Oxbow Brewing Company's new Bottling and Blending facility opened its tasting room doors yesterday at 49 Washington Avenue in Portland. Co-owner and head brewer Tim Adams told Eater about the way he'll balance his time now that he has two locations, about the two special house beers that will be on tap, and why the ubiquitous Farmhouse Pale Ale won't be pouring in the new space for now.
You guys have acres of land and a farmhouse brewery up in Newcastle, and now 10,000 square feet of warehouse in the East End. How does it feel to be going through expansions like this and opening a base in Portland?
It's incredibly exciting. We absolutely love our brewery and being able to work in that rustic, beautiful setting. But there are a ton of challenges, and as we're growing, those are becoming increasingly difficult. Primarily, we can't get trucks up there and we don't have space for storage.
Opening up this facility is what's going to allow us to expand and brew more beers. Down here it'll allow us to brew a lot more of our sours and bottled beer. Then, by getting all of our barrels off the floor of our brewery in Newcastle, we can put in a bunch more stainless steel tanks up there, which will allow us to increase our draft beer production.
Tim leads the conversation outdoors to avoid the noise of freshly-stained picnic tables being shifted around the tasting room floor. He hops in the back of his pick-up truck. "See? We can feel like we're up in Newcastle, even though we're in Portland!"
What are you most looking forward to with the new space?
It's two-fold. One, being able to make a bunch more beer and a lot of the beer that excites us the most: Our aged, bottled, and blended beers. Two, being able to have this retail presence in Portland is huge. I love Portland. I live on the East End and to be able to provide a space like this for all the people around here is pretty cool.
Do you think you'll be spending more time up north, down here, or splitting your time?
I'll be splitting my time. Mike Fava is such a great brewer. This has been completely dominating my summer, so it's been a big change where I've been spending more time overseeing this project. Mike has absolutely killed it all summer long brewing our beers. That takes the pressure off me a bit.
The way the future will look, Mike and Doeboy will be knocking out all of our established beers, where the recipes were written a while ago, and those guys are cranking them out over and over, doing a great job. And I'll be going up there probably a couple days a week, or for any new brews. The rest of the time I'll be down here, receiving the wort or the beer that's brewed then barrel-aging it, hitting it with different bugs (bacteria) and yeast strains down here, and then blending it.
I'm not necessarily taking a step back from the brewing, but I kind of am. I can't be two places at once. We can all brew great beer, but I'm the master blender, so it's essential that I'm down here overseeing these blending operations and the next step for a lot of these barrel-aged beers.
What can fans and customers expect from the new tasting room? What sets this space apart?
The beer, first and foremost. The two house beers that we're introducing down here are two brand new beers for us. They're real embodiments of what we think is important for a drinking beer. When we feel like a drinking beer, we want lower alcohol, blond, hoppy ales. Sometimes we're looking for something that's of the European persuasion, hop-wise, and other times we're looking for something with an American hop character. At Oxbow we specialize in blond, hoppy farmhouse ales. They're dry, drinkable, and they pretty much fall into those two categories. Here we're taking what we've come to specialize in and having two different beers.
One is called Continental. That's a 5% ABV blond ale that's brewed with entirely European hops. The sister to that beer is called the Domestic, which is basically the exact same beer but with all American hops. We're providing people with those two options and we're also hoping to bring some education into what the difference is between American and European hops. A lot of people don't know, but in my opinion that should be a piece of beer knowledge people have. It's one of the biggest differentiators in terms of flavor profiles.
We're going to have the Continental and the Domestic as our house beers down here, then we'll have a bunch of other stuff on tap as well. We have a pilot system, so we'll be brewing up some one-off pilot beers, which is really exciting. We'll also be doing bottle pours of whatever we have available to sample, and we'll have bottles and growlers for sale to go.
Are you planning to pour Farmhouse Pale Ale (FPA) here?
I'm not sure exactly how that will shake out, but we're not going to to start. This place is going to go through a lot of beer. We don't want it to eat too much into the beer we distribute to all these awesome bars and restaurants around town. By not doing FPA here, we're hoping that will allow us to keep the supply out in the restaurants.
We're also very cognizant of the fact that we're coming into a landscape that has a lot of bars, a lot of restaurants. They're our friends, they're running their own businesses. We don't want to undercut their Oxbow sales or interfere with that, so that's part of the motivation of having the FPA be saved for the restaurants. Then we'll have our house beers and pilot beers and stuff for sale here.
You have a bunch of picnic tables in there. Will there be table service?
Yes, there will be table service. I'm really excited to have hired Greg Jasgur, who was the bar manager of all the Pizza Paradiso restaurants down in Washington, DC, which are really world-class bars and restaurants.
I've traveled around the country and worked with lots of different publicans, and Greg's one of the best I've ever met, so I was really excited when he accepted the offer to come up to Maine and run this show, be the GM of this operation. We're letting him do his thing. He's hired a great crew of people, he's training them up, and he's very service-oriented. It'll be the kind of thing where you can sit down at a picnic table, somebody will bring you a bottle of water and a glass, and say, "What can I bring you for a beer?"
Are the tasting room employees working on a tipped minimum wage ($3.75 per hour)?
Yeah, it would be like servers working at any other bar or restaurant.
What's the plan for food?
We are not starting out with food, but we have plans in the very near future to incorporate cold food service. Basically meats, cheeses, pickles, and breads. In Newcastle it's slightly more limited, we have pre-packaged Hahn's End cheese plus crackers. It'll be an expanded menu and more service oriented down here, so you can sit down, look at a selection of meats and cheeses, and have it brought to your table. But that's probably a little ways out.
Anything else you'd like to share?
The design. I'd love to give a shout-out to Will Sears and Sam Gilbert. Will is our in-house artist. He designs all of our bottle labels, he did the mural up in the Newcastle brewery before we even had any tanks in there, and he's a great friend and talented artist. He specializes particularly in sign painting. He's done a lot of the restaurant signs around town, and has a lot of experience with woodworking and set production as well. So we decided instead of hiring a construction crew to build our bar, we'd hire the best artist we knew.
He got his friend Sam, who's also a very talented artist and builder, and the two of them...I basically said, "I'd like a bar in this corner of the room, a half-wall there, and a walk-in cooler there - you guys design the rest." The way we work with Will on all our other projects is very hands off, we let the artist be the artist, so we put our faith in him and let him do his thing. He blew us away with the final product. We're really proud of the whole aesthetic of the space and his interior design. We're psyched. We're excited to open.