CONVERSATIONS WITH MAINE

Craft beer by the Gallon

Tim Gallon at the Black Bear Brewery in Orono recently.
Tim Gallon at the Black Bear Brewery in Orono recently.
Posted June 23, 2011, at 9:10 p.m.
A Black Bear mascot enjoying a Pail Ale recently.
A Black Bear mascot enjoying a Pail Ale recently.
The fermentation tanks for the brewery in Orono.
The fermentation tanks for the brewery in Orono.
A handful of roasted grain, ready to go into one of Tim Gallon's beer recipes.
A handful of roasted grain, ready to go into one of Tim Gallon's beer recipes.

When I arrived at Black Bear Brewery in Orono, Tim Gallon — founder, brewer, and owner of the business — was just finishing a thorough cleaning of his fermentation tanks. A fresh batch of brew had just gone into the refrigeration room for the final step of carbonation and just the right chill.

We sat down at the bar of the tasting area for a casual chat before I had a tour of the operation. Tim’s calm demeanor belies an intense determination and resourcefulness. After learning about the history of Black Bear Brewery’s founding and development I came to the realization that this man of quiet ease and friendly demeanor built an entire business on his own, top to bottom, pretty much from scratch.

If you had told Tim Gallon at age 21 that he would own and run a brewery 10 years later, he would have laughed. Tim was three years into an education degree at the University of Maine when he and his friend Matt Haskell took jobs at the Bear Brew Pub in Orono. That’s where he got his first taste of the microbrew business from owner Milos Blagojavic.

Tim got a crash course from Milos, then began to brew on his own. When Milos decided he was ready to quit the business, Matt and Tim saw opportunity at their doorstep. Tim left school and took on the challenge of a business partnership. In the kitchen of the brewpub he began brewing his own Black Bear Brewery beer.

“Did you take classes or get training somewhere?” I asked.

“No, I kind of just did it,” he replied with a soft laugh. “I don’t think I really knew what I was getting into.”

Nevertheless, he got into it wholeheartedly. He read books, visited online forums and made connections with other microbrewers, with questions along the way.

After five years at the brewpub, Tim realized that he needed more space and equipment if he was to establish a serious brewery. He sold his share of the pub to his partner, purchased the building across the street at 19 Mill St. and began construction in 2007.

A friend with building expertise led the way, but Tim was part of the creation of his business from the bottom up — demolition, construction and design. He started out with dairy tanks and graduated to full-size fermentation tanks, created a tasting bar, got logo designs from local artist Isaac Wright, made a business plan and took off.

“What is the best part of the whole thing?” I asked.

Tim thought for a moment.

“The product, really. It’s a really good product — but it’s really the whole process, too.”

1. Mix grains (various roasts of barley) in a soaking tank with hot water.

2. Add and boil hops

3. The cool down

4. Move to fermentation tank, add yeast

5. Five days later, filter out solids

6. Crystal-clear, flat beer goes to refrigeration and carbonation

The process involves creating a recipe and making it consistently delicious. It combines the skills of the kitchen and the chemistry lab, not to mention business acumen, and Tim has it all. He also loves his product from soup to nuts — or from grain to beer. The smell of the roasted barley in grain bags, the taste of the sweet mash after the first soak, the fragrance of the hops flower, the fact that in each step of brewing there are ways to personalize both process and product — Tim lights up when he talks about all of it.

You can buy Tim’s beer from the refrigeration unit at the brewery, but the best place to taste it is on draft at any number of local restaurants, pubs and festivals. Tim’s “Pail Ale” and the amber “Gearhead” are his most popular beers, but he makes special batches of other beers all the time — stouts, porters, harvest ale, brown ale, blueberry.

Though craft beer is a tiny percentage of the beer market (about 2 percent if you don’t include Samuel Adams), it is a growing and popular industry.

“It was the right time, in a way, to get into it,” Tim said. “Craft beer is getting big.”

And Tim Gallon’s beer is helping it get bigger in eastern Maine.

Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback and suggestions at robin.everyday@gmail.com

 

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