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Orono Brewing Company opens its doors

ORONO There's excitement brewing in Orono.

The new Orono Brewing Company has just opened its doors, a welcome new addition to the ranks of local breweries. Located beneath Verve Burritos at 2 Mill Street in Orono, OBC's first beers have begun to make the scene. Said beers will be available not only at the brewery's tasting room, but also at Woodman's Bar and Grill and the Verve location in Bangor.

Abe Furth, Heather Furth and Mark Horton are no strangers to the world of selling beer. Together, they have owned and operated Woodman's for the past decade. This latest endeavor a logical step has been a long time in the making.

'For Heather, Mark and myself, our experience at Woodman's has helped us to appreciate the things we can do as a restaurant,' Abe Furth said as we sat down at a table in the OBC tasting room. 'Mark does a lot with local food, we've got an evolving cocktail list, we're doing rotating taps.

'But ever since we opened [Woodman's],' he continued. 'We've wanted to make our own beer.'

And over the last year a remarkably fast turnaround considering the scope of the project the team has conspired to build a place to just that. Thus, the Orono Brewing Company was born, adding yet another level of symbiosis to this collection of businesses.

'This tap room can become a big part of our brand,' said Abe. 'If you just want to come by and have a beer, this is a great spot. Of course, if you're looking for more space, something more dinner-and-drinks, you can always go to Woodman's.'

That isn't to say that OBC patrons will go hungry.

'We were torn about the food,' said Horton. 'We definitely wanted to do some, but we didn't want another kitchen. So we got the proper licensing to sell food to the brewery, beer to the restaurant. It's just lots of shuttling.

'The menus are evolving,' he continued. 'We're focused on incorporating beer in more ways, adding beer-related items. For instance, we're using spent grains from the brewery to make [soft] pretzels. But there's always going to be variety and suggestions and ideas from customers are welcome. That kind of input is awesome. We're just going to try to keep it interesting.'

'We really wanted to try and keep the Woodman's dynamic while still making something unique,' added Heather Furth.

And the OBC tap room is undeniably unique. It's a small space, but every inch of that area is utilized. With a lovely burnished copper bar and a handful of tables, the room is intimate, yet still plenty inviting. There's no television set. Even if you wanted a band, there's no place to put one. No, this room is all about the beer a truth accentuated by the wide windows behind the bar offering patrons a clear look at the myriad shiny metal apparatuses that handle the brewing part of Orono Brewing Company.

Leading that brewing charge is Asa Marsch-Sachs. Marsch-Sachs did eventually join us for this interview session, but he came along a bit later. This gap allowed Abe and Heather to heap praises upon their budding brewmaster and heap they did.

'Asa is the heart and soul of this whole thing,' Abe said. 'It wouldn't be happening without him.'

'For the longest time, we didn't have the space or the wherewithal [to make a brewery happen],' said Heather. 'But then we met Asa and it all started to come together.'

'There's a lot that you need to make a brewery work,' continued Abe.' But the number one thing is an amazing brewmaster. And that's what we got with Asa. From beginning to end, Asa was in control of how the brewery came together. His goal has always been to make the best beer he could possibly make, and every single beer has been brewed the way he wanted it. He's really sticking to his guns stylistically.'

This attention to detail led Marsch-Sachs to meticulously assemble not only the equipment that he needed, but the manner in which it would be laid out in the limited space available. It also led to the research and acquisition of the ingredients best suited for the types of brews he wanted to tackle. Marsch-Sachs brewed hundreds of pilot batches before settling on OBC's inaugural brews: Lightning Tree IPA; Excursion Stout; AOK Kolsch; and White Nitro Cream Ale along with some variations. The next beers out of the vat will include a brown ale, a porter, a witbier and a rye IPA.

'Asa is one of those guys you feel lucky to have met,' said Heather. 'He's been putting in long days 18, 20-hour days and he has never once let us down in any way.'

