Almost without exception, breweries don’t start big. In most cases the men and women creating these companies are not rich, and aren’t getting into the business to become so. The dream, then, is to arrive at a scale where achieving a type of financial success doesn’t forsake hands-on guidance of the product and values of the brand. After all, brewers want to brew, not sit in board meetings.
Jake Austin and Will Fisher started Austin Street Brewery in April of 2014 at One Industrial Way on Portland’s outskirts, the familiar progression of a homebrewing operation to commercial scale. Sharing a building with Bissell, Foundation and later Battery Steele, and with Allagash across the street, Austin Street quickly got noticed. Their hoppier stuff, like Patina Pale and Florens IPA, are distributed around Maine, but it was Austin’s technique surrounding Brett beers and mixed fermentations that set them apart early on. Beers like Grist Mill, Lawnmower, and Moses were nuanced and lightly tart without being bracingly sour, expressing the potential for subtlety achieved through the use of non-traditional yeast for primary and secondary fermentation. Eventually the brewery scaled up to a 10-barrel brewhouse and brought in more staff to increase production and distribution. This freed up Jake to help Will with more of the nuts and bolts on the brand side, but it also pulled him away from brewing.
Now Austin Street is preparing to move production to a new space on Fox Street in East Bayside, and Austin is ready to get his hands dirty again. “We have 100 barrels' worth of fermentation space right now, so we’re going to add in another 60 barrels, and also a 20-barrel lagering tank, which I’m really excited about," he says.
The new spot, on the far end of the building that houses Rising Tide, will also feature a larger tasting room. The existing tasting room at One Industrial will continue to operate, but the guys are looking forward to a larger, on-peninsula headquarters to welcome guests and further diversify production.
During a visit last week, there was heavy construction going on to reformat the space. Originally built in the early 1960s, the structure was added onto at least three times. It was originally used as a commercial truck washing and leasing facility. More recently it was the home of Performance Building Supply who moved to a new building down the street, creating the opportunity for Austin Street to take over and effectively gut the space in preparation for the new brewery and tasting room.
Austin Street now joins Rising Tide, Lone Pine, Goodfire, Oxbow, and others as breweries in bustling East Bayside (or “Yeast Bayside” as it’s now often affectionately referenced). Having started life among the collegial environment of One Industrial, the new building made sense from both a zoning and neighborly angle “I don’t think East Bayside was a priority when we were looking, I think we were just happy to find any space in downtown Portland. The fact that it ended up being down here is just a bonus,” Austin said.
What to expect from the increased capacity and space? To put it simply, even more variety. Austin has noticed more than a little excitement each time he releases a true sour beer, so he’ll look to diversify those offerings. The new tasting room will also likely serve beverages beyond beer, and there will be a guest tap, allowing the guys to showcase some of their favorite beers from outside the state. “The goal is to have a license to serve wine and cider, along with the beer,” Fisher told me.
Fisher was hesitant to give a specific timeline. Large-scale projects like this are rarely completed without a few hiccups, but he seems confident they’ll be up and running by around the turn of the new year.
“It’s been cool to watch the transformation of the space," Austin says. "At this point I’m just itching to get it done.”
Austin Street Brewery | Fox Street, Portland | www.austinstreetbrewery.com