Biddeford craft beer

Biddeford: A Proud City Rises

It is easy to see why people might focus on Portland when seeking to explore Maine’s craft beer scene. As Maine’s largest city, it is stocked with breweries and it tops other major U.S. cities in breweries-per-capita. While this popularity has encouraged more breweries to open — over a dozen breweries in Maine have opened in 2016 — many potential brewers are focusing on other communities.

The Biddeford/Saco area, located a quick twenty minutes south of Portland, is in the process of becoming a hub for beer lovers — and offers something for lovers of traditional beer styles as well as those seeking the newest and most experimental styles.

The cities of Saco and Biddeford have a long history — mill buildings and former industry line the bank of the broad, curving Saco river. Once empires of lumber and industry, the massive brick mill buildings and stacks stand as a reminder of an economy that’s been transformed many times since the city’s founding. The once-bustling mills laid unused for decades — and the latest recession wasn’t encouraging for those thinking of investing in rehabilitating the area.

Today, the area is home to four beer-producers, each who have found ways to grow their city’s love for beer without compromising the area’s rich history.

Run of the Mill Public House & Brewery

Run of the Mill Public House & Brewery

Brews on the deck overlooking the Saco River at Run of the Mill Public House & Brewery in Saco
100 Main Street, Saco
In an industry where it is easy to be trendy, Run of the Mill brewpub stands out for being true to its roots. It was the area’s first brewery, and opened after its successful “sister” brewery, The Liberal Cup, did so well in the town of Hallowell.

Though Run of The Mill has only been open since 2008, it has the atmosphere and feeling of the old mill on Saco Island that it occupies — the feeling that it’s always been here just as it is. The exposed beams and warmly enveloping walls and floors hold character and stories that, in a way, encourage us to go there and tell our own. The space is both huge and tiny, purposefully designed to have many different nooks and semi-private spaces to make it feel cozier, but to accommodate anyone who wants to partake in a hearty meal, down a few beers and talk about whatever’s on their mind.

The 14-barrel brewhouse turns out a variety of classic ales and lagers and regularly keeps at least seven on tap, changing them up seasonally. The beers range from traditional English-style ales their flagship is their Alewife; a smooth but bitter English Pale Ale, to classic lager styles like their Dunkel John’s Band, a roasty and well-balanced Dunkelweizen (dark wheat). The beer names touch on a familiar Maine sense of humor —  including names such as State Budget Red (a hopped bitter red ale), Ex-Wife Extra Bitter (English Bitter), or For Richer or Poorter (Porter).

Banded Horn Brewing Company 13-W

Banded Horn Brewing Company

Photo: Carla Jean Lauter
32 Main Street, Biddeford
Just across the river, the Pepperell Mill campus is home to Banded Horn Brewing Company, who began their plans to renovate the space in 2013, launching a Kickstarter to involve the community in their brewing endeavor. Since then, Banded Horn has transformed their high-ceilinged space into a brewery production facility that has a 20-barrel brewhouse and 200 barrels of fermentation capacity.

The beers Banded Horn are known for include several familiar styles, including their flagship Pepperell Pilsner (an unfiltered Keller Pils) and assertively hoppy and piney Diakaiju double IPA. Where their talents truly stand out in the Maine beer landscape is their three beers on the dark side: Norweald, a slightly smoky, intense dark brew; The Mountain, a deep, chocolately, and rich Russian Imperial Stout; and Jolly Woodsman, a bitter and utterly satisfying stout brewed with wood-roasted espresso beans from Speckled Axe, a local coffee roaster.

Banded Horn regularly hosts events and takes advantage of their large ex-mill space. From ping-pong tournaments to yoga, they are eager to help folks their community find a run reason to hang out, and to provide space to organizations and events that they jive with.

Dirigo Brewing Company

Dirigo Brewing Company

Photo: Carla Jean Lauter
28 Pearl Street, Biddeford
Despite being the newest brewery in the area, Dirigo Brewing Company opened in 2016 with a lot of previous brewing experience. Lead brewer Tom Bull has worked at several other Maine brewing institutions (Gritty’s, Casco Bay Brewing, Bull Jagger) before setting out to open Dirigo Brewing in 2016. The space that Dirigo occupies features six windows overlooking the Saco falls — a view unseen by residents for years before Dirigo’s opening — and offers an unparalleled view to accompany brewery samples.

Focusing on German and old-world styles, Dirigo Brewing Company has already made a name for themselves by refusing to make an IPA — instead choosing to focus on more malt-forward ales and lagers. Their debut lineup includes a 13th century Polish chocolate wheat beer, Schöps, and a “German” Pale Ale made with a German malt and hops bill in place of the usual West-Coast Hops. A particularly unique beer is Dirigo Lager, brewed in the Helles-style. Showcasing the malts upfront, this clean, golden brew is easily consumed but not easily forgotten.

Barreled Souls

Barreled Souls Brewing Company

Photo: Carla Jean Lauter
743 Portland Rd, Saco
What Barreled Souls lacks in size it makes up for in creativity and variety – why make the same beer every week when you could simply make many small batches of interesting variants? The tasting room in Saco regularly features over ten beers in a broad range of styles. This allows beer lovers to not only try a variety in one sitting, but provides an opportunity for anyone to find a beer they might be particularly fond of.

While there are some excellent beers that make it into regular rotation (try Paper Planes, the IPA for a fresh take on the style or Space Gose for a perfectly tart version of a traditional Gose), Barreled Souls is not afraid to get a little experimental. Some beers are infused with fruits or spices, including oranges, strawberries, or anise; while others are aged in barrels once used for other spirits. Come in to their tasting room with an open mind and you cannot leave bored.

Worth the trip

Only minutes apart, these breweries can offer a snapshot into Maine’s brewing past and future, and can easily be visited in a single trip. The tasting room staff are friendly, the beers are pouring and the locals are waiting to hear your stories. So what are you waiting for?

Text: Carla Jean Lauter

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