Making the Pilgrimage to Fluvial Brewing
The Harrison brewery has become a destination in the Sebago Lakes region thanks to its artfully crafted ales and outdoor space.
There’s something seductive about the route to Fluvial Brewing, akin to getting lost on purpose. December fog presses down on the winding road. My headlights struggle to cut a path through the mist and light snowfall. Eventually, a green street sign flashes in the haze. The drive to Harrison has been like this since I turned off Route 302 in Naples. Finally, the squat brewery appears, glowing like a beacon in the darkness.
Inside the snug tasting room I meet Lisa Graham, one of Fluvial Brewing’s owners. She’s quick to smile, with hair cinched in a tight ponytail and a purple fleece to stave off the cold. She asks about the drive. When I tell her, she laughs and says, “When people come here, they’re often like, ‘Where are we going?’ But then they see the landscape and try the beer, and they get it.”
She pours me a Mystic Beauty saison and herself a Reeko pale ale and suggests we head out to the yurt behind the brewery. As we shuffle over the fresh dusting of snow, I’m struck by the hush of the darkened landscape. The brewery is set on 40 acres that abut another 365 acres protected by the Loon Echo Land Trust, leading all the way to the Crooked River, a fabled fly-fishing destination that runs into Sebago Lake.
Inside the capacious yurt, we settle next to a roaring woodstove. As we sip our ales, Lisa explains that, although Fluvial Brewing has been open for only two years, her husband and co-owner, Shaun Graham, first conceived of the brewery more than a decade ago. In 2008 Shaun, an Army veteran, was recalled to his post and deployed to Iraq. When he returned from his tour of duty with a shoulder injury that required surgery, his father gifted him a homebrew kit. He immediately threw himself into the respite of his new hobby. “At first, he brewed a lot of bad beer,” Lisa laughs, “but he kept brewing and getting better.”
Eventually, he fashioned a one-barrel brewing system from recycled kegs and took over the basement of the couple’s house, which is located on the edge of the Harrison property. “For years he brewed a new batch almost every week,” Lisa recalls. “Shaun fell in love with the science of making beer and the creativity behind it.”
We’re interrupted by a crashing sound as snowpack avalanches off the canvas roof of the yurt. This structure and the four single-party geodomes dotting the yard behind the brewery were erected last winter as a COVID-19 adaptation, and became a hit with patrons. When the weather warms in the spring and summer, the geodomes get packed away; patrons can repose in Adirondack chairs scattered across the woodchip patio or shelter in the yurt. As I sip my saison, letting the bright spicy notes from the yeast work over my palate, Lisa explains that Shaun had wanted to open a brewery for years. “But I always thought the idea was crazy,” she says. When Shaun left his job as a hedge fund accountant in Portland, Lisa finally agreed to the brewery, on two conditions. One, he had to keep brewing on his one-barrel system to keep the overhead low. And two, he had to log a small corner of the property Lisa had wanted cleared out for years. Using the proceeds from logging, they purchased wood and set out designing and erecting a nearly 1,000-square-foot brewery and tasting room themselves.
Lisa recounts a day in spring 2019 when Shaun was finishing the brewery roof, alone. He had watched the sleepy adjacent road and observed only five cars driving by over the entire day. “We feared no one would come all the way out here,” Lisa remembers. “We thought maybe we’d made a mistake.” But, she says, she always believed that Shaun’s beer was so good that, once people tried it, they would keep making the drive to this destination brewery. “Shaun loves the pursuit of unattainable perfection,” she adds.
When Fluvial Brewing opened in July of 2019, people indeed came. In fact, due to the demand for Shaun’s beer from locals and people who own camps in the lakes region, they quickly upgraded to a 3.5-barrel system. This winter they added a 7-barrel fermenter. Lisa notes their following has steadily grown through word of mouth.
After another heap of snow booms off the yurt roof, Lisa excuses herself to head to an engagement. I return to the tasting room to order a flight and then enter the cozy warmth of a geodome. Snowfall clicks against the thick plastic covering as I size up my beer sampling. Lisa had explained that Shaun’s first love in brewing was New England–style IPAs, so it makes sense to start with their two best-selling beers: Tropic Dancer and River Haze. Sampling both, it’s instantly clear why Fluvial has garnered a loyal following. Tropic Dancer is an excellent example of a mango-forward IPA, while River Haze offers the more classic citrus fruit flavor profile associated with the Citra hop. Both have a full-bodied mouthfeel beer lovers crave in New England IPAs while coming in just over 6 percent in alcohol content. These carefully crafted IPAs are inspired ales that don’t feel redundant among the myriad IPA offerings in the craft beer world.
Moving on from the IPAs in the flight, it becomes clear Shaun Graham doesn’t rest on his hoppy laurels. Strawberry Dreamin’ is a balanced fruit ale that drinks like liquid strawberry shortcake with field-fresh berries and hand-whipped cream, while Cosmic Eclipse is a silken American stout with rich peanut butter notes in the nose and a chewy, cocoa finish. Both beers illustrate a brewmaster adept at walking the tightrope of brewing with nearly any ingredient.
Between sips of Fluvial’s artfully crafted ales, winter’s breath rustles in the umbra beyond the brewery. I could sit here for another hour, lost in the dark, deep beauty of the landscape as the warmth from the propane heater knits itself around me. But I finally step out of the geodome, called back to my life elsewhere, already plotting my return to this pastoral treasure.
860 Maple Ridge Rd., Harrison
207.491.9363 | fluvialbrewing.com
Thursday, 3 p.m.–7 p.m.
Friday, 3 p.m.–8 p.m.
Saturday, noon–8 p.m.
Sunday, noon–6 p.m.
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