HOMEBREWING SINCE THE ’90S, ISLAND DOG OWNERS MOVE ON UP TO THE MALL AREA
Written by: Dave Patterson
What do the song “Champagne Supernova” by Oasis and the brewing history of Jim Denz, co-owner and head brewer of the newly opened Island Dog Brewing in South Portland, have in common? They were both born in the mid-’90s.
So it was fitting that when I sat down in the tasting room on a Friday afternoon to interview Denz, the Oasis song was playing through the speaker above the bar. But while the brothers Gallagher were self-destructing in the mid-’90s, Denz was only getting started in his brewing career, when he boiled his first batch of homebrew in 1994.
Since that first five-gallon brew, Denz has devised and brewed over 100 different beer recipes in his 23 year tenure as a homebrewer.
“I’ve kept careful notes over the years. I have all the recipes in a notebook, and we plan on scaling most of them up to brew here at the brewery,” said the avuncular Denz.
Let’s take a quick look at the origin story of Denz and fellow Island Dog owner and homebrewer, the equally avuncular Tim Francis.
Denz was living in his native Buffalo, New York, when he first caught the homebrewing bug. He quickly dedicated a room in his house for brewing only. When he moved to Maine with his wife, Jody, 11 years ago, Denz installed a three-keg kegorator in his new dedicated homebrew room, obsessively working through different beer styles and ingredients.
Five years ago, Denz and his wife were on a tour with The Maine Brew Bus visiting local tasting rooms, when Jody, who has always been supportive of Denz’s homebrewing and is also an owner of Island Dog, asked her husband, “Why don’t you start a brewery?” That planted the seed.
Fast-forward a couple years. Denz won an auction to brew for the day at Baxter Brewing. He showed up at 3 a.m. and brewed three batches of beer at the Lewiston brewery. It was a hot, tiring, difficult day — and Denz loved every second of it.
“That got me thinking: I can really do this,” he said.
This set Denz and Francis, whom he met, fittingly, at a brewfest, off on the arduous two-year journey of finding their site near the Maine Mall, scaling up Denz’s homebrew recipes, building out the brewery and tasting room, and taking care of all the other mind-numbing minutiae that come with opening a brewery. In early June, the dream became a reality.
All those years of homebrewing between Denz and Francis come through as loud and clear as the ’90s Pandora station sounding through the tasting room speakers.
There’s a common motif running through the six diverse beers on draft: perfect clarity in appearance, clean malt and hop flavors, and no astringent off-flavors.
That’s no small feat for the first few commercial batches from longtime homebrewers.
The Unit 15 Saison was the immediate standout. This farmhouse ale has beautiful fruity ester notes from the yeast. The grains give just the right malt undercurrent to the citrus flavors of the yeast and hops.
Captain Tucker, a cream ale, is clean drinking for days, a refreshing ale with no hop bitterness.
The American wheat beer, Rocky Coast, is made from all Maine ingredients. The malts come from Blue Ox Malt House in Lisbon Falls, and the hops are from The Hop Yard in Gorham. Like the best wheat beers, Rocky Coast is a big invitation to all beer drinkers.
Don’t be scared off by the brewery’s proximity to the Maine Mall. The tasting room has a warehouse-chic vibe, patrons can play cornhole and giant Jenga, and the outdoor patio boasts zero mall views. There’s even an Otto location in the same complex, delivering thin-sliced pizza to pair with Denz and Francis’s diverse catalogue of skillfully crafted beer.
ISLAND DOG BREWING CO.
WHERE: 125 John Roberts Road, South Portland
WHEN: 3 to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, noon to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. Sunday
ON DRAFT: Up to 10 beers on draft at the tasting room, including Unit 15 Saison, Captain Tucker Cream Ale, Rocky Coast Wheat Ale and rotating taps from the 100 recipes of head brewer Jim Denz
MORE INFO: islanddogbrewing.com
Check out this article about Island Dog Brewing that appeared in the Forecaster
SOUTH PORTLAND — Go ahead and ask for a tour at the city’s newest brewery: the home-brewers behind the venture are eager to show off their shiny, new equipment.
It makes 20 times more beer than what they used to do on their kitchen stoves, an enthusiastic Jim Denz, of Island Dog Brewing, said last week.
He and partner Tim Francis, the brewery’s only other employee, opened the place at 125 John Roberts Road on June 9. They’ve spent the last few weeks modifying their home-brew recipes to industrial scale, and learning how to run a tasting room (their wives help out, they admitted).
