SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — An auto technician, a landscape contractor and a state government employee walk into a bar.
The framework of an otherwise overused joke describes the inception of the Fore River Brewing Co., except the bar is an old salt storage shed that would require renovation and an expansion, and the punchline has yet to be written.
Alex Anastasoff, of South Portland, John LeGassey, of Portland, and T.J. Hansen, of Windham, will soon join the robust ranks of microbrewers in southern Maine with their new tasting room and brewery at 45 Huntress Ave.
The large barn-like space near the northern end of Main Street is still very much under construction in an otherwise ordinary and mostly residential neighborhood.
Anastasoff, the former landscape contractor, owns the property and used to store up to 1,600 tons of salt during the winter. After selling his business and repurposing the space, the garage will eventually serve as the brewing area, which will be fronted by a large sliding barn door, in keeping with the “rustic, industrial look,” he said.
The intention is to create an open, relaxing tasting room with visual access to the brewing facilities, LeGassey said. The tasting room boasts high ceilings and a salvaged 19th-century red brick wood stove, which will add to the ambiance the trio hopes to cultivate, LeGassey said.
“We’re trying to reclaim and repurpose as many materials as we can,” Anastasoff said of the red pine beams that will serve as door jams and signage inside the tasting room, and the wood stove, which was salvaged from a home about to be razed.
The hope is to eventually get the South Portland Historical Society involved in some capacity, LeGassey said, which might mean displaying pictures and other artifacts from the city’s industrial history.
When the idea of opening a brewery first began taking shape, South Portland as a location stood out prominently for the three friends, due to its almost complete lack of breweries, which contrasts sharply with Portland brimming selection.
With how much is going on in Portland, Anastasoff said Tuesday, building a brewery in South Portland is long overdue.
In addition to South Portland, Fore River will focus on distributing in Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough, communities that the friends see as “neglected” in the local beer market, Anastasoff said.
The trio learned to brew in small batches. Anastasoff was the first to admit uncertainty.
Recalling his first thoughts about home brewing, he said he thought he “was going to be drinking something (brewed in) some guy’s bathtub,” he said. “I never intended to open a brewery.”
But once the beer keg started to roll, it didn’t stop.
They held a small tasting last year for a controlled crowd beyond just close friends and family, LeGassey said, which helped them settle on four primary brews to offer when Fore River officially opens: a red ale, an India pale ale, a rye pale and a farmhouse ale.
As they get their footing with the operation, LeGassey anticipates room for growth and flexibility. “We want (our selection) to be sort of fluid,” he said.
As far as trepidation about entering an already buzzing microbrewery scene, the partners don’t feel threatened.
“I think the craft beer industry is such a unique thing in that it’s not really a competition,” especially in greater Portland, said LeGassey, who views the business venture more as “joining a fraternity of brewers.”
“There are so many different styles of beer, nobody’s doing the same thing,” Hansen said. Plus, he added, “a little friendly competition is always good.”
The friends are excited to become a neighborhood fixture, too. Anastasoff said he imagines creating a scene similar to “Cheers,” in which they know each of the patrons by name.
Fore River will offer beer flights, pints and growlers to tasting-room patrons.
Already, neighborhood residents who have noticed the construction have stopped in to inquire and share in their enthusiasm. “We’re pumped about it and seeing others’ excitement only grows the fervor of our work,” LeGassey said Wednesday.
Fore River is scheduled to open in October. LeGassey, Hansen and Anastasoff like the idea of an autumn opening.
“I’m pretty pumped for people to come in, drink a red and smell the wood stove,” LeGassey said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”