When Tim Gallon isn’t brewing beer, he’s cleaning the tanks in which his beer is brewed.
And when he isn’t cleaning tanks, he’s doing all the little things to run Black Bear Brewery, which recently moved into a space off Mill Street in Orono formerly occupied by IGA.
It’s a lot of work for Gallon, a 31-year-old Bangor native who is the owner of the brewery and its only full-time employee. He spent most of 2008 doing construction and getting his operation up and running.
Now that he’s able to brew up to three batches of beer per week, however, Gallon is ready to get out the word. The Bangor area, he feels, needs a brewery with a local identity. And considering all the connections his business has to the area, Gallon wants Black Bear to assume that mantle.
“That’s the goal,” he said on a recent morning in the brewery’s storefront area. “I want to be the [local] microbrewery.”
Black Bear Brewery isn’t a new business. Gallon has been at it for several years, since he learned the intricacies of beer brewing in a back room of the Bear Brew Pub, which is located diagonally across a parking lot from the brewery. Gallon is hoping the move from the brew pub, where he had around 500 square feet of space, to his new 2,500-square-foot shop will relaunch the brewery.
“Next year we’re going to do a big sales push, really hit the downtown bars” in Bangor and Orono, he said.
Gallon believes his business is one of few breweries north of Bangor. The Sea Dog Brewing Co. restaurant in Bangor also brews some of its own beer, and Gallon said Oak Pond Brewing Co. in Skowhegan makes its own beer.
So far, Gallon’s business has been very local. He sells kegs to Paddy Murphy’s Pub in Bangor and Mainely Brews Tavern in Waterville, and brews beer for the Bear Brew Pub, also in Orono. It seems fitting considering all the connections Gallon has to the area.
He graduated from Bangor High School in 1995 and has been brewing beer for six years. He learned the craft from Milos Blagojevic, the former owner of the Bear Brew Pub. Matt Haskell, another Bangor native, took over the Bear Brew with Gallon in March 2002 and bought out Gallon about 1½ years later. Gallon rented space in the Bear Brew building where he still brews beer for Haskell’s Bear Brew label.
He now has one part-time employee in Elliott Hale, who also grew up in Bangor. Gallon got his beers into Mainely Brews through one of its owners, Luke Duplessis, who is from Old Town. Isaac Wright, a local artist, designed a label for each of Gallon’s beers. Paddy Murphy’s owner, John Dobbs, a 1999 University of Maine graduate, worked with Gallon and Haskell at the Bear Brew before opening his own pub.
Dobbs said the fact that Gallon is brewing in the area is attractive to him as a bar owner, and the two are friendly from their time at the Bear Brew.
“My wife [Rachel] and I try to stay as local with everything as we possibly can,” Dobbs said. “We love Maine, we love Bangor, and especially in these times we want to keep our money local and help each other out. And it’s a great product. We can’t even keep the Gearhead in stock.”
Gearhead Ale is one of four types of beer Gallon is currently brewing. It’s similar to an Irish red ale, he said. Gallon also brews a pale ale, which he has named Pail Ale, a porter called Voodoo Bear and a stout called Black Demon. He has also done seasonal beers, such as a blueberry ale for the summer.
They’re all known to be strong beers.
“All my beers run around 6 percent alcohol,” he said. “They’re big beers and they’re flavorful.”
Gallon has a 10-barrel system, which translates to a 310-gallon capacity.
Gallon moved into his new space last spring, but it took him the rest of the year to get the business up and running to the point where he is able to consistently produce what people want. He self-distributes — with Hale running a big part of that end of the business — in Penobscot County and uses Bangor-based Wicked Wines to distribute outside of the county.
“It’s taken about a year from the first bit of [demolition work] to actually having a brewery here,” Gallon said. “It’s taken me another four months to get my feet under me. Brewing beer is a tricky process, and it requires a lot of attention. There were trial batches and a lot of tweaking. I’m looking at 2009 to really be the first year of having enough beer that I can put a supply out there and be known.”
Businesses such as Paddy Murphy’s, which is in a visible downtown Bangor location across from West Market Square, have given him a boost locally, but Gallon got his start at the Bear Brew.
In addition to watching Blagojevic brew beer, Gallon read books and talked to people about the process. He took over the operation and found his interest growing to the point where he wanted his own brewery business.
“I started to figure out where I was going to build and what I was going to do,” Gallon said. “I wanted to focus more on the beer side. It’s kind of what I enjoy. I like craft beer and the process of it drew me in.”
Gallon uses the same methods brewers have used for ages. He starts with different grains for different types of beer. The grains are ground and then mixed with hot water in a tank called a mashton. That process converts the sugar in the grain and breaks it down. The result is a kind of sugar water, which is then boiled for about an hour. Toward the end of the process, Gallon adds hops, dried cone-shaped buds of the hop vine that have been pulverized and packed into pellets, which add aroma and bitterness.
After the mash is boiled, it’s cooled quickly. Yeast is added to facilitate fermentation and the mixture sits for five days. The beer is then moved to a cold room, which Gallon keeps just above freezing, where the beer ages and clarifies as particles settle at the bottom. The beer is then carbonated and ready to go.
That process has been made more expensive in the past year, Gallon said, because of the weak national and global economies. The sharp rise in the price of hops alone — from $5 per pound a year ago to $20 to $30 per pound now — forced Gallon to raise his prices a bit, although most other brewers have, too, he said.
The price increase has made him think more carefully about when and how much hops he adds to his brews.
“To really get that good, strong hop aroma that everybody loves, you add them in at the end of the boil,” he said. “If you add them too [early], all that nice smell evaporates. You add three pounds into the end of the boil, and you’ve just dumped $100 into the kettle. But it’s worth it, and that’s what I’m going for.”
Eventually, Gallon wants to turn the storefront area — which currently contains pallets of grain — into a retail space to sell bottles and growlers, which are half-gallon glass jugs that customers put a small deposit on and can be refilled and cleaned. Those advances may come in time, after Black Bear has developed the kind of local foothold Gallon envisions for his business.
“This area needs this,” Gallon said. “It’s a good-quality, fresh, local beer. I think my job is kind of to turn people on to that and get them excited about microbrews and craft beer. It’s something that’s not huge up here, but it is nationally. When you try a local beer, you never know what kind of gem you’re going to find.”