The next big thing in Maine craft brewing could be a ‘farm share’ to drink beer
One of Maine’s newest licensed craft breweries doesn’t have a tasting room and isn’t open for tours.
It doesn’t serve food, and you can’t even buy a pint of beer to sip on site.
What Frosty Bottom Brewing in Belfast does have is really good beer, a good story and a great community.
For Roy Curtis, the 45-year-old owner of the new community-supported brewery, the story began 20 years ago, when he received a brew kit for Christmas. He enjoyed it, and kept on brewing as a small-scale hobby for years. Then, in 2014, he joined forces with his friend Aaron Bauman to purchase a larger brewing system, which they set up in Bauman’s garage on Frost Hill in Swanville.
“We ended up reaching out to a bunch of friends to hang out and make beer,” said Curtis, a public service manager for the Maine Department of Corrections. “The first day, we had 15 people brewing beer. It was a beautiful September day. And I thought, ‘This is awesome.’ We continued to brew every month and share beer together.”
Eventually, they named their hobby club “Frosty Bottom” in honor of its location, and kept on experimenting with recipes and styles. Club members included farmers, builders, solar power engineers and teachers, and many were outdoor enthusiasts. In addition to making beer, they would also hike, kayak, ski and camp together.
“It’s more than just beer brewing,” Curtis said. “I think we really started this so we could get together once a month and hang out.”
Then, two years ago, one club member learned that the brothers at the Friars’ Brewhouse in Bucksport had upgraded and wanted to sell their 30-gallon system.
“We went up to the monastery and impulsively said, ‘we’ll buy it,’” Curtis said.
When he brought it home he wondered, what now?
“I kind of sat on it for a bit,” he said. “I didn’t know what we would do.”
It has taken two years and a lot of work, but Curtis and the brewers’ group have figured it out.
They have created what they believe is the first community-supported brewery in Maine. Akin to buying a farm share, those who purchase a beer share will be able to pick up two half-gallon growlers a month from the brewery. They will drink whatever Curtis and the rest of the group are brewing, which can be anything from Frosty Bottom’s flagship Old Man Time IPA to more unusual beers such as a porter brewed with chaga mushrooms or scotch ale made with roasted long pie pumpkins. The next signup will open on Sept. 1, and Curtis hopes to get 40 shareholders in 2020.
Something that’s special about Frosty Bottom is the brewery itself, and how it came to be built. It’s a small building on a plot of land on Hunt Road that is adjacent to Curtis’ home that was designed specifically to hold the one-barrel brewing system. It is largely solar powered, and much of the wood used in its construction was donated by Bauman and his wife, Sarah Mattox, who were clearing some pines from their Frost Hill property. The pine was milled into boards by another member of the brew club and Bauman, a builder, did a lot of the construction.
“When we put the gable ends up, we had a ton of folks who came out and put the walls up,” Curtis said. “It’s another representation of this awesome community we have.”
Jumping through hoops
A year and a half after the concrete slab was poured, the brewery is up and running. It took some doing to make it legal, Curtis said. As a home brewer, he could make as much as 200 gallons of beer a year without needing any special permits. But to increase his production, even just a little bit, he had to become a licensed small craft brewery, which allows him to brew as much as 50,000 gallons a year.
“We’re basically a glorified home brew club,” Curtis said. “I kept thinking there’s got to be a place for people like me who maybe want to brew 750 or 1,000 gallons of beer a year. But I had to jump through the same hoops.”
Other area brewers helped him, especially Ethan Evangelos and Scott Bendtson of Threshers Brewing Co. in Searsmont and Danny McGovern and others from Lake St. George Brewing Co. in Liberty.
“This whole community of brewers have been super generous people,” Curtis said. “They helped me navigate all the different permits I had to get.”
The first step was acquiring a federal brewer’s notice from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which is required in order to open a brewery. In January, the Belfast Planning Board unanimously voted to grant Curtis a home occupation permit, and in March, he went through his final permitting process with the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations, and they were ready to officially open in the new space.
On a recent brew day, the air was redolent with the smells of yeast and spicy hops, as Curtis and club members Zafra Whitcomb and Jon Thurston went about the process of making a batch of Old Man Time. Whitcomb, who works with Curtis to develop recipes, said that he loves being part of Frosty Bottom Brewing.
“It’s been great,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of people I really enjoy spending time with … and it’s been an opportunity for me to share what I know and grow what I know through learning and collaboration.”
For Curtis, who spends at least 12 hours a week brewing beer and who hopes to just break even with the venture, the point of Frosty Bottom Brewing is not to make money. It’s not really even the beer.
It’s the people.
“Quite frankly, it’s the fun we’ve had in the community of people,” he said. “I wouldn’t be hanging out with these people so often if I wasn’t doing this.”