ROCKLAND — It’s been two years since Rock Harbor, a restaurant and pub on Main Street that replaced The Black Bull, sprung up. But working pretty much seven days a week to get the new restaurant up to speed wasn’t the only priority for owner Dan Pease. He had a vision all along to add a brewery to the restaurant and after several months of construction and brewing, he introduced three new Rock Harbor beers to the public this past weekend, just in time for football season.
A home brewer himself, Pease said he wanted to put a brewery in when they opened the restaurant, but held off until he could first research the best type of commercial system to purchase.
“We realized that to vent a traditional propane or natural gas system in this building would be very cost-prohibitive, so when this particular system, which happens to be electric, came up for sale in Portland, we bought it,” he said. “Although it gets a bit steamy in here when we’re brewing, we don’t have to vent with this system.”
The copper and stainless steel system is encased in a glass room that has taken up some restaurant space, but affords patrons and passersby on Main Street an attractive view of the brewery’s inner workings.
Over the summer Pease began brewing his first batch, which he titled Batch 101, a saison, also called a farmhouse ale. “This was our first one, our learning curve, you could say. Our fermentation temperatures were higher than we wanted, so it gave us a little bit of a bite up front and then it smooths out. It actually turned out to be really nice,” he said.
After experimenting with Batch 101, he decided to make two more. The next one, a pale ale, was called Twin Screw. “Our second beer was a pale ale with rich malt character and slight hop additions,” he said.
He calls the third Copper House Ale, an English style bitter, better known as his house beer.
“But, don’t be scared of the name, bitter, because it has a very balanced flavor to it,” he said. “Where you would normally end up with a very sharp hoppy taste, we actually embittered it more with the grains so it doesn’t come out as sharp.”
He said it took 300 pounds of grain and 124 gallons per batch to make eight kegs at a time. “We have 24 kegs of beer sitting ready to meet the public,” he said. Helping him as assistant brewer was Rich Ruggerio of the former Rocky Bay Brewing Co., which was also formerly located in Rockland.
At the time of this interview, no one but himself and a few tasters had sampled the beers. He was on the verge of launching them this past weekend.
“When you’re putting out something for the first time and you’re adapting a new system to a new location, it’s a little nerve-wracking,” he said. “The beers are awesome though, so much fun to make. At the same time, when I’m releasing something, I’m happy to have people try it and give feedback. As we move forward, these brews will get better and better.” Pease said he really loves IPAs and brown ales and will plan on making a high-alcohol, robust holiday beer next.
As it turns out, Pease said the Copper House Ale instantly became a fan favorite, selling out two of the first eight kegs in that weekend.
Rock Harbor Brewing Co., now officially the only craft brewer in Rockland, just joined the Maine Brewer’s Guild and has put itself on the Maine Beer Trail map, which is welcome news to folks who come to the Midcoast to sample hand-crafted Maine brews.
For more Midcoast brewers, see our article 24 Hours in Midcoast for the ‘Craft Brew Lover’.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org