About 45 minutes up the coast, in bucolic Newcastle, Maine, sits Oxbow Brewery. Nestled off a wooded road with only a sign bearing the Oxbow logo—an owl encircled in an oblong “O”—to signify that anything lies beyond the dense trees, you’re likely to pass by the brewery’s entrance. 

You almost have to know what you’re looking for. You can plug the address into your GPS, drive up the coast, and park your car in the lot (well, in packed-dirt spaces beside a woodshed), but the uncertainty as to whether or not the place really exists only really dissipates when you approach the bar and see that, yes, there’s beer being sold.

Perhaps this is why Oxbow brands itself as making “loud beer from a quiet place.” You might not expect that a small, unassuming old farmhouse like Oxbow is in the habit of making funky, innovative and wild creations. And yet they totally are. 

Scoring a wopping 98/100 on BeerAdvocate.com Oxbow makes world class farmhouse ales that showcase a range of flavor and complexity, and demonstrate the American spirit of invention and creativity. 

Oxbow refers to itself as an “American Farmhouse Brewery”. While this is ostensibly a nod to the fact that the brewery is literally situated in an old, retrofitted farmhouse, it really refers to the style of beer it brews. 

Farmhouse beers are most closely associated with Belgian-style beers—also known as “Saisons,”—which are currently benifiting from a major revival among beer-makers and drinkers. 

After nearly going extinct, the Belgian brewery Brasserie Dupont almost singlehandedly revived the style with its internationally coveted “Saison Dupont.” (Definitely buy it if you find it on a shelf somewhere. It’s worth the extra few dollars and you get a big fancy bottle.)
As its near extinction would suggest, Saison is an old timey, traditional style of beer. Farmhouse beers originated when farmers began brewing them in the winter months so that they’d have some sudsy libations available during the summer months. 

In terms of character, Farmhouse ales are mighty beers with a lot of body and flavor, designed to last through the winter and still be refreshing when opened. 

While most Saisons exhibit yeasty and spicy qualities and a smooth, medium bodied mouth-feel, they also have a traditionally loose style, often taking on a range of characteristics. They can accommodate lots of intentional variations on the part of the brewers, which makes them well-suited  to experimentation and creativity. 

Perhaps this is why American brewers like Oxbow have taken advantage of the style. This kind of stylistic flexibility that aligns itself perfectly with the very American propensity to innovate within traditional parameters, with a penchant for big, ambitious beers. Or, to use Oxbow’s language, loud beers. 

Oxbow makes one flagship beer year-round—The Farmhouse Pale Ale— and luckily, it’s relatively easy to find on tap in the mid-coast region. Farmhouse Pale Ale is of the breweries tastiest offerings and probably one of its more conservative ales (its flavor is closest to that of a traditional Saison). The beer pours a cloudy beeswax color, with a yeasty, earthy nose. Take a big sip, and it’s toast with marmalade: big bready flavors with a cutting, citrusy tartness. Sure, have it for breakfast.

Oxbow also has two perennial rockstars available right now: Loretta and Grizacca. Loretta is a subtly earthy, mildly citric, lighter drinking beer. 

But my favorite is definitely Grizacca. Tongue-squeezingly tart, this beer showcases big amounts of grapefruit, lemon and floral notes on top of a solid caramel malt base. You can definitely taste the American hoppiness in this one, although it doesn’t compromise its Belgian roots. Belgian IPA lovers will go crazy for it.

Oxbow also does a series of one-offs. They call it the “Freestyle Series”. When I visited the brewery, I had the piney and grapefruit-y East Coast IPA (‘Freestyle No. 26’) which had some distinctive mandarin orange notes that set it apart from its peers. 

Also available right now are two barrel aged beers, available for purchase at the brewery: Oxtoberfest and the Barrel Aged Farmhouse Pale Ale. These beers have been aged in barrels with brettanomyces, a wild yeast strain that lends a pleasant, mellow tartness. Now isn’t the time to wander into wild beer territory, so just take my word for it: these two beers are awesome.

As I said, we are fortunate that the Farmhouse Pale Ale is pretty common around these parts. Frontier has it on tap, as well as a rotating tap dedicated other Oxbow seasonals. But for some of the others, I suggest you make your way up to Oxbow and explore for yourself. 

Midway through your pint, you might find yourself having a conversation with the girlfriend of the person who brewed the beer you’re drinking, like I did. Or, you might overhear a conversation between an older couple and the bartender about how they track Grizacca all over the state, and drove forty miles to finally visit the brewery itself. 

At the risk of sounding sentimental, these intimate, spontaneous moments are very much a part of the promise that local craft beer makes. It is the promise of good beer, but more generally, the promise of an experience.