Still in its nascent stages, Island Dog Brewing only sells tasting flights, pints, and growlers, although by August they hope to distribute kegs to area bars and restaurants – including Otto Pizza, which is in the same complex behind the Maine Mall, and will deliver pies to the 4,200-square-foot tasting room.
Until then, Denz and Francis, both city residents, are making their way through the more than 100 recipes Denz developed in 24 years of home-brewing.
The pair invested in a modest, five-barrel system – equivalent to about 120 gallons of beer per batch – that allows the brewery to churn out different recipes on a regular basis.
Still, the brewery is an upgrade from the stove-top, five-gallons-at-a-time set-up Denz and Francis are used to; Denz said the first month of transition to professional equipment has had them tweaking their recipes and occasionally getting sprayed with pounds of yeast and hop residue.
“It was a little nerve-wracking the first time I went through, but it’s the same process,” Denz said.
The starker contrast, he said, is between brewing beer and the information technology job he quit in late May. The same is true of Francis, a former substitute teacher, who said his new job “doesn’t feel like work.”
Because of the business’ small size, Denz said the brewery is able to source all of its brewing grains Maine farms and malt houses – a challenge for bigger breweries who require more than what Maine’s small agricultural supply chain can provide.
Avid followers of Maine craft beer, the two decided to launch the brewery during the spring of 2016.
“If we don’t do this now, if we wait five years, we’ll be too late,” Denz said of the increasingly crowded craft brewing scene, that already includes two other South Portland breweries: Foulmouthed on Ocean Street in Knightville, and Fore River Brewing Co. on Huntress Avenue.
Crowded, but in good company. The industry has been extremely welcoming, the two said, and in that sense, has lived up to its supportive reputation.
Denz said several competitors have stopped by for tasting flights, and it wasn’t long before they were talking shop and giving advice.
Francis said the tasting-room space reflects the duos’ favorite aspects of rooms they’ve visited around the state – a hybrid-industrial space that provides a glimpse of the brewing process to patrons enjoying pints.
Francis said one of his best experiences in the first few weeks was chatting with a costumer who was peering over the half-wall partition that separates the production floor from the tasting room.
Sipping his beer, the man said he could watch beer being made all day.
“That’s exactly what we wanted,” Francis said.
Link to the complete article
We have passed all of our inspections and brewed 4 batches beer. Our Tap room will open to the public Friday, June 9th at Noon!
Now that the construction is over and we are making beer, we would like to thank all of the people that helped us go from a dream and an empty building to a working brewery.
Dave Gaulrapp - One Call Construction
Todd Morrissette, Kate Aiello, Denise Wood, and Heath Higgins
John and TJ - Fore River Brewing
Scott, Dave, Jenn, and Tim- T.A. Napolitano
John Backman and the crew from Noyes Moving
Bob Bernier - Matheson
Amy, Shay and Guy - Boulos Asset Management
Terry Tricky - Bangor Savings Bank
Peter Harriman - Maine Small Business Development Center
Brian Dyer - Sherwin Williams
Sean O’Hare - O'Hare Associates
James Sanborn - GMH Insurance
Andreea Richard - Drummond Woodsum Attorneys at Law
Mike Goodrich - HVAC Services Inc.
And all of our family and friends that have supported us through the process of opening a business
We have passed the State inspections are brewed our 1st batches of beer last weekend. The last step is our local business license and inspections. We should have our business license and be able to open the Tap Room to the public in early June.
Our Brewery application was approved by the Dept of Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau or TBB. This took almost 7 months and now we can apply for our state brewery license. Hopefully we can start brewing beer before the end of April and open by the end of May. Stayed tuned...
The Brewing equipment arrived Friday, March 23rd. We want to thank John and the crew from Earl Noyes Moving for helping us unload and position the equipment and Dave Gaulrapp for helping remove the shipping crates. This is the 1st of two shipments, the rest of the equipment will arrive on April 1st.
We have been busy since November. Plumbers, carpenters, electricians, and us have been working hard and we are almost done. The brewing equipment will begin arriving this week and the federal government is reviewing our application for a brewery. We are still about 2 months out from opening. Thank you for watching our progress and please like us on Facebook and follow or Instagram account (Island Dog Brew). We will be posting pictures and updates. We hope to be able to have a firm openign date in the next couple of weeks.
The South Portland Planning Board approved our special exception application for retail sales of beer and merchandise in our tasting room. This means that we can now begin renovations of our space. We will document the renovations so check our picture page often to view our progress. Thank you to everybody who has liked us on Facebook. Jim