Today is a Hallmark card type of summer day in Maine, one of those days you wish you could string out to last at least a month: blue skies, clouds you could lie in a hammock and gaze at for hours and a spot-on eighty degrees with no humidity. While vacationers and tourists amble along the beach, or hike a high trail, one hardworking brewer was not taking it easy.
Tim Bissell, director of marketing and outreach at Gneiss (pronounced nice) brewery in Limerick, was manning the tasting room waiting for anyone who might arrive to refill a growler with one of Gneiss’ wheat beers. Tim and owner/brewer Dustin Johnson began brewing Gneiss beer less than a year ago, and have already gotten some good traction getting it into Maine bars and restaurants.
I asked Tim how the beers have been received. “The first six months was really about educating people about our style of beers and the flavors associated with them. They’re made with wheat, and a lot of people have pre-conceived notions of whether they like wheat beer or not. We just tell them, ‘just give our beers a try and see what you think.’ We’ve had more positive than negative reviews.””
He went on to explain why they chose to brew this particular style. “We really liked the German style of brewing, the balance. Some American beers can be high alcohol and highly hopped. We wanted to come at it from a different approach, which created a niche. We tell bars that this is a local beer and it’s distinct and will stand out on your taps.”
The farm where the brewery is located is a working farm. In addition to brewing beer, the two grow their own food using sustainable farming practices. They even have pigs that help move the dirt around. “The brewery was built on a spot that was all forest three years ago. We had it logged and built the brewery. Instead of rototilling, we raise four to five pigs a year and they root around, eat what they can find, rip up roots, turn the land over, makes piles of rocks for us. We’ll clear it out next year and grow on it.”
They are also growing their own hops, including Cascade, Centennial, Nugget and Magnum, with the help of Doles Orchard nearby. “Dustin has been here four years, getting a head start. We had some growing in pots in Orono, and right now have 26 hop plants, enough to harvest for two seven-barrel batches of beer. We’re figuring out our harvest beer, which will be wheat & barley based and brewed in September.”
“Centennial hops loving the heat”
I asked if they’d chosen a name for the harvest beers. I can “hear” Tim smiling on the other end of the line. “No, we haven’t chosen names yet. Sometimes the name comes before the beer, and sometimes it comes after the beer is made. We’ve even decided on a name for a new beer on the way to deliver it. It’s just how creativity works.”
Both Tim and Dustin are University of Maine at Orono grads, but have known each other since junior high. They homebrewed after they moved off-campus. “Dustin has a strong science background, so he can take my crazy ideas and know how to make them work. He’s got a great knack for combining and balancing initial and residual flavors and puts his focus on good drinkability.”
What food goes well with, say the Gneiss Weiss flagship beer? “Anything German, but seafood goes well, too. The flavors don’t compete with the food, like a highly hopped beer would. It’s crisp and refreshing.”
I think a trip to Limerick is on my list. Although you can get the beer in local bars (see their website for particulars www.gneissbeer.com), if you make the trip, you can take home a growler full. They have five taps in the tasting room, which is part of the brewery. Tim quips, “I just tell people when they come, if they want to tour the brewery, just turn around in a circle, and you’ve seen it. It’s 500 square feet, but we use every inch of it.”
Tim adds, “We’re certified Mainers.” So support your local brewery!
Mesozoic will premier at the brewery tomorrow, July 26th, noon to 6 p.m. Two bottle limit, aged 5 months in bourbon barrels.
Address: 94 Patterson Road, Limerick, Maine
Phone: 207 793 0046
Photos used with permission of Gneiss Brewing Company