Hidden in plain sight in an industrial park, in Portland, Maine, across the street from venerable Allagash Brewing, is an incubator of sorts for craft beer.
Allagash was founded in 1995, but the three tiny, neighboring craft breweries — all under the same roof — are just getting started. Foundation Brewing Company, Austin Street Brewery, and Bissell Brothers Brewing Company have set up shop at One Industrial Way. The first two breweries have only been open a few weeks. Neither packages its beer, but patrons can sip samples and fill growlers on site. The beers are also available at select bars in the Portland area. Foundation’s Blaze, a farmhouse IPA, and Austin Street’s Patina Pale, are standouts.
Bissell Brothers is further along but not by much, having been in production since Dec. 7. That head start has allowed Bissell to can and distribute its first brew, The Substance. On Wednesday, the brewery’s Twitter account stated, “Batch #20 of Substance today. Time flies when you’re making beer.”
Available in silver 16-ounce cans, The Substance is an aromatic IPA weighing in at 6.6 percent alcohol by volume. While the brew was intended to be the company’s flagship, cofounder Peter Bissell says he never intended to stick with one commercial release for so long. A batch consisting of 180 cases of the bitter, sticky brew typically sells out in two days.
“We had plans to cycle other beers through,” said the 30-year-old Bissell. “Three weeks or so into it we realized we’ve got to focus on this beer now, crank it out.”
Bissell founded the brewery with his brother Noah, 24. Noah comes up with the recipes, while Peter handles marketing and the business side.
On a recent Saturday, loud hip-hop music bounced off the walls of Bissell Brothers’ taproom, occupied by members of two bus tours and assorted thirsty stragglers. A pinball machine featuring the image of professional pool player Jeanette Lee (known as “The Black Widow”) stood in one corner, rigged for free play. Two beers, The Substance and another IPA named Morachi, were on tap.
The Bissells grew up in Milo, a town 2½ hours north of Portland and far from the burgeoning food-and-beverage scene happening in Maine’s cultural capital. Of their interest in craft beer, Peter says, “It certainly wasn’t from growing up.”
At the University of Maine at Farmington, Noah steered his courses toward studying yeast and fermentation. Cans of The Substance feature the chemical structures of two molecules: Humulone, the alpha acid that gives bitterness to hops, and Isohumulone, that compound that results from the brewing process.
The brothers admit to being inspired by a trip to Waterbury, Vt., home of the Alchemist, the makers of the famed double-IPA Heady Topper. Drinking that beer and beers from Vermont brewers Hill Farmstead and Lawson’s Finest Liquids allowed Peter Bissell to “see what it could be,” though he maintains his beer is very different from Heady Topper, the No. 1 beer in the world on the rating site BeerAdvocate.
“Heady is much more malt forward,” said Bissell. “Much respect to The Alchemist. A lot of people in Maine are kind of happy they can come here, that we have this thing now we can call our own. But by no means are we trying to take their mojo or anything.”
The beers aren’t replicas of one another, though both burst with a grassy, pine aroma, taste of grapefruit, and finish smoother and drier than beers with this much flavor should. The can describes The Substance as, “drawing from the wealth of knowledge of those that came before us while creating something entirely our own, waves of hop flavor permeate the senses as you consume.” Each can of Heady Topper promises you “wave after wave of hoppy goodness.”
Alchemist co-owner Jen Kimmich isn’t worried about another small brewer producing a big IPA that’s catching on with the public.
“We weren’t aware of this beer, but the description doesn’t bother us,” she said. “We see similarities to our descriptions quite often. . . . I would like to think that we have inspired others.”
Heady appears darker, more orange, while The Substance is a hazy straw yellow. The Alchemist product is 8 percent ABV to Bissell’s 6.6 percent. Bits of sedimentary goodness float in each. Both are worth the drive.
Bissell Brothers sells The Substance at the brewery on packaging days (limit one case per person). It’s also available at The Bier Cellar and RSVP Discount Beverage, both in Portland.Gary Dzen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GaryDzen.