, Richard England to get a preview of their operation. Marsh Island Brewing is located at 2 Main Street in Orono, housed in the same building as Swett’s Tire & Auto Center, which, as a resident of Marsh Island, I have to mention is not on Marsh Island, close though, just across the bridge. Marsh Island Brewing is a sister company to Swett’s Tire in Orono and Bangor as well as the Hogan Road Deli that are all owned by Alice and Jim Swett and where Richard is the beer manager.
The brewery is located in the front of the building behind the window that is screened with their logo. In the past the space has housed a convenience store and a Laundromat and until a year ago was overflow storage for the auto shop.
Over the past year the space has transformed from a dirty, beat up storage area into a small but functional brew space. Entering the side door you walk past a chest freezer that’s stocked with hops, stacks of bottle labels and labeling equipment that hasn’t been taken out of the box yet. Stepping into the brewery there is a door to the left that holds grains, to the right is a small fermentation room with 3 – 150 gallon plastic conical fermenters with glycol coils wired to a temperature control system. Straight ahead is a room dedicated to washing equipment and filling bottles. The floor in the filling room has a poured floor with a containment berm so liquids can’t spill out but are contained to exit through the floor drain, a small ramp is set up so equipment can be rolled into the area. Turning left you enter the brew house, here you find another poured floor with containment berm and floor drain, within that area is the 3 barrel, natural gas Stout brewing system, pumps and plate chiller. There is a door to the left that is a small walk-in cooler where extra fermenters stand ready for lagering. Another door leads out into an unused bay with a roll up door.
Head Brewer Clay Randall has only been homebrewing for a couple years but is ready to take the leap and go pro. Clay’s IPA was the crowd favorite at last summer’s Homebrew Expo put on by the Central Street Farmhouse in their pocket park. That small victory turned into a big project, opening the door to Marsh Island Brewing. Clay is planning on brewing Downrigger IPA for his first beer. They will also be brewing a pale ale, a rotating single hop session IPA with new or less known hops varieties, an American stout and somewhere down the line, pilsners.
Marsh Island Brewing will initially be self-distributing, Hogan Road Deli, being a sister company will be the first to have product on the shelves, though they will be looking to get into other accounts. The beer will be sold in 22oz bottles and they will be kegging for draft accounts. Currently there is no tasting room at Marsh Island Brewing but they hope within the year they’ll have one built so visitors can stop in for samples and brewery tours. Beer will be available somewhere in the mid to late September time-frame, keep an eye on Hogan Road Deli’s Facebook page there may be a release event happening at some point.
These guys were fun to chat with, they have a great attitude and while they seem to still be feeling their way through some aspects of starting a brewery they do know beer and are heading in the right direction. I’ve talked with plenty of new brewers, even experienced brewers and they almost never bring up yeast life cycles and water reports, it’s nice to hear as their first brewday approaches that quality is a high priority. I wish the guys luck on their first brewday and look forward to seeing Marsh Island Brewing in a bottle soon.