Charlie Melhus of the Norway Brewing Company in Norway pours wild Maine blueberry puree into the tank of Little Bear, a farmhouse ale. Submitted photo

NORWAY — Charlie Melhus loves the outdoors. He also loves beer.

Charlie Melhus of the Norway Brewing Company fills bottles of Little Bear, a farmhouse ale, at his microbrewery on Main Street in Norway. Submitted photo

With the pandemic limiting the number of customers he can serve in his microbrewery and restaurant, the part owner and brewer at the family-run Norway Brewing Company found his solution outdoors.

It may be winter and the temperatures are below freezing, but the outdoor patio and beer garden is bustling with activity. Melhus reopened the patio Feb. 4 following a renovation to winterize the outdoor space. The area has proven popular with beer lovers, skiers and locals looking for a safe place to relax with friends.

With 10 beers generally on tap, and more in cans and bottles, Melhus is always looking to craft that next special brew.

Name: Charlie Magne Melhus

Age: 37


Hometown: Norway, Maine

You’re from the country of Norway. How did you end up in Norway, Maine? I was born in Tromso, Norway, to a Norwegian father and an American mother. When I was 1½ years old, we moved to Augusta, Georgia, then to Durham, North Carolina, where my dad did his residency as a pathologist at Duke University Medical Center. When he was done, he travelled the country with my mom looking for a practice to join. He happened to find one based at Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway, and we moved here when I was 12, in 1994.

How did you get started making beer? What was your first craft beer? I started making beer in my dorm room closet the first year of college at Orono. It was basically a couple packets of powder you dumped in this plastic keg and mixed with water. It was awful! I continued to home brew at my next apartment, though, and things got better. By the time I moved to Portland to study culinary arts, the result was fairly drinkable, but the real breakthrough didn’t happen until I met Ken Collings from Freeport Brewing Co. He was a breakfast and line cook at the Harraseeket Inn (in Freeport) where I had just started working, and brewed three-barrel batches in a garage after work. He needed someone to mash in and run the wort off into the kettle, so that summer I learned how to brew directly from barley malt instead of using malt extract kits. It was a game-changer for sure. That year we brewed some awesome batches of home brew and had some legendary parties. I guess the first craft brew I had was probably at the Bear Brew in Orono; I imagine it was either an English-style pale ale or West Coast IPA.

How did Norway Brewing get started? The idea for Norway Brewing began to form while I was working for a craft brewery in Stavanger, Norway. I was meeting lots of great people in the Scandinavian craft beer world, but missed Maine and really wanted to get back here. My partner, Erika, and I moved back at the end of 2014 with the sole purpose of starting this company together with my mother, Brenda, and father, Ola. It was really born out of a desire to live and work in my hometown and bring my love of good food and craft beer to Main Street. We’re all equal owners in the business. Back when we bought the building in 2015, everyone was down here doing demo, building, mudding, painting and tiling. Erika designed a lot of the original taproom features — the look and feel of the whole brewery really. She’s functioned in many roles throughout the years, as have my mom and I, but her best work is in label illustration and design. My mom is definitely our hostess with the most and a true Norway Brewing beer ambassador, whether she’s at a Norway Downtown meeting or at the Foothills Food Festival pouring samples in the festival beer garden. My dad is more of the silent type, but you might find him at the brewery on a Friday having dinner and a pint after work. I’m the head brewer and responsible for a lot of the financial and admin work, but have a great team and an experienced manager to help me run the ship. My business wouldn’t exist without my family, so that’s kind of the way we approach hospitality: casual and family friendly with a focus on the total experience you receive as a guest.

What is the process of creating a new beer? Sometimes it comes from a concept, like Triple Stack being inspired by pancakes with maple syrup. Other times we want to feature a certain ingredient, such as oats from Maine Grains, pilsner malt from Maine Malt House, dark wheat malt from Blue Ox Malthouse, or whole-cone Cascade hops from The Hop Yard. Sometimes we just try something to test out a new technique or just to see if it will even work at all! We’ve had a couple sub-par batches over the years, but most of them have turned out OK and the recipes get better with every iteration.

You have beer names like Mr. Grumpypants, Munich Man’s Bun and Inglorious Bastard. What’s the story behind the names of some of your beers? Haha. Well, Mr. Grumpypants is named after me before I get my coffee in the morning, especially when things are going wrong in the brewery! Munich Man Bun was a name I got from my friend Lukas Kerner, who designs brewhouses in Germany for Kaspar Schulz. He was telling me how the hipsters in Munich all had man buns, and the name just kind of fell in place for me. Inglorious Bastard is definitely inspired by the Tarantino film (although spelled differently), and since we used an American malt base, German hops, and French yeast, we thought it fit the theme. My favorite stories of how a beer got its name usually involve drinking a fair amount of beer, and then inspiration strikes!

What did you have to do to winterize your outdoor patio? This was a huge project! First we built a frame out of pressure-treated four-by-fours and two-by-sixes on top of the existing beer garden benches, with built-in planters that surround that part of the patio. Then we notched and hung rafters made from native Norway hemlock and put a bunch of blocking in between so we could attach tin roofing. We already had screen doors and tent panels hung on both ends of the patio, but to tighten the expansion up we had to create a whole new set of coverings. We insulated the beer garden benches with foam blocks and foil-coated bubble wrap as much as we could, cut, sewed, and hung clear vinyl panels up as windows, framed a proper front door, ran a propane line, and rented a 550,000 BTU propane heater that heats up fresh air and blows it into the structure. . . . It actually gets pretty hot in there when the unit’s on full blast. There were already serving windows in the side of the building from a previous tenant’s ice cream concept, so we opened them back up and ran beer garden service from right inside the brewery. It’s been the best move we could have made in this situation. Guests are definitely looking for outdoor dining options and good ventilation, even in the middle of winter!

What do you do to relax away from Norway Brewing? Fly fishing, canoeing, hiking, cross-country skiing, telemark . . . pretty much all the things that make western Maine a great place to live. Although drinking beer at other breweries, watching sci-fi movies, or hanging out with my kids is also something you might find me doing when I’m not at the brewery.

After a long day, what is your beer of choice? Maine State Of Mind! So crisp and refreshing, with a little bit of a hoppy bite. . . . And everything used to make the beer was grown in Maine!

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