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Black Bear Brewing making tracks to Bangor

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Pictured is the beer tasting room of the new Black Bear Brewing set to open on Exchange Street in downtown Bangor on April 6th, 2018. Pictured is the beer tasting room of the new Black Bear Brewing set to open on Exchange Street in downtown Bangor on April 6th, 2018. (edge photo/Kevin Bennett)

BANGOR – Orono’s popular Black Bear Brewing is making tracks to Bangor; the company will open its new taproom this Friday in the Nichols Block on Exchange Street.

The company’s expansion, which was announced last September, comes on the heels of other redevelopment efforts that have transformed the Exchange Street corridor the past few months.

According to Tim Gallon, one of the partners for Black Bear Brewing, the decision to come to Bangor was an easy one.

“I grew up in Bangor. When the mall came in, all the businesses left downtown – it was desolate,” he said. “When I started to see it revitalize and all these great places came in, I wanted to be a part of it.”

Gallon, along with co-owner Sarah York, saw the opportunity to bring the company’s popular brews to the Queen City when A&M Properties purchased the six buildings along Exchange Street including the Nichols Block that now houses the Bangor Symphony Orchestra and Bangor Arts Exchange. Citing its proximity to the arts, Gallon said the taproom is an example of how downtown Bangor is becoming a destination and how each business helps the other.

“We’re excited about it. The more popular we are, the more people will know about them,” he said, referring to BSO and BAE. “The more shows they have, the more people we’ll have. It’s a good fit for this side of town.”

The rustic décor for the location is based largely on the style of their flagship location. Rough wood beams adorned with metal cornices tower over the tables while mason jar lights hang from a metal ceiling, and flooring that looks like it’s fresh out of an old industrial factory spans the entire interior.

Gallon credits his contractor, Tom Gassaway, with staying true to the company’s image.

“It’s very similar to what we did in Orono. Tom’s specialty is reclaimed wood. The rustic wood mixed with industrial metal ties in nicely,” he said, adding they decided to restore the existing flooring – squeaks and all – thinking the old lumber would complement its rustic character. “People need to be comfortable.”

Classified as a tavern, Gallon said the new taproom sports 16 tap lines and will offer 10-12 of their own beers along with several other products from other area breweries. He added there’s no plans to offer a full bar.

“We’re a brewery. We make beer and want to focus on our beer,” he said proudly.

And it is all about the beer.

Known for its longtime brands Gearhead, Demon Stout and Pail Ale, Black Bear has also collaborated with other breweries in the area like Orono Brewing Company and Marsh Island to create unique brews. The company, which began brewing for wholesale tap accounts in 2004, moved to its 19 Mill Street location in Orono in 2007 when Gallon and York, who is a teacher for the Bangor School District, saw the space available. They soon grew large enough to open their modest taproom in 2012. Since then, it has expanded to over 1,500 square feet as Orono itself has become a mecca of craft brewing.

“Orono has always been a craft beer-friendly town. Abe [Furth] and Mark [Horton] at Woodman’s always served our beer on tap and they always did well with it, so when they had that space at [Orono Brewing Company] and opened up their own taproom, business got better,” he said. When Marsh Island opened, Gallon said Orono became even more of a craft beer destination.

And yet it’s not just Orono - when they first began, Gallon said there were only about 20 licensed breweries in the state. Today, that figure stands at 93, according to data from the Maine Brewers’ Guild.

“It’s really grown, really exploded,” Gallon said of the industry, which he describes as a “friendly” competitive atmosphere in Maine. “It’s about the people – it’s always been that way. People come to this industry mostly from a passion for brewing and beer.”

With the addition of Bangor, Gallon hopes to bring more awareness to their longstanding brands, yet he has a new addition coming soon as a nod to their new location.

“Our flagship has always been Gearhead, which is a very easy-drinking amber. It’s not hoppy, it’s malty but it’s still very approachable. In Orono, our Tough End IPA is definitely the most popular. It’s more like a West Coast IPA,” he said, adding Tough End is an old name for a subsection of Orono. “Since we’re going to be here [in Bangor], we just did a Nichols Block IPA.”

Citing such flexibility in offering new varieties, Gallon feels their brewing process is what makes Black Bear distinctive. By concentrating on offering their product via taprooms instead of the more traditional cans and bottles, he said there’s less chance for factors outside their control to alter the flavors they spent so much time developing.

“We brew it, so we have complete control straight through to the taps with whatever we want to brew, what our customers want us to brew,” he said. “There’s so much room to experiment but I’m a fan of consistency and quality. Before there was so much interesting craft beer, I spent two years basically brewing only Gearhead. Once you nail that, you have ultimate flexibility.”

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