CARIBOU, Maine — There’s something new brewing in Aroostook County. The opening of the first craft brewery in Caribou is on tap, and the beer is scheduled to pour in mid-June.
Northern Maine Brewing Co. will be the only craft brewery in The County, and with planned beers including the stout “Skidder Grease” and the lighter IPA “Northern Maine Light,” those behind the venture say the goal is to keep the flavors, ambiance and ingredients as local as possible.
“Is Aroostook County ready for a craft beer pub?” brewery co-investor and spokesman Joe Sleeper said. “Absolutely.”
Carpenters, painters, plumbers and electricians were hard at work on the building located across from the Caribou Inn and Convention Center earlier this month, putting the finishing touches on the bar and restaurant areas.
In the kitchen, newly hired executive chef Joseph Gervais was tiling and grouting the floor.
Gervais and Sleeper are looking forward to introducing area residents to small-batch beers.
“People’s take on craft beer is that they are really strong and dark or really ‘hoppy’ tasting,” Gervais said. “But really, what we are doing is brewing small batches using local ingredients to make a great tasting beer.”
Sleeper said using those local ingredients will create a uniquely northern Maine brew selection.
“Most of the components for the beer we will brew here are grown within one hour of Northern Maine Brewing Co.,” he said. “We are truly committed to the local portion of this project.”
In addition, all of the table tops, the bar top and doors were crafted by members of the Amish community in Easton, Sleeper said.
What is not local is the high-tech brewery equipment itself — a first of its kind in this country designed and made by Fleck’s Brauhaus Technik of Austria.
“It’s a very compact brewhouse,” according to Vincent Fleck, founder and director of the company.
The brewery can make two 3.5 barrel batches of beer per day, Fleck said. Several of the first trial batches at Northern Maine Brewing Co. included a red ale and a light lager.
Fleck was in Caribou in March to direct the installation of the brewery and was back in early May to assist in fine tuning the fermentation and brew tanks. Thanks to the Internet, Fleck will remain connected to Northern Maine Brewing Co. to help troubleshoot any issues. The system is completely automated, Fleck said, which frees the brewers up to research and develop new beers.
According to market sales, northern Mainers are thirsty for new beers.
“People in The County drink a lot of beer,” Rick Cyr of Maine Distributors said. “There are 69,000 people living in Aroostook, and last year I [distributed] 700,000 cases of beer here.”
Maine Distributer gets craft beers from around the state into the retail market, and according to Cyr there are more than 70 different craft breweries in the state.
Gervais said his restaurant will seat 85, and he has begun the hiring process for the 15 to 20 employees he will need to staff it and the bar.
“The biggest thing people are going to notice about a craft beer bar is that they will be getting a very drinkable beer that they can savor and pair with their food,” Gervais said. “It is a different dining and drinking experience.”
Fleck said Aroostook County has everything it needs to produce a high-quality beer.
“You must have good malts, good hops, good water and good, clean equipment,” he said. “You have all those things here.”
The best brewers, he said, learn by doing with trial and error. He said Sleeper, Gervais and their crew are well on their way to a quality beer.
“They started in March and now we are seeing some of the results,” Fleck said. “They are fine tuning, but it looks very good.”
His company has built breweries in 35 countries, and the one starting up at Northern Maine Brewing Co. is his 155th and first in the U.S. On the restaurant side of things, Gervais promises a menu as unique and as locally sourced as the beers.
“We are going to buy as much as we can from local vendors to offer a mixture of pub food and entrees inspired by locally grown and produced ingredients,” he said. “We really want that local feel to carry through.”
BDN writer Anthony Brino contributed to this report.