ELLSWORTH — Ian Heyse and Jon Stein had a simple goal when they first started brewing: they “wanted to be able to drink nice beer.”
College classmates at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, the friends learned how to home brew in small batches and kept at it in the years after college. That work and accumulated experience has now culminated in the opening of Fogtown Brewing Co. The microbrewery is located below Atlantic Art Glass at 25 Pine St.
The business partners worked throughout 2017 on transforming the basement space into a combination brewery (located in the back of the space) and a tasting room. They opened their doors to customers in December. Their winter hours are from 4 to 10:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Six different beers have been on tap at Fogtown in its first few weeks: Farmhouse Saison, Red Rye Ale, Vienna Pilsner, Munich Lager, Session Maine Coast India Pale Ale and American Stout. In addition to offering its beers at 25 Pine St., Fogtown also has partnered with local bars and restaurants to effectively extend its tasting room. Each place has carried a Fogtown beer on tap to give customers there a chance to try it.
Partnering businesses to date have included Finn’s Irish Pub, Chummies Bar, Provender Kitchen + Bar and Finelli Pizzeria in Ellsworth and the Pickled Wrinkle in Birch Harbor.
“We wanted to sell to the places we go to, to hang out and eat and drink,” said Heyse. “It has been great, especially in a small town, to have people carry our stuff and to get that exposure and feedback.”
Stein said he is pleased that people are trying all of the different beers Fogtown has brewed so far. The Maine Coast Session IPA and the American Stout have proven popular in particular, and Stein said time in the brewery is divided about equally right now between brewing more of what customers say they like and crafting brand new brews for them to sample.
“We’re kind of just testing the Ellsworth waters and seeing what people like,” said Stein.
Stein is also testing out his beer chemistry skills. One way is by working with the water used to brew the beer, and adding minerals to match the composition of water found in other places where beer is brewed. For Fogtown’s Munich Lager, for example, Stein went online and got information about the characteristics of water used by breweries in Munich and adjusted the water that Fogtown sources in Ellsworth to try and match that.
The stainless steel tanks, associated tubes and piping and other equipment that fills the brewery space can seem somewhat daunting to a visitor unfamiliar with the specific steps of the brewing process. Stein acknowledged with a smile that it does look something like an M. C. Escher drawing, but he and Heyse and the friends who help them know how the system works and how to get it to do what is needed in the brewing process. The proprietors want customers to be able to see the space and get a sense of how the brewing process works.
Fogtown also has refurbished wooden barrels that formerly held brandy, gin, tequila or bourbon and is using them for small batches of specialty, limited-release beers. The idea is that the beer will pick up some of the characteristics of the barrels’ original contents, as well as additional ingredients put in.
In one barrel, for example, cranberries and rose hips that Heyse and Stein foraged have been added to 50 gallons of the Farmhouse Saison.
“We’re just hoping the wild yeast on those plants will sour that beer in a pleasant way,” Stein explained.
Like much of everything else at Fogtown, the barrels come from a Maine company (in this case, River Drive Cooperage and Millwork in Buxton). Malted grains, meanwhile, come from Blue Ox Malthouse in Lisbon Falls.
Stein and Heyse are both musicians, and they said live music will be a frequent feature at Fogtown. There is a limited food selection at this point, including cheese and meat boards, but Fogtown is also BYOF — Bring Your Own Food. Patrons are welcome to order takeout from nearby establishments, pick it up and bring it back to eat at Fogtown.
Wondering where that name came from? Heyse said picking a name was a long and involved process. Many names were already taken, and the duo did not want to run afoul of any trademark laws. They wanted a name that hinted at the brewery’s location without pigeonholing themselves.
Fogtown seemed broad enough to cover the coast of Maine — a name that is grounded in a place but which has a more global appeal than a name with more pinpoint precision. So far, Heyse said, the name seems to be a success.
“The name resonates with people,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled co-owner Ian Heyse’s name.