In addition to being die-hard beer lovers, childhood friends Scott Bendtson and Ethan Evangelos are a couple of resourceful, inventive guys.
The Knox County natives opened their brewery and tap room, Thresher’s Brewing Co. in a converted lumber mill in Searsmont in July 2016. Like a few other Maine breweries, including Banded Horn in Biddeford and 2 Feet in Bangor, they didn’t simply buy all of their brewing equipment from another company — in Thresher’s case, they made all of it themselves, out of spare parts and a bit of Yankee ingenuity, for a fraction of the cost.
“There’s basically no way we could have bought all this pre-made, on our budget,” Bendtson, 35, said. “We didn’t have tens of thousands of dollars to start up. We couldn’t have done it if we didn’t know how to make it ourselves.”
The mash tun — where the wort for the beer is made, the first step in beer-making — is made from a repurposed milk tank sourced from a dairy farm in Topsham. The boil kettles also made out of milk tanks. The climate-controlled fermenters are made from store-bought air conditioners and thermal switches from the local hardware store.
“Lucky for us, we know how to do all that stuff. I picked up a lot of it when I was in the Air Force,” Bendtson said. “Engineering comes in handy when it comes to making beer.”
Bendtson and Evangelos have been friends since middle school, later attending Medomak High School and eventually going into business together as carpenters, which they did full time until opening the brewery. Like many people, they grew up drinking cheap domestic beer — until their early 20s, when they tasted Samuel Adams beers for the first time and realized beer could be so much more.
“I think a lot of people realized beer really tasted good when they first tried Sam Adams,” Evangelos, 34, said. “That’s what got me started on loving beer.”
The pair began exploring other craft breweries, from major national brands such as Sierra Nevada to Maine stalwarts such as Allagash and Baxter. Evangelos particularly developed a taste for smooth, mild beers, such as browns, porters and English pales, while Bendtson found himself drawn to IPAs and other powerfully flavored beers.
About five years ago, Evangelos’ wife bought him a homebrew kit, and he began making his own beer. Not long after that, Bendtson and Evangelos began taking weekend trips with their families to breweries around the state, sampling the huge variety of beers Maine has to offer. Eventually, they came to the realization that they could do it, too — and in their own unique way.
“We didn’t want to make the most off the wall beers we could imagine. We didn’t want to just make a ton of super hoppy IPAs and nothing else. We wanted to do something accessible. We wanted to make beer that you’re going to have more than one of,” Bendtson said.
“Plus, we were really sick of working on roofs in the winter,” Evangelos added.
Though the friends didn’t have a lot of money to start a brewery, they did have a lot of skills. Combining their years of experience in carpentry, electrical work and plumbing with some key contacts in Maine’s farming world, they began reaching out to dairy farmers to find the milk tanks they needed to build their system.
They also came across their current location at 22 Main St. in Searsmont, behind the Fraternity Village Store in the town center. The building, now known as the Come Spring Business Park, was formerly used as a lumber mill but was empty for a number of years. When Bendtson and Evangelos first took a look at it, it was full of sawdust and broken mechanical parts.
“It hadn’t really been changed since the ’70s,” Bendtson said.
Over the winter and spring of 2016, they cleaned the place out and built just about everything from the ground up, from that custom-built brewing system to the tables and chairs to the handcrafted wooden bar and mirrored backsplash — they are carpenters, after all. By May, they were brewing their first beer. By July, they were open.
Regular beers on tap include the nutty, easy-drinking Brown Ale, the fruity, dry-hopped Citra IPA and the crisp saison-style Firefly Wheat. Over the winter, they’ve been offering Sea Smoke Porter, a velvety smooth dark beer with notes of chocolate and coffee, and this spring they plan to roll out more new, seasonal brews.
Select Thresher’s beers are on tap at restaurants, including Cafe Miranda in Rockland, the Vintage Room in Camden and Ebantide in Camden. Bendtson and Evangelos hope to expand their beer’s presence in restaurants and bars statewide in the coming months.
Aside from the beer, the Thresher’s tap room offers lots of other things to entertain or tempt the palate while sampling brews. Grinning Dog BBQ, a Waldo County-based food truck that serves up pulled pork, wings, ribs and other smoky treats, sets up shop in the parking lot every weekend. There’s pool and darts and a projector for watching sports or for viewing parties, such as the ones they hosted over the winter for the History Channel outdoor survival series “Alone,” in which local resident Zachary Fowler ended up winning. In the summer, they host live music outside.
Evangelos said their brewery and tap room is hitting an often untapped demographic: folks who live in small, rural communities away from major routes and highways who have no pub or other gathering place nearby. There are a few other breweries with tap rooms in Maine with a similar rural attitude, such as Airline Brewing’s tap room in Amherst, Strong Brewing in Sedgwick and nearby Liberty Craft Brewing in Liberty — though they are only open May-November.
“Everybody wants to be on the coast or in the city, and they forget that there are people here too, who don’t want to drive all the way into town to go out and have fun,” Evangelos said. “There are a lot of folks that live right around here that come over here.”
Unlike a more traditional bars or pub, a place like Thresher’s is decidedly family friendly. In fact, Bendtson and Evangelos welcome parents to bring their kids, offering a cozy corner full of toys for youngsters to enjoy while mom and dad sample a few brews.
“Going to breweries is nice, because you can bring your kids. We both have young daughters, and you can’t really bring them to a bar or take them to a restaurant because it’s expensive, but a brewery is a nice middle ground,” Bendtson said.
Customers seem to appreciate the brewing partners’ attitude. Over the past few months, patrons have brought them gifts, such as the mounted moose head on the wall and the giant wooden marlin hanging above the bar.
“The other day a customer said, ‘You should have free popcorn here,”’ Bendtson said. “I turn around and they’re on their phone and they looked at me and said, ‘I just bought you one.’ So now we have a popcorn machine. That’s just the kind of place we’ve got here.”
Thresher’s Brewing, located at 22 Main St. in Searsmont, is open from 3 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays to Fridays, noon to 10 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 8 p.m. Sundays.