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.
Jim Denz, left, and Tim Francis opened Island Dog Brewing, South Portland’s third commercial brewery, June 9 at 125 John Roberts Road, near the Maine Mall.