January 9

What Ales You: Secret to Pennesseewassee ale is western Maine water

The brew, available in the Norway area, should become more widely available thanks to a new distribution agreement.

By Tom Atwell

I was pleased to find some Pennesseewassee Pale Ale on sale when I was doing some pre-Christmas beer shopping at RSVP on Forest Avenue in Portland. I had met Lee Margolin, sole principal of the brewery, by chance a few years ago at the Maine Lakes Brew Festival, when he told me he hoped to open a small brewery.

click image to enlarge

Pennesseewassee Pale Ale, brewed in Harrison, features spicy and floral hops well-balanced by a crisp malt.

Courtesy photo

The pale ale is the brewery’s only beer so far. It has spicy and floral hops well-balanced by a crisp malt. Although it is bottle conditioned and unfiltered, it poured crystal clear, except in the last of the three glasses because I accidentally let some of the settled yeast into the glass. All three testers enjoyed it a lot.

It is 4.5 percent alcohol by volume and priced at about $7.50 for the bottle.

“This is a good beer for those who are trying to move away from more typical beers,” Margolin said. “It is not scary hoppy, more pleasant and inviting.”

It is made with dried malt extract and mostly Cascade and American Fuggles hops with a little Chinook at the end. Margolin uses all American ingredients.

The beer has been for sale in the Harrison and Norway area for about a year, but Margolin just reached a distribution agreement with Tannery Street Wine Co. of Norway, which should result in the beer becoming more widely available.

Margolin has a Ph.D. in science, and retired recently as director of research and quality control at a biomedical device company in Bowdoin. His work included getting federal licenses for the company’s devices.

“It’s actually kind of strangely humorous that getting a brain device cleared by the FDA is about equally as tough as getting federal approval as a brewer,” Margolin said, although he admits that his professional experience dealing with the government made getting the license “just like another day at the office.”

Margolin believes the key to his beer is the water.

“It’s from a well on my property, and the water is just fantastic, and a major contributor to the overall character of the product,” he said. “The aquifer for that well is in an old glacial moraine that is basically sand or outsize boulders. If we expand or move to a more commercial space, we will still use that water and truck it to the new space.”

His home is on the shores of the Crooked River in Harrison, and he originally called the company The Crooked River Brewery, but a company in Cleveland reclaimed rights to that name, which was used by a previous brewery, before Margolin got the name approved. Cuyahoga, the name of Cleveland’s major river, is an Indian word for crooked.

Margolin said he talked with the Cleveland brewer, who had no problems with Margolin including on the label that it is brewed on the shores of the Crooked River.

He chose Pennesseewassee as the name after that because the lake is a local landmark and he likes the idea of using an old Indian name.

“The brewery is a converted bedroom-bath, sort of an in-law apartment that my youngest son used for many years,” Margolin said.

He said he has three half-barrel fermenters, brewing beer a half a barrel at a time.

Almost all of the beer is sold in 22-ounce bombers, although he has a few Cornelius kegs that he sends to local restaurants and bars. Cornelius kegs are smaller than most beer kegs and were originally made for soft drinks but have found some favor among home brewers and small commercial brewers.

Margolin said he plans to expand his operations, probably with a wheat beer sometime this summer and with a porter later on.

While those first three operations are typical session-style beers, he does enjoy the hoppier beers that are now popular and might make some of those later on.

I BOUGHT A GROWLER of Bunker Brewing’s Boondock Scotch Ale for drinking over the holidays, and it was another favorite.

This is a Wee Heavy style, coming in at 7.2 percent ABV, with a lot of caramel and dried fruit flavor from the malt. The hops were in the background on this one, and it was great for sipping on a cold night.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

tomatwell@me.com

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