The second installment in the search for good Maine beer detours away from the brewery, looking at the beer a person can create with their own two hands and a little ingenuity. For even the casual beer drinker, homebrewing offers a unique opportunity to create the perfect tasting beverage.
The unaccustomed patron wandering Bangor’s downtown bar scene might overlook an inconspicuous, seemingly out-of-place rooster sign hanging outside the Central Street Farmhouse store.
The store, nestled amidst boutique restaurants and a used bookstore, has large front windows letting plenty of light enter where a combination of plants, antique metal milk barrels and Christmas lights welcome curiosity. For owners Betsy and Zeth Lundy, that down-to-earth appearance is just fine.
A 1995 University of Maine graduate, Zeth oversees an eclectic store. Amicable and relaxed, his self-titled “Man About Town” job description is fitting. Whether you like beer, cheese, yogurt or wine making — or if your baby requires homemade cloth diapers — Central Street Farmhouse is the one-stop shop.
“Old school ideology meets new school methodology,” Zeth Lundy said explaining his philosophy. “I went through a lot of my adult life in the city, feeling like another body walking around. It’s nice to feel like there’s this emerging community you’re a part of.”
Open since last November, the shop’s holistic approach to modern day shopping isn’t a new phenomenon — corporate giants like Walmart have perfected mass consumption while, comparatively, Lundy has taken another route, envisioning his store as a kind of community general store, harkening back to early generations of small town camaraderie.
Keeping with this attitude on business and relationships with customers, a large slate board hanging above the wooden counter serves the dual purpose of listing prices for malts and hops and advertising everything from classes on homebrewing and winemaking to parenting discussions and music concerts. Variety is just what Lundy is shooting for.
“We’re more excited about being a part of a community than a retail store,” he said. “We want to be a destination. Betsy always says to people that you don’t even have to buy anything. Just stop by, you can chill out, get help, support or just someone to talk to.”
This shouldn’t suggest that Lundy is abandoning practical business principles —they’re simply reexamining a store’s role in the larger community space.
“Ultimately, we’re a retail store to survive,” Lundy admitted.
Unlike many who are first infatuated with selling homebrewing kits, Lundy’s passion for great tasting beer didn’t start in his kitchen like a novice chemist experimenting with his first. Walking into the job, Lundy and his wife used to manage the Kennebec Home Brew Supplies in Farmingdale, selling ingredients to homebrewers and at the end of the day leaving feeling disconnected from the rest of the community.
This didn’t quite hit the niche the couple was looking for. Purchasing food from farmers’ markets and seeing firsthand where the goods come from gave them an idea of how to get out and build a community-based enterprise.
“Wouldn’t it be rad if we just opened a store that was our life so what we did for work was an extension of our lives?” Lundy said. “We can devise the store from every level — from what’s on the stereo to what’s in the fridge and make it like an extension of my life.”
“It’s only natural for us,” he said.
And that’s exactly what he’s doing. The Lundys live on the third floor of their own store, renovating it using all recycled materials. On the first floor, amidst music coming from a record player, the store features more ingredients than even the most seasoned homebrewer could hope to use in one beer. Plastic buckets, glass carboys and prepackaged homebrewing extract kits — the “just add water” equivalent to beer making — are placed neatly beside sacks of grain and bags of hops. Experienced homebrewers delight in over 40 types of malted barely, hops and yeast.
Lundy’s philosophy centers on sustainable living. With malts from Aroostook county and hops from around Maine, it’s possible to make an all-Maine, all organic beer, something he believes is becoming more important to people.
“I think in the past few years, whether it’s from books like “The Omnivores Dilemma” or information, people for a while stopped paying attention to what’s in their food,” he said. “Now people are realizing that it is important what’s in the food they’re eating or the ingredients they’re making their beer with.”
For now, there are no immediate plans to expand beyond the store’s homegrown roots. Though Lundy envisions crafting his own beer, he’s comfortable as a visible member of the community.
“It was my dream to do the brew master thing but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was ‘pale ale three days a week,’” he said, pausing to add, “I’d rather do crazy beers.”
“Some days when Betsy and I think about five years down the road, it would be cool to open a brew pub and tie it in to the store where you can go drink a beer in the brew pub and then go into the store to get the recipe to make it,” he said.
To find Zeth and his “Brewmaster General” Asa Marsh-Sachs, simply stop by their premises at 30 Central St. in Bangor.