Since opening in 2014, OEC Brewing in Oxford has earned a reputation as an elite producer of sour beers. Despite being small with limited taproom hours, it has been praised by Forbes and hailed as “North America’s most innovative craft brewery” by Bloomberg. It is also one of my favorite breweries anywhere. For most of its existence, however, it has made exclusively sour beers. That changed in recent months when it began offering non-sour or “clean beers” on a regular basis. The brewery’s onsite bakery also makes wild fermented sourdough bread and roasts small-batch coffee.
“We always aim to brew the things we want to drink, and after years of only putting out our sour concoctions, we were thirsty for a little something else,” explains Tony Pellino, one of OEC’s brewers and its tasting room manager. “We also wanted to include a wider variety of options in our tasting room. Our location is a bit remote, so if you make your way here, we strive to offer a varied, well-rounded experience.”
These clean beers are more approachable than the brewery’s sour and wild-fermented beverages, but are equally complex and flavorful. Currently my favorite everyday beer, the Coolship Lager is traditionally made and cellared for several months, with a crisp, refreshing taste. The Bifrost, a double pale ale made with Kveik yeast, which has been used in Norwegian farmhouse brewing for centuries, has tropical fruit notes and is a perfect beer for lovers of well-made, New England-style IPAs. The brewery’s oak-fermented pilsner is another approachable but elite beer. Though technically not a “clean” beer, its sourness is minimal.
Of course, for sour fans, OEC continues to innovate. One recent personal favorite was the Oryza, a blend of one of the brewery’s beers with a sake from Japan. It is earthy, tart and different from anything I’ve had before in all the best ways.
The brewery’s sister business is an on-site bakery with fresh bread, cured meats and cheeses.
“The bread is wild, literally,” says Pellino, adding that OEC makes “sourdough breads with the starter originating from our house wild yeast strains, and the liquid component of the ingredients is only the final runnings of our brewing wort. The grain bill changes from batch to batch, but always utilizes ancient grains, [and] never processed white flour. All of the flour is milled by us, making sure that we get full nutritional value, flavor and aromatics from our grain.”
The bakery also roasts small batches of coffee. “The coffee is sourced from wonderful small farms throughout the world, that has only been processed naturally,” Pellino says. “It is further fermented when it arrives at our facility with aid of other liquids — beer, wort, spirits, mead, cider, etc. — and often times with fruit grown here on our property. The beans themselves are typically only given a very light roast, just beyond first crack, to maintain the outrageous flavors and aromas that have been produced during the fermentations. As of now, the coffee is extremely limited, and will remain done in super-small batches.”
That process makes the coffee hard to get a hold of — despite two recent visits, I’ve yet to be there when it’s available — but there is always plenty to enjoy at OEC. These days that’s true even if sour beers are not your thing.
7 Fox Hollow Road, Unit B, Oxford
Hours: The taproom is open Fri. 2-8 p.m. and Sat. noon-8 p.m. Bottled or canned beer is often available for pickup during normal business hours by calling the brewery.