Sweet fern, spruce tips, and balsam fir. These might sound like candle scents or ingredients in a potpourri bowl, but at Urban Farm Fermentory in Portland, Maine, you can literally drink in the aromatic notes of a winter forest or a summer meadow in the form of hard cider, craft beer, or funky kombucha.
The unusual brewery and tasting room is located in a former taxi garage in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood, an area that is sometimes referred to as “yeast-side” because of the number of breweries that have cropped up in recent years. Outside the cavernous facility, employees have planted a garden, which in summer months is lush with herbs and the occasional vegetable plant. Against one side of the building sits a long greenhouse, where the company grows Thai chilies, hot peppers, habaneros, mint, sage, and bee balm.
Like the foraged spruce tips and fir needles, UFF’s homegrown herbs and spices are used as flavoring agents. The drinks on tap are naturally fermented, using wild yeast that is present in the air, and on apple skins and herb leaves.
Visitors to the brewery can request a flight of beer, cider, or kombucha, or they can create custom flights featuring a variety of different beverages. There are always five beers and five ciders on tap, though the flavors continually change to reflect the availability of certain mushrooms and plants. In summertime, you can expect flavors like hibiscus, blueberry, and rose. In winter, visitors can try sumac, wintergreen, and chaga.
“Our tasting room is different from your standard bar in that it’s very ingredient-focused,” said Ella Mock, UFF’s tasting room manager and events coordinator. “While we do have regulars who come in for a cider after work, we also get a lot of people who visit specifically for the kombucha.”
Everyone on staff at the brewery is taught during employee training about the unusual ingredients found in the forage-forward brews. Bartenders can answer any questions you might have about UFF’s shrubs (or “drinking vinegars,” as Mock puts it) and juns (a fermented kombucha-like drink made with green tea and honey).
UFF is also striving to become a community center for Portland, bringing more events to the tasting room, like maker’s markets, basket weaving tutorials, and foraging classes. Visitors can find local art on the walls (this winter’s show will feature politically-themed mandala collages by Maine artist Linda Carleton) and local bands in the main room. The space is available for rent and has seen a few weddings and wedding receptions, as well as nonprofit fundraising events.
“We want to become a community hub in every sense of the word,” Mock said. “We’ve done comedy shows and concerts, wellness events and workshops.”
For out-of-town visitors, Mock suggested checking UFF’s frequently updated Facebook page to find out what’s on tap on any particular night.
“We’re always trying new things,” she said.
200 Anderson St., Portland, Maine; open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays and Mondays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.; fermentory.com