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Home Beer Renaissance Maine: One heck of party at Funky Bow Brewery

Renaissance Maine: One heck of party at Funky Bow Brewery

Rural Maine’s do-it-all man Paul Lorrain has a green thumb for business—and playing host.
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Funky Bow's Paul Lorrain with son Abraham / Photo by Greta Rybus for DRAFT

Funky Bow’s Paul Lorrain with son Abraham / Photo by Greta Rybus for DRAFT

It was a slate-gray, drizzly, late-winter day  in southern Maine when our green bus hooked onto the dirt road marked by a fluttering, red-and-white flag promising BEER—the entrance to Funky Bow Brewery in rural Lyman. As the vehicle scaled the incline lined by bare foliage, Don Littlefield, the “assistant principal” of the Maine Brew Bus, on which I was helping lead the tour, listed disclaimers worthy of a backwoods Burning Man: The brewery sat on a working farm where dogs roamed, fire crackled, bands blared, fireworks were commonplace and, well … “There’s always likely to be lots of things,” he told me later.

The many things included barking canines Fuggles, Barley, Abigail and Millie. Ten greenhouses grew restaurant-ready kale, arugula and Swiss chard. Another greenhouse doubled as a taproom and band stage, and a horse stable contained Max, a prizewinner with a cool half-million in career earnings. Within Funky Bow’s sensory-overloading universe—and we’ve yet to broach the beer—the gravitational center colorful cofounder Paul Lorrain, 66, imposing with a Fu Manchu beard, basketball-player height, bald dome and a handshake as firm as his convivial, carnival-barker voice. “Welcome to Funky Bow, make yourself at home,” he said, part emcee, part maitre d’. He smiled broadly, soon welcoming us into his world with a most important question: “Who wants a beer?”

Most breweries live within this thematic triumvirate: industrial park, warehouse, former factory. Stand on one concrete floor, you’ve stood on them all. Lately, a new template has flowered: the farmstead brewery. Oregon’s Agrarian Ales, Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm and New York state’s From the Ground put the bucolic back into brewing, underscoring that beer is an agricultural product.

Things grow at Funky Bow, but the brewery is more crucially a megawatt reminder that beer is rooted in bringing friends, both new and old, together for conversation that flows as easily as another round. That’s the guiding principle at family-run Funky Bow, where Lorrain works alongside son Abraham and daughter Murphy bartends, occasionally with toddler Ronan in tow. On Friday and Saturday “growler nights,” cross-generational scores descend on the 25-acre property to dance to bluegrass, dine on spent-grain pizza and clink $4 pints of Midnight Special coffee porter or So Folkin’ Hoppy IPA, tropically hopped with Galaxy. “When people first get to Funky Bow, they think, ‘Where have I entered? What have I done? And how can I stay longer?’” Littlefield says. “At the end of the day, a lot of people forget that beer is supposed to be fun,” says Greg Norton, owner of Portland, Maine’s Bier Cellar. “They have fun.”

Photo by Greta Rybus for DRAFT

Photo by Greta Rybus for DRAFT

Beer is neither Lorrain’s first career, nor even his fourth. After visiting the brewery again in August, I discovered a life steered by opportunity, acumen, audacity, impulse and passionate leaps into the unknown. Following high school, he received a basketball scholarship to Maine’s Unity College. It was the 1960s. The Vietnam War raged. Two friends were killed. Lorrain returned for the funeral and made a pact with several buddies: “We said, ‘Time for payback,’” recalls Lorrain, who joined the Army.

After a tour in Southeast Asia, he traveled, settling in Gainesville, Florida, and studying karate (he’s a black belt) before relocating outside Berkeley, California. “I was hanging out with the hippies and living in a van,” he says. Afterward, he became a hotel chef, following seasonal work from New England to Florida. He then returned to Maine, married his former wife and, in 1990, founded landscaping firm Sunset Farm Organics. He built a clientele around tiny Kennebunkport, where a chance meeting at nearby Federal Jack’s brewpub led to his second marriage, to family therapist Alice Dunworth.

