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One Beer Later: Orono Brewing Company celebrates first year in business

Orono Brewing Company celebrated its first year in business in January. Photo by Kyah Lucky.

It’s been a big year for beer in Orono and, for one brewery in particular, it just happened to be their first. Orono Brewing Company (OBC) opened its doors to the public last January (although, technically New Year’s Eve 2014) and, in just 12 months, has exceeded both its owners’ and the public’s expectations.

“Where we’ve positioned ourselves in the brewing community, I couldn’t imagine it having gone any better,” Abe Furth, part-owner of OBC said.

The brewery, which has produced more than 30 different beers in its first year, hasn’t worked entirely alone, having taken part in numerous collaborations with other Maine breweries. Among the collaborations include India Pale Ales (IPAs) with Banded Horn Brewing Company in Biddeford and Barrelled Souls Brewing in Saco. OBC also collaborated with Geaghan Brothers Brewing out of Bangor, in which Geaghan’s brewed OBC’s Lightning Tree IPA on their brewing system and OBC in turn brewed Geaghan’s Captain Kool IPA on its own. The owners are excited about a collaboration with Limerick-based Gneiss Brewing Company, an aged beer that won’t be released for a year.

“It’s like when different musicians play together. You pick up stuff from different people you work with,” Horton said, describing beermaking as a shared artistic venture.

And what a better location for collaboration than Orono, which, with the addition of Marsh Island Brewing Company also in 2015, now possesses three breweries. In a town that struggles with retail, Furth says the breweries are a selling point for the town.

“We’re lucky we have this critical mass, now, how can we actually make sure the town is showcasing it?” Furth said. “As far as marketing the town, three breweries is a good thing to market.”

“There’s just a sense of camaraderie and a level of acceptance and appreciation that other breweries show,” Furth said. “Hopefully in 2016 you’ll be seeing a collaboration between the three breweries and the town.”

In addition to constant collaborations, OBC has been present at several area craft beer festivals, including Tap into Summer in Bangor. The festival, held this past summer, saw a multitude of well-known Maine breweries come out to taste, share and celebrate craft beer, with a little friendly competition. OBC’s Ozone IPA won best beer at the festival, competing against the likes of Portland’s nationally-renowned Allagash Brewing Company, which consistently ranks in the top craft beer producers in the country.

“Our first festival and one of the beers Asa brewed won. It felt like we went infant to adult in a day,” Horton said, speaking of brewmaster Asa Marsh-Sachs, a well-known area beermaker with more than eight years of experience running home brew stores.

But what makes a successful brewery? It’s hard to find anything unlikeable about OBC, from its focus on local, sustainable ingredients and its enchanting atmosphere. According to Furth and Horton, two factors were key in OBC’s initial success.

“We had a lot of confidence in Asa,” Furth said.

Marsh-Sachs could not be reached for an interview, but has stated in the past that he is focused on making the best beer he can with the best ingredients he can find.

And the other factor? A combination of word-of-mouth and social media.

“It took us a lot longer in the other businesses we have to get the kind of buzz that we have had in a year at OBC,” Horton said. “The following just went so quick. From zero to thousands, anywhere you look, social media or just how many people we see coming through in just a matter of a few weeks. It was so fast.”

“It really hit home for us around the holidays when we were selling tons of growlers. That’s so cool that all these families having special time together are enjoying the beer that Asa made,” Furth said, reflecting on a successful year. “To have the following and confidence that people have in our product is amazing.”

And the success of the brewery is spilling over into the duo’s other businesses. Abe Furth and Horton, who also own and operate Woodman’s Bar and Grill in Orono with Abe’s wife Heather Furth, are happy the success at OBC has draw better attention to that business, as well.

Coincidentally, in the year since OBC opened, Woodman’s received some of its highest accolades, including Best Overall Restaurant, Best Steak, Best Bar, Best Cocktail and Best Place to Take Out-of-Towners in Greater Bangor by Bangor Metro Magazine. OBC was awarded Best New Restaurant in Greater Bangor by the same publication in 2015.

From tapline to table, Horton, who runs the kitchen at Woodman’s, said the restaurant likes to showcase OBC beer not only at the bar, but also in the food.

“Ever since the brewery opened, we’ve tried to focus on using beer in the ingredients [at Woodman’s],” Horton said.

“We’ve always had the beer batter for the fried foods, so now it’s 80 percent OBC. The macaroni and cheese that we serve, there’s beer in the cheese sauce,” Horton said. Other foods incorporating OBC beer include White Nitro Cream Ale cheese fondue and Ozone IPA cheddar soup, and there certainly are more to come.

The beer-forward menu changes aren’t the only ones the restaurant will see in 2016. Woodman’s will be putting a new half-wall in between its barspace and dining area, to give both privacy to dining patrons and expand counter space for bar-goers, as well as installing a permanent vestibule to buffer between the dining room and the outside environment.

Riding high off their success, the owners are hoping OBC continues to gain traction in 2016, with Horton saying he wants to, “grow and expand the brand, just to see OBC become more popular in other parts of the state.”

But the crew isn’t poised to leap into distribution just yet. They want to enjoy the ride.

“When you open a brewery, you hope that someday you’ll [bottle],” Furth said. “We put a lot into this brewery, and we’re not in a huge rush to change how we’re doing things. We love the fact that the people that are directly working here or at Woodman’s are the people you’re getting OBC beer from . . . We have friends that are taking that step of going into a brewery that’s big enough that they have to distribute, and it’s fun to learn from them, but we’re not trying to get into the market where we’re on taplines all over the state.”

“It’s fun to be really able to pay attention to the spots that we’re at . . . and let things happen naturally,” Horton said.

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