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New Orono Brewing Company space features tasting room, brewing facility

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New Orono Brewing Company space features tasting room, brewing facility (edge photo by Allen Adams)

ORONO – You see the sign and make the turn off Orono’s Main Street, but you’re not quite sure where the road leads. A few small yellow signs assure you you’re in the right place. You drive down a hill and the woods open up and you see a broad, squat, colorful building surrounded by parking lot and trees.

You’ve arrived at your destination, 61 Margin Street, the brand-new home of Orono Brewing Company.

OBC’s co-owners – Abe and Heather Furth, Mark Horton and Asa Marsh-Sacs – have opened their latest space, a former factory that they – over the course of roughly 18 months – have transformed into something altogether new.

“We’re really proud of what we’ve done here,” Abe Furth said. “It took a lot of hard work from a lot of great people, but it really paid off.”

One of the first things you notice about the space upon first entering is the brightness of it all. One wouldn’t expect a facility last used for large vehicle maintenance and crushed rock storage to feel so welcoming, but the addition of large windows and colorful murals covering the towering walls brings a sense of airiness to the tasting room. Exposed girders and other leftover pieces of the building’s industrial past are incorporated seamlessly into the overall design.

There are large, beautifully-made family-style picnic tables creating room for scores of patrons. There are high-tops scattered throughout the space. The bar is sleek and long, with room for a dozen or more. There’s even an elevated space with seating (and a foosball table) that allows a bird’s-eye view of the entire place.

And if foosball’s not your thing, there’s a ping-pong table and an old-school stand-up arcade machine (I recommend “Galaga”). Not to mention the space for outdoor activities like cornhole or other, more informal entertainments (at the friends and family event, I watched a gleeful gaggle of children tearing around the outdoor area, taking particular delight in sprinting up and down a nearby hill).

The team has put together a dynamite menu as well, elevated pub fare featuring flatbreads, burgers and other sandwiches. The list of shareables is lovely, featuring snacks like blistered brussels sprouts, pork belly lollipops and a charcuterie board. Oh, and a delightful selection of tater tot options (we did the Buffalo-style, but you can’t go wrong with tots).

“I love putting a kitchen together,” said Horton. “And making a menu. We wanted to do something a little different with the food and I think we succeeded. I’m happy with the way everything has turned out.”

And just beyond the bar, through a gate left over from the building’s previous life, sits the other half of the operation at 61 Margin – the brewing setup.

Expanding a craft brewery is a delicate process, but it was one that the crew at OBC was ready for. Serendipitously, as OBC prepared to grow, another Maine brewing mainstay’s own expansion process was about to prove beneficial. Maine Beer Company in Freeport is in the midst of incredible growth; they’ve expanded their production capabilities significantly in recent years. That expansion meant that some of their previously-used equipment needed to go … and where it ultimately went was OBC.

The meticulously-maintained equipment made its way to Orono. In another fortunate coincidence, it turned out that the available space at OBC closely matched what Maine Beer Company had previously used. This meant that the entire setup could fit nicely into the newly-renovated space.

What this change means is a big leap in terms of production capability. According to Abe Furth, OBC’s previous capacity was around 800 barrels annually. With this new acquisition, that number has essentially quintupled, with the brewery now looking at an annual yield of 4000-plus barrels. That growth is necessary, as demand for OBC’s beer has outstripped supply for some time now.

You might wonder what will become of OBC’s other locations. Well, nothing is changing at the Bangor tasting room – hours will remain the same. The tasting room in downtown Orono is moving to limited hours on Friday and Saturday nights. And don’t worry – the production setup in the first OBC location will be put to good use by brewmaster Asa Marsh-Sacs, who now has a chance to scale up the single-barrel experiments he had been doing in the basement of the Bangor space.

“It’s a chance to go bigger with some of the funkier brews,” Marsh-Sacs said. “We’re going to do some sours, some wild beers, really cool stuff. We’re such a good team here that it’s easy to experiment; we just keep asking questions until we figure it out.”

It’s safe to say that OBC’s new space is unlike anything else we have in the region – one that any craft beer fan, local or otherwise, will find well worth exploring.

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