Sometimes it’s better to have arrived
About 36 million people will visit Maine this year. A fair number of those people will be coming up Route 1, and why not? America’s first highway is a great drive from one end to the other. Some of Maine’s visitors won’t get any farther than Old Orchard Beach, and of those who proceed beyond Portland, call it a mere 5 million drivers or so, half of them won’t make it past Brunswick. Of those who do, a few will make it all the way to the “America’s First Mile” sign in Fort Kent. But very, very few of them will make it to Oxbow Brewing Company in Newcastle.
And that is just such a shame.
To be sure, Oxbow (the Newcastle brewery, not to be confused with the easy-to-locate tasting room in Portland) isn’t all that easy to find. Typically speaking, you can’t get there from here. Some people can’t get there from anywhere. I wrote about Oxbow when they opened a few years ago, and recorded the following exchange in my notes:
Me: Hi, my name is Will, I’m researching an article on Oxbow.
Me: So I’d like to pay a visit. How can I find you?
Oxbow: Oh my God.
In practice, it isn’t that bad. It isn’t convenient, but it isn’t that bad. Officially, it’s located at 274 Jones Woods Road. The Jones Woods Road is also known as Highway 215, so you simply drive up Route 1 to 215 in Newcastle, go north/inland until you come to the lovely village of Damariscotta Mills, then follow 215 for another three or four miles—and there it is on your left, a ways into the woods. Look for the owl sign! Not so bad, right?
Right. Also from my notes: “I put 110 miles on the Toyota trying to find this place, and that’s just after leaving Route 1. Heaven help the mariner.”
So a certain number of people never make it, so what? It’s well worth the effort, even if you just wind up tooling around Damariscotta Mills.
All of which begs the question: Why go to Oxbow? The grocery store is full of beer, and it’s right around the corner. Which is true, but Oxbow is actually quite the destination.
In addition to great beer, Oxbow hosts a number of events you’d see in a big-city brewpub—live music of all sorts, karaoke, disco—but it all takes place way off the beaten track on the 18-acre Oxbow campus, and I find that kind of fun by itself.
And that campus is also crisscrossed by miles of marked trails for mountain bikes. And at the end of that trail, Oxbow has grills available for public use. You’ll need to bring your own food and charcoal, of course, but the folks at Oxbow will be more than glad to serve you up a nice, cold glass of beer.
Or maybe two, right? What then? Three? Sure. Just don’t want to drink and drive. The good news is that you don’t have to go anywhere. Because you and your friends can rent the farmhouse for the night.
It’s a three-bedroom, one-bath house, with a deck that offers a superb view of a pond, the woods, and, of course, the brewery. You can visit the chickens, walk through gardens and uncover traces of the old logging roads that were cut a hundred years ago. You can find more information on the house, the area and the rental on airbnb.com.
Last but not least: Let’s talk about the beer. If you’re like me, you’ve been onboard for the craft-brewed experience since the industry was legalized in the ‘70s. You know there’s more to beer than that lifeless yellow swill we used to drink, that different beer styles evoke different responses from individual drinkers, and that experimentation and innovation have done great things for the craft beer industry in recent years.
And if you are like me, you will have also noted that the entire craft beer world is obsessed with IPAs, those heavy, chewy beers with the high alcohol content and outrageously hopped flavors. And if you are like me, you will have also noticed that your body just can’t handle all that wonderful stuff anymore. Because, if you’re like me, you’re older than dirt and not up for anything that powerful.
So are we doomed, you and I, to consume those weak, cheap beers of yesteryear, and not enjoy the craft brew revolution?
Nope. Oxbow’s “flagship” beer is called Farmhouse Pale Ale. Farmhouse is brewed with a wild yeast strain that gives it a unique, peppery taste. So while it’s not that bitter, it’s still a very satisfying brew, one that will make you forget all those heavy IPAs. You will not wake up the next day and say, “Honey, did I swallow a badger last night?”
To sum up: Fun drive, nice people, great beer— real adventure. If you love Maine, if you love beer, you’ve really got to go.
Oxbow Brewing Company
274 Jones Woods Rd., Newcastle
Open Saturday-Thursday 12–7 p.m., Friday 12–8 p.m.
Will Cutlip lives and drinks (but does not drive!) in Brunswick.