But while a talented and enthusiastic brewmaster is a great start, there's still plenty more to come before the finish. But as the Furths discovered, there are plenty of like-minded individuals out there who are happy to offer some help along the way including some who could be considered competitors.

'The Geaghans, Banded Horn, Foundation, the guys from Gneiss, Black Bear all these different places helped us in some way,' Abe said. 'The other brewersthese businesses could have viewed it all as competition, but instead, people choose to help. It's a very inclusive group.

'There's so much knowledge out there,' he continued. 'And there's also reciprocation of knowledge everybody helps everybody else.'

The expression on Asa Marsch-Sachs's face when he walked through the door that afternoon was markedly similar to the one he wore the entire night previous at the OBC's friends and family soft opening bliss. This is his first big brewing gig, though he has spent most of his adult life as an avid homebrewer. In the past, he has worked at Bangor's Central Street Farmhouse and spent some time learning behind the scenes at other breweries.

But this one is his. And you can tell that he can't believe his luck.

'People ask me how I'm doing,' Marsch-Sachs said. 'I tell them that I'm living the dream. I am literally living the dream. This kind of opportunity just doesn't happen. For these guys to put their trust in me like this I just want to reward that trust.'

An outside observer might question the wisdom of putting a first-timer at the helm of a nascent brewing operation, let along giving him carte blanche to put it together as he sees fit. But if that observer were to take a tour of said brewing operation led by said first-timer, the wisdom of that choice would come into clear, indisputable focus.

Because Asa Marsch-Sachs knows his st.

'Maybe the most important thing I learned from homebrewing,' said Marsch-Sachs, 'is that if you do it the right way, you can make a beer that everybody likes.'

There we were, surrounded by the gleaming tubs that performed arcane processes that bring forth delicious, delicious beer. Whether discussing whirlpool hopping or yeast profiles or carbonation ratios or any of the other steps that seem as much spell as science, Marsch-Sachs's enthusiasm never dimmed. If anything, it was shared and amplified by the energy being put forth by the Furths. In that room, with its vaguely familiar smells and surprising sounds, with its whiteboard walls covered in scrawled calculations and data-laden printouts, were people who were absolutely thrilled at the prospect of doing what they were doing.

Listening to Marsch-Sachs describe the beermaking process in loving detail detail so thorough that it wasn't long before I simply gave up trying to keep track of the minute particulars that were being related is like listening to an artist describe his or her craft. There's a passion there; true passion, which is a rare thing to find particularly when talking about one's job.

His attitude is summed up nicely in his statement in the OBC menu, where he states that 'My goal is to brew a large variety of the best possible beers I can create. With brewing, there's a lot of structure and I can be very precision oriented, but there's still room for creativity. Brewing speaks to both my scientific side and my artistic side. It's like my Mom says, every little thing matters but nothing really does."

We should all be so lucky to find something in our lives that speaks to us the way that brewing speaks to Asa Marsch-Sachs.

As far as distribution efforts, the folks at OBC are planning to take things nice and slow. For one, they've been told to expect to be surprised at how much beer it will take to fulfill their own in-house demands.

'If we can spare it, we'll send beer out [to other establishments],' Furth said. 'But as far as Bangor distribution, we're going to be very careful not to do too much too soon. Besides, we love Orono if this can help draw people here, it's the best thing we could hope for.'

Yes, the craft brewery marketplace is becoming a crowded one - particularly here in Maine - with dozens of operations popping up all over the state. Lots of companies are making lots of beer. That being said, there's no reason to think that any sort of tipping point has been reached. As things stand, there seems to be room for everybody.

Obviously, there are no guarantees. However, with the entrepreneurial zeal of the Furths and Horton at work as well as the enthusiasm, knowledge and talent of Marsch-Sachs it seems likely that Orono Brewing Company will be pouring forth New Year's pints for many years to come.

(Orono Brewing Company's tasting room hours are Mon.-Wed. 310 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri. 3 p.m.midnight; Sat. noonmidnight; Sun. noon7 p.m. For more information, go to their website at oronobrewing.com or find them on Facebook.)

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