Come winter, Lorrain plowed. No snow? He hung out in the hot tub, a marital wedge issue. “She said, ‘I know there’s no snow but you can get a job,’” he recalls. That Sunday, he read an article on Eliot Coleman, the “grandfather of winter greens and organic-isms,” Lorrain says. The next day, business sense tingling, he drove five hours to meet Coleman. The icebreaker: Lorrain’s ORGANIC license plate. “He comes out to the door and points to my license plate and says, ‘You got it,’” Lorrain recalls. “I spent the day with him, bought a couple books and put up my first greenhouse,” Lorrain says.

Landscaping. Winter greens. Where’s beer in the entrepreneur’s story? It’s wrapped inside estrangement. For seven years he and his son, Abraham, didn’t speak—father-son dynamics, you know. As Abraham readied to graduate from the University of Southern Maine with a biology major and biochemistry minor, he waxed philosophical. “I thought, ‘If my dad were to pass away, I don’t want to say that I didn’t text him,’” Abraham says. Silence broke over fish tacos, then beer. “We didn’t talk about why we didn’t talk, but we talked about what we should do next, which is make beer,” Abraham says. For Christmas that year, dad bought son a kick-butt homebrew kit, the continuation of Abraham’s college brewing experiments with friend Donovan Lane.

Garage brewing was a blast, but was it a future? Abraham pondered a Ph.D. in California, a prospect that soured Lorrain. Lose his son? Not again. “I said, ‘Let’s open a brewery on the farm,’” Lorrain says.

They refined recipes, then retired to the garage-turned-brewery to brainstorm a name. “It had to mean something to us,” Lorrain says. Both son (guitar) and dad (fiddle) were musicians. (“There’s first-graders and high-schoolers and then me,” he says of his continuing lessons.) Let’s leap back 13 years: Lorrain and a friend were walking on his road, freshly backhoed for horseback riding. What was the road’s name? No one knew. His friend’s next question: How were the fiddle lessons going? “I said, ‘I’m learning this funky bow shit called slurs,’” which is a bow draw with multiple notes. The next day Lorrain ordered a sign reading Funky Bow Lane, which still gilds the private road. Back to present day: After leaving the garage, Lorrain recalls, Murphy pointed to the sign and said, “Call it Funky Bow.” Bingo. (Let’s just say that Maine’s farm-based Oxbow Beer did not take kindly to the name and leave the kerfuffle at that.)

Though Abraham lacked professional brewing chops, his fastidious science background proved invaluable to formulation and fermentation. “Knock on wood, we’ve never had to throw a batch of beer out,” Lorrain says. On March 15, 2013, Funky Bow sold its first beer to Portland’s Great Lost Bear pub. The next day, the brewery ordered a second 3.5-barrel fermenter. Funky Bow struck a chord that’s since resonated deeper. Today, the brewery cans beers such as the G-String Pale Ale, humming with Cascade hops, and tropical, piney Jam Session IPA, sold across Maine and, hopefully soon, the rest of the Northeast. There are barrel-aged stouts and red ales, single-hop beers, plans to turn the farmhouse into guest lodging and fall’s Funky Fest, a rollicking celebration of bands and nearby breweries including Barreled Souls and Banded Horn.(Abraham’s college friend Donovan? He now manages brewery operations.)

Success is not without friction. “We had our first fight and I said, ‘I’m not your employee, I’m your partner,’” Abraham recalls. “We had to learn to be partners.” Lorrain looks at the arrangement as an opportunity to grow. “Both of us have learned to trust each other,” he says. “It’s fun to get together and put our heads together and figure things out. My son’s a pretty smart fellow.”

And Lorrain, outspoken and confident, warmly welcoming and accommodating, is Funky Bow’s straight-shooting frontman. “He is not afraid to tell anybody exactly how he feels,” Littlefield says. “He’s not trying to win style points with anybody, other than people drinking his beer.” In an increasingly teeming brewing world, Lorrain understands the importance of making an impression, lingering long after the last beer is gone. “So many people tell me, ‘I’ve been on all these tours and this is the best,’” he says. “That’s what we’re looking for, to stick in their minds. If we can get our beer in someone’s hands, we’re set.”

Funky Bow is dedicated to Mike Cantara, a valued member of the family who passed away in May of 2015.

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