Situated on 18 acres in Newcastle, Maine, Oxbow Brewing Company isn’t just fronting as a farmhouse brewery.
“We have a really nice fruit orchard,” says Tim Adams, a brewery cofounder. “We have some beehives. We have pigs that eat our grains. It’s a real farmhouse brewery, and there’s not a lot of them out there.”
The term “farmhouse” as it relates to beer is synonymous with the saison style native to southern Belgium. Oxbow’s beer lineup features saisons and other European styles like grisette and biere de garde. To these beers Adams often adds American hops, and he isn’t afraid to use native ingredients like blueberries and lobsters to flavor them. His primary goal is beers with an austerity not unlike the Maine landscape.
“In my opinion dry beers are the most refreshing beers,” says Adams. “There’s less residual sugar. There’s less flabbiness.”
Adams dries out his beers by fermenting them more fully, often adding brettanomyces and aging the brews in oak barrels. He’s adopted a workflow similar to what you might find in Belgium, where the brewing of lambics and subsequent blending of gueuzes are separate processes, done by different people. Oxbow’s beers are brewed up in Newcastle but blended and aged at a facility in Portland (both facilities have tap rooms and take visitors).
Crossfade, a blend of two hop-forward saisons, is an example of what Oxbow does so well.
“When it’s fresh, it’s a lovely, hoppy saison,” says Adams. “As you age it, the brett really comes forth and the beer gets funkier. It gets drier. It takes on a whole new personality.”
Adams likens the beer to Orval, the Trappist ale he credits as having a major influence on his life. Like Orval, Crossfade is designed to evolve gracefully in the bottle.
I recently cracked a Crossfade bottled in January, poured it into a tulip glass, and was greeted by one of my favorite beer smells: pineapple. As I sipped, intense, dry bursts of tropical fruit filled the roof of my mouth, while tiny bubbles surged skyward in the glass, gasping their last gasps into a brilliant white head.
If you don’t like funky beer, take solace in the knowledge that there’s only a hint of barnyard in Crossfade. And drinkers who let it warm a bit will have their patience rewarded with a smell not unlike the one you’d get tearing into a package of Pixy Stix.
Oxbow is hosting its sixth annual farmhouse celebration, Goods From the Woods, at its Newcastle Brewery on Oct. 22. For tickets and information, go to www.oxbowbeer.com.
gary dzenGary Dzen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GaryDzen