On the frontier of Maine’s home-brew explosion

 The pursuit of hoppyness
By CHELSEA COOK  |  October 31, 2013

RIGHT AT HOME Longtime home brewer Gregg Carine.

Craft beer has finally carved out a much-deserved niche in the Portland drinking scene. Bars like Novare Res, the Thirsty Pig, and LFK are regularly serving up choice brews from Rising Tide, Allagash Brewing Company, Oxbow Beer, and Maine Beer Company. And of course, there’s the second annual Portland Beer Week starting on Friday. 

It seems there’s always more, and there is: Up-and-comers like Bissell Brothers Brewing, Austin Street Brewing, and Foundation Brewing Company (see sidebar) will be opening up shop on Industrial Way. One benefit of the craft beer boom is home-brewers are getting more attention. “With the amount of breweries that have opened over the last five years or so, people’s palates have just exploded,” says home brewer Gregg Carine. “It’s reviving people’s interest in beer — both drinking it and brewing it.”

Boosting both the results and possibilities of this revival is the spectrum of ingredients available to home brewers now. Where once there were only English ale hops or yeast to work with, now there are Sorachi Ace hops from Japan (very citrusy) and Calypso and Mosaic hops from New Zealand (passionfruit notes). “It’s breathing new life into home brewing,” Carine says.

He’s been home brewing since 1992, when he moved to Portland after finishing college. He started getting into extract beers through a friend at Harbor Home Brew (formerly on India Street). “One day my friend came over with a kit, and we did our first batch that day,” recalls Carine.

Now he has a tap in the living room and 300 pounds of grain tucked under the stairs. The tap contains his most recent creation, a spicy Rye Saison, which he reveals is a “slight variation on the Saison style, a summer seasonal beer originally produced in the French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium.”

One of Carine’s brews that garnered interest was United We Stand, Divided We Alt, which debuted at (and won) Bull Jagger’s tasting competition during last year’s Beer Week. It was a Northern German Altbier, aged with pecans that had been soaked in bourbon.

Despite both his talent and passion for brewing, Carine has no desire to go commercial. “If I walked into a brewery and someone said ‘Brew something!’ I wouldn’t know what to do!” he laughs. Carine bottled at Geary’s for six years and toyed with the idea, but the reality of student loans and a mortgage couldn’t be ignored.

“It’s hard work, there’s no fast return, and the investment is huge,” he explains. It was for the best, because what appealed to Carine as a home brewer was the level of freedom and experimentation available. “Home brewers have the advantage that they can be really creative, and they’re not inhibited by the cost,” Carine says. When a home-brewer brews a bad batch, it goes down the drain along with the $35 to $50 spent making it. For professional commercial brewers that expense could be “upwards of $1500 in lost funds.”

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