BIDDEFORD — Just prior to the arrival of his first visitors ”“ participants on The New Maine Brewery Tour ”“ Ian McConnell was putting the finishing touches on the tasting room at his new business, Banded Horn Brewing Company. The glassware was readied and the taps prepped so as to induce the perfect foam head during pouring.

Banded Horn was the first stop on the Portland-based Maine “Brew Bus” tour, founded by Zach Poole 17 months ago. Tour participants were visiting four of southern Maine’s newest microbreweries on Saturday.

The Biddeford stop marked another milestone for Banded Horn, with the public opening of its new tasting room, which consists of a bar made from reclaimed mill material with a full view of the brewing process. The room’s construction was funded through a crowdfunding Kickstarter campaign.

McConnell began work on his new business last summer. A portion of building 13 of the Pepperell Mill Campus was retrofitted to make it ready for the giant tanks and other equipment needed for brewing his specialty craft beers. In December, he and his cousin, Ron Graves, perfected their first batch of beer for sale. Since then, it’s been carried in more than 60 restaurants, bars and other establishments in southern Maine.

The pilsner was the first pour of the five beers on tap for the tasting.

“So far, it’s excellent,” said Joe Sala of Portland. He took the tour with his wife, Robyn, who had purchased tickets as his Valentine’s Day gift, as he is a beer enthusiast.

Joe Sala said he has tried Banded Horn beers prior to the trip at Portland bars and liked them. It was interesting to see where the beer was crafted, he said, adding he was enjoying the tastings.

“It’s good, it’s a good starter,” said Justin Moss, who was taking the tour with his wife Kelly.

While “it’s not a beer I’d normally get,” said tour participant Jeff Cohen of York, “it’s nice, it’s light and refreshing.”

Beer aficionado and author of several books on beer, Joshua Bernstein of Brooklyn, N.Y., was one of the attractions of the tour. With the explosion of the micro-brewing phenomenon several years ago, “It’s hard to keep track of all the new brew companies,” he said.

But Bernstein, who said he visits Maine frequently, said he had heard of Banded Horn and enjoyed the beers he tried. Bernstein noted that more and more craft brewers are opening new breweries; a second one is scheduled to open in Biddeford this summer.

Some, said Bernstein, believe there will be an oversaturation of the market place, but he said he didn’t think that would happen any time soon.

“We’re a nation that wants more flavor,” said Bernstein, and “we’re getting back to local.”

He said he thinks those trends will translate into more beer drinkers switching from national brands to explore the beers brewed in their own backyards.

Michael Macomber, owner of Elements Books Coffee Beer on Main Street Biddeford, was also on the tour. His business was the first to sell Banded Horn beers to the general public. He said he put in taps just to be able to serve the beer.

That aspect of his business, which itself is fairly new and will soon be celebrating its one year anniversary, has been so successful he plans to add more taps. Macomber said he’ll be able to add more styles of Banded Horn beers as well as beers from other southern Maine microbreweries.

Don Littlefield, who led Saturday’s beer bus tour, said he was impressed with Banded Horn.

“I think the beer is very fresh and exciting,” he said. “It’s really interesting to see them coming up with so many beers right away.”

Littlefield added that the company’s 600-gallon capacity is larger than most craft beer start-ups and is “very ambitious.”

Like Bernstein, he said he thinks microbreweries like Banded Horn have a great future. In that last year, said Littlefield, the amount of craft beer consumed in the U.S. has increased 0.5 percent. That might not sound like a lot, he said, but it is significant for this industry made up mainly of small businesses.

The increase in microbreweries is exciting, he said, because it ensures that “beer drinkers have more options.”

— Staff Writer Dina Mendros can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 324 or [email protected]



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