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A rise in Orono breweries: First Greater Bangor Beer Week

The smell of brewing beer filled the crisp fall air on a Friday afternoon in downtown Orono as brewers from the most recent microbrew prepared for Greater Bangor Beer Week, which is being held from Sunday Oct. 18 to Sunday, Oct. 25 at various locations in the greater Bangor area. This is the first beer week the area has seen, with 15 breweries participating, in addition to 11 other local businesses.

Greater Bangor Beer Week gives local breweries a chance to get noticed for their brews.   Three local breweries in Orono — Orono Brewing Company, Black Bear Microbrew and Marsh Island Brewing Company — are participating in tap takeovers at local restaurants and various events throughout the week. There are 28 total events happening in greater Bangor throughout the week that will draw beer aficionados from across the state.

“Having a beer week is just a fun event that gives people some exposure to what we are all doing,” Tim Gallon, owner of Black Bear Brewery, said.

Black Bear Brewery opened in Orono in 2004, moved to their current location in 2007 and is the oldest of the three breweries in Orono.

The past few years have seen several microbrews open in town, with Orono Brewing Company in 2014 and Marsh Island Brewing Co. in 2015.

“We have been open for a number of years now and it is nice to have people excited and interested,” Gallon added.

Marsh Island Brewing Co. just opened in August with their first brew.

Friday afternoon, Oct. 16, the brewers were running around, managing the brewing equipment and juggling multiple interviews.

Marsh Island Brewing Co. is located on Main Street next to Swett’s Tire & Auto Center. In addition to these two businesses, Alice Swett owns an auto center in Bangor, as well as Hogan Road Deli, where they sell many craft beers. Although the brewery is new, they already have a wide distribution across the state. They are currently not open to the public with a taproom, but hope to be in the future.

“We have a decent amount of beer across the state,” Swett said. Swett explained that they distribute beer from Wells to Houlton.

They have already made a couple of trips to Portland to distribute beer, and also have people routinely come to pick up brews from across Maine to sell in other retail locations.

Clay Randall, head brewer, is also a mechanic at Swett’s Auto in Bangor. Rather than hire new employees, Swett had the idea to open the microbrew with employees of the other business ventures. Swett explained that all of the employees of the brewery have other jobs, which makes for long days.

Randall said that after doing home brewing for about a year, he won Bangor Brewer’s Expo.  This is really what kicked off the idea for the brewery.

“It is a good market right now. We all thought it was a good business move,” Randall said.

Their best selling beer is Downrigger Indian Pale Ale (IPA), followed by Rotating Hop Session (Meridian) IPA. Swett mentioned that IPAs are very popular right now, especially for the market in Portland.

Rick England also works in the brewery, and manages the craft beer at the Hogan Road Deli.

Randall referred to England as the “jack of all trades” when it comes to beer.

The two typically brew one to two times a week, and brewing is a whole-day process. They have also been swamped by interviews.

“I think it is a great draw for the whole area. It just gives more entertainment,” England said.

Randall added that having microbreweries in Orono adds to the tourism industry, as many beer enthusiasts will travel all over the state to try different microbrews.

“They’re making revenue on an otherwise empty building here,” Randall said.

While Randall and England handle the brewing, Swett said she does most of the paperwork and behind-the-scenes operations.

“We thought, wouldn’t it be cool to have our own brewery,” Swett said of their decision to open.

Black Bear Microbrew is partnering with Square Tail Brewing Company of Amherst, Maine during the week. Friday night of Beer Week, they plan to have a tap takeover with five different beers on tap from each of the two breweries, as well as live music from the local band Napper Paddy’s, also out of Amherst.

“It is a good chance for people to get exposed to Square Tail beers. They are a little out of the way. A lot of people probably don’t get to try them,” Gallon said.

Black Bear Microbrew also delivers statewide, but has an established taproom. Their popular brew is also an IPA, called Tough End, which Gallon said was named after a bit of Orono history about the “tough end” of Orono.

Gallon said that in addition to collaborating with Square Tail, they also plan to partner with Strong Brewing Company, from Sedgwick, Maine. Many of the Maine brewers know each other, and Gallon knows the brewers from both Squaretail and Strong Brewing.

Thursday night of beer week, the two breweries will each have beers on tap at Blaze Restaurant in downtown Bangor. Together, they collaborated on a new brew for the event, called “Strong Bear.” Gallon explained that it is brown ale with 6.5 percent alcohol content and has a malty flavor.

Randall of Marsh Island Brewing Co. said that their biggest night will be at Woodman’s Restaurant in downtown Orono on Tuesday, Oct. 20.

“Hopefully it will be just a chance for people who haven’t tried it yet to get to try it,“ Randall said of the Marsh Island beer that will be on tap at Woodman’s.

The events will also be a draw to University of Maine students in Orono, which has potential to generate a lot of business.

Events range from locations in Aroostook County to Bar Harbor, but most are in and around Bangor. More information on event times and locations can be found on the Visit Bangor Maine website.

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