The outskirts of Newcastle is a feral place known for muzzleloaders and the sharp stench of cow manure. But in the northern enclave the locals call Jones Woods, something is stirring, and it smells delicious.
Tim Adams and Geoff Masland founded Oxbow Brewery in a wood shingled barn in the boondocks of Lincoln County. For two and a half years they have produced one of the mightiest brews to the hit the local beer circuit.
“From the beers of Europe to the west coast style hoppy beers, to a lot of Midwestern beers, we just kind of came up with a style of beer we wanted to brew for New England, and all these ideas and inspirations boiled down to what we call an ‘American Farmhouse Ale,’” Masland said.
Independent, authentic and artistic, the American Farmhouse Ale will likely make your taste buds do the cha-cha. Just ask the thousands of beer connoisseurs that have traveled as far as Connecticut, New York and Michigan to taste Oxbow’s unique brew.
“We get a lot of people come and visit us, and we provide a really cool experience that is unique,” Masland said. “We're not in an industrial park or a historic building. We're not in an old mill.
“We're in a barn out in the woods.”
With the slogan “Loud beer from a quiet place,” Oxbow has become a driving force in Maine's craft ale renaissance. The brewery’s flagship farmhouse ale is considered an esoteric style that originated out of Southern Belgium.
“Farmhouse ales are brewed on the farms using their own ingredients, and local yeast,” Adams said. “The style of farmhouse brewing is slightly more artistic and less technical than other brewing styles.”
Adams and Masland altered their ale by choosing not to go with the traditional ingredients from Belgium, but instead they used American hops to impart a bitter and tangy taste to a beer that's light, dry and refreshing. The result is a truly unique ale that contains a curious smack of flavor.
Oxbow can't be found in the supermarket aisles (yet). The beer is sold mostly in bars in Portland and Rockland, and is available at the brewery.
Oxbow set up shop on Masland's property in 2011, selling jugs by the half gallon for just four hours a day. But as their popularity skyrocketed, they quickly discovered they needed a bigger place to house the beer enthusiasts who drop by daily.
“We opened up our home and we've provided a very authentic experience to this and it's true to who we are,” Masland said.
Several sumptuous ales are on tap in the tasting room. Oak barrels line the walls providing a rustic setting, similar to a colonial style tavern.
Part of Oxbow's early success came from introducing new flavors that were unique to Maine. Their other success is probably attributed to the fact that they are just cool dudes.
Take Adams, a 30-year-old skateboarder with a penchant for art and home brewing. With more than 50 flavors in his arsenal, he keeps producing “killer beers” accompanied by the colorful cast working alongside him. There's Mike Fava, the operations manager who rocks the bright hunter orange apparel and calls it like he sees it. There's also Tyler “Doeboy” Havrilko who is as fully bearded and gregarious as Grizzly Adams.
The Oxbow brew crew keeps things convivial by blaring punk rock, throwing back shots of hot sauce, and “tagging” their kegs with graffiti. (It's for identification purposes, Adams said.)
If this boisterous brouhaha sounds like the Oxbow people might be enjoying their job a little too much, it's probably because it's true. But one thing is for sure, when it comes down to business, these guys can brew some serious ale.
“Every time we brew beer here, we're getting better and better, so overseeing the production from a liquid standpoint is just continuing to take that liquid to the next level, and it's a really fun task to have,” Adams said.