When I arrived at Black Bear Brewery in Orono, Maine, Tim Gallon - founder, brewer, and owner of the business - was just finishing a thorough cleaning of his fermentation tanks. A fresh batch of brew had just gone into the refrigeration room for the final step of carbonation and just the right chill.
We sat down at the bar of the tasting area for a casual chat before I got my tour of the operation. Tim's calm demeanor belies an intense determination and resourcefulness. After learning about the history of Black Bear Brewery's founding and development I came to the realization that this man of quiet ease and friendly demeanor built an entire business on his own, top to bottom, pretty much from scratch.
If you had told 21 year old Tim Gallon back around the turn of the millenium that he would own and run a brewery in 2010, he would have laughed. Tim was 3 years into an Education degree at UMaine when he and his friend Matt Haskell took jobs at the Bear Brew Pub in Orono, Maine. That's where he got his first taste of the micro-brew business from owner Milos Blagojavic.
Tim got a crash course from MIlos, then began to brew on his own. When Milos decided he was ready to quit the business, Matt and Tim saw opportunity at their doorstep and decided to open the door. Tim left school and took on the challenge of a business partnership. In the pub's small brewery set up he began brewing his own Black Bear Brewery beer.
"Did you take classes or get training somewhere?" I asked.
"No -- I kind of just did it," he replied with a soft laugh; "I don't think I really knew what I was getting into."
Nevertheless, he got into it wholeheartedly. He read books, visited online forums, and made connections with other micro brewers with questions along the way.
After five years at the brew pub, Tim realized that he needed more space and equipment if he was to establish a serious brewery. He sold his share of the pub to Matt, purchased the building across the street - 19 Mill Street -- and began construction in 2007.
A friend with building expertise oversaw the project, but Tim was part of the creation of his business from the bottom up -- demolition, construction, design. He started out with dairy tanks and graduated to full size fermentation tanks, created a tasting bar, got logo designs from local artist Isaac Wright, worked out a business plan and took off.
"What is the best part of the whole thing," I asked.
Tim thought for a moment. "The product, really. It's a really good product...but it's really the whole process too."
Here is the process in a nutshell:
- some mixture of grain (various roasts of barley) goes into a soaking tank with hot water.
- hops are added, and boiled for a designated length of time.
- the cool down.
- to the fermentation tank, where yeast is added.
- five days later, solids are filtered out.
- crystal clear, flat beer goes to refrigeration and carbonation.
The process involves creating a recipe and making it consistently delicious. It combines the skills of both kitchen and chemistry lab - not to mention business acumen - and Tim has it all. He loves his product from soup to nuts - or rather, from grain to brew. The smell of the roasted barley in grain bags, the taste of the sweet mash after the first soak, the fragrance of the hops flower, the fact that in each step of brewing there are ways to personalize both process and product - Tim lights up when he talks about all of it.
There are 1/2 gallon "growlers" and 22 ouncers for sale in the refrigeration unit at the brewery, but the best place to taste Tim's beer is on draft at any number of local restaurants, pubs, and festivals. Tim's "Pail Ale" and the amber "Gearhead" are his most popular beers, but he makes special batches of other beers all the time - stouts, porters, a harvest ale, blueberry. Next up will be a batch of his brown ale in October.
Tim hopes to grow a little bit more, perhaps get into smaller bottles and six-packs. Though craft beer is a tiny percentage of the beer market (about 2% if you don't include Sam Adams), it is a growing and popular industry "It was the right time, in a way, to get into it," Tim said, "Craft beer is getting big."
And Tim Gallon's beer is helping it to get bigger in central Maine.
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