Brewing for Baxter

LEWISTON — Among Baxter Brewing's canning contraptions, metal staircases and rows of SUV-sized stainless steel kettles, Michael LaCharite's speech slows a bit and shoulders sink. 

Brew Master
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Michael LaCharite, brew master for Baxter Brewing in Lewiston, is all hopped up about his beer brewing.

Here, he's relaxed.

The 51-year-old techie, who spent the last few years helping Massachusetts millionaires automate their mansions, finds peace in the Bates Mill brewery he designed, working with water and yeast, malt and hops. He sometimes spends 14-hour days making batches of Baxter's Pamola Xtra Pale Ale and Stowaway I.P.A.

"I'm a Gemini. I do left and right brain," LaCharite said as he placed a pair of tiny glasses on the bar and sat on a stool. "To me, brewing satisfies both sides of me, the artist and the technician."

The technician, who was educated as an engineer, likes working within beer-making's gadgetry and bio-chemistry. At Baxter, he not only makes the beer but he keeps the production moving, maintaining the equipment and repairing it when needed.

Then, there's the artist.

"Brewing is a lot like cooking, and I love to cook," he said.

There's even a bit of genetics involved.

"I am a fourth-generation brewer," LaCharite said proudly.

He remembers trips he took as a boy to his grandparents' home in Quebec, where his grandfather brewed his own beer.

"He had a ceramic crock in his kitchen," he said. "Every Sunday night, he would brew up a batch of beer and cover it with a cheesecloth. By Friday night, that beer had fermented."

Friends and family would start drinking.

"They essentially took their mugs and dipped them right in," he said. "They drank it all weekend until it was gone and made another batch on Sunday."

LaCharite didn't get interested in making his own beer until he tasted a friend's home brew.

And it was good.

"He told me it was really easy to make beer," he said. "I ran down to the home brew supply shop. I bought a bucket, some hoses, a book and a can of malt. I went back home, brewed my first batch of beer, and it was the best beer I'd had in my life."

His tinkering began almost immediately.

"I started formulating my own recipes," he said. "I would investigate what types of malts to use. If I wanted to brew a German beer, I would buy German malts and German hops and German yeast."

"It was wonderful," he said. "I started inviting friends over and my friends were really liking my products."

By 1993, LaCharite had become a master home brewer, working to replicate the flavors of his favorite beers in his basement in Topsham. The next year, he and a partner opened Casco Bay Brewing Co. in Portland.

They started Katahdin beer.

Their focus was two creations, a beer that resembled Canadian brews like Molsen. It was named Katahdin Golden. And there was a heavier brew, Katahdin Red Ale. They did well, selling around New England. At their height in the mid-to-late 1990s, the beers were sold in Maine's big supermarkets. Then, LaCharite and his partner sold the brewery in 2000. The new owners changed the ingredients and the processes and soon LaCharite's beers disappeared.

LaCharite stayed behind the scenes, making his own home brew and judging beer-making contests until last year, when Baxter creator Luke Livingston looked him up. They started working together in March 2010.

"I'm not really in the business," LaCharite said. "Luke is in the business. I get to focus here on making the beer, which is way more fun."

LaCharite is proud of their first two brews, the pale ale that tastes much like his Katahdin Golden and the IPA (or India Pale Ale) that is a dry, hoppy creation.

There's another coming. It's an amber ale that LaCharite says will taste similar to his old Katahdin Red.

Neither he nor Livingston have released the name, but it will go on sale on Nov. 1.

LaCharite said he is pleased to have a brew in Maine's coolers and bars again. He wants to make the state's most popular brew.

"I felt that if I was going to come back into this, I was going to do it in a big way," he said. "Nobody else in Maine is making a beer that's this clean and this crisp."

So far, it's going well.

One image that will stick with him is a 100-case display he saw at Whole Foods in Portland.

"Sights like that make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up," he said.

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 's picture

grow up

I stand by my experiance The IPA was not good. weather from the dirty lew, or boston. their IPA is bad. I hope there red is better. but at $9 a six pack, yea they target us Beer Snobs.

$9.98 for a six pack of can?

$9.98 for a six pack of can? No thank you.

 's picture

Nice going, Michael.

We're proud of you. And I'm sure your late Dad (always Toots to me) is extremely proud as well.

KRIS KUCERA's picture

To be fair . . .

The Pamola Xtra Pale Ale is pretty decent. I've not had the IPA, but have heard similar complaints. (Give me a Sierra Nevada IPA anyday.)

 's picture

$9 to hurl

I love micros and craft beers. And was excited to see them build in Lewiston.
Yea the $9 was high for a price point. Especially when it is the worst IPA I've ever tasted, maybe in the world.
There is a reason there is a skull on the can. My advise stay away from their IPA. Maybe the new Red coming out will be drinkable.

KRIS KUCERA's picture

At $9 and change for a six-pack . . .

. . . good luck making Maine's most popular brew. (Bud Light, a fermented goat-urine beverage is #1 in these parts.) However, Baxter beer is pretty good, and I give the Lewiston business credit. But again, it's just too darn pricey for most folks. And the Pamona Ale is nothing like a Molson Goldon. Not even close. The former is an ale, the latter a lager. (Too bad Maine and other American microbrewers simply can't make a lager remotely on par with the Canadian macrobrewers -- or especially the Germans.)

Beer: It's not just for breakfast anymore.


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