SKOWHEGAN — Beer is good food.

That’s part of the message these days in central Maine, where one of the best selections of craft beer can be found served at the Miller’s Table, a restaurant in managing owner Amber Lambke’s Maine Grains grist mill in downtown Skowhegan.

Maine-grown grains processed there are now used in making 40 different Maine beers and ales sold there, she said.

“The Miller’s Table features as many of them as we can get our hands on,” Lambke said from the restaurant on Thursday. “And more and more breweries are turning to local grains now that it’s an available resource. Brewers discovering that beer can be a local food is a very new phenomenon, and it has people very excited.”

About 10 percent of all the grains milled at the Maine Grains — or about 120 tons annually — are used to make the Maine beers. The other 1,080 tons go to bakers, chefs and shops all across New England, from Maine to New York City, according to Lambke.

Most of the raw grain — about 80 percent — comes to the grist mill from 36 farms in Maine, many of them in Aroostook County. There are also local farms in Parkman, Albion and Solon.

The grains include wheat, oats, rye, spelt, buckwheat and heritage strains, Lambke said.

“We bring it into the facility from the farmer. We form relationships with farmers to grow the things we’re looking for,” she said. “We receive it in big 1-ton tote bags.”

The grains are moved into the mill’s grain bins, from which they are gravity-fed into the cleaning, sorting and de-hulling machines. The breweries take the grains in different forms, either whole berries or flaked or cracked, Lambke said.

“Breweries across the state are beginning to incorporate local grains,” Lambke said. “So whether they are a very small brewery or whether they’re larger, there’s a big focus on using local grains right now.”

Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Maine Brewers’ Guild, said Lambke is one of the driving forces in the farm-to-beverage movement.

“Maine brewers appreciate the chance to connect the beer they brew to the land,” Sullivan said. “Maine Grains offers locally sourced grains that are freshly milled and quality controlled, which ensures Maine brewers can make the highest-quality beer. Beyond the grains themselves, Amber’s proven herself to be someone who is community-minded and dedicated to forging stronger connections between farmers and producers.

“These traits and values are shared by our brewing community and make Maine Grains a natural choice when brewers want local grains for their beer.”

Some of the breweries using Maine Grains include Oxbow Brewery and Bissell Brothers, in Portland; the Allagash Brewery; Boothbay Craft Brewing; the Waterville Brewing Co.; Cushnoc Brewery, in Augusta; and Bigelow Brewing Co., in Skowhegan.

“The raw grains play into both the naturally fermented beers, but also they add flavor and color and mouth feel and creaminess,” Lambke said. “A farmhouse ale is the equivalent of sourdough bread, where you’re working with the natural yeast in the environment and the natural yeast on the grains in order to cultivate them and make a beer that’s unique. They’re quite popular now.”

Darryll White, Maine Grains’ contracted sales accountant, said the popularity of local brewing and consumption is not just a fleeting trend, but more of a permanent installation of quality and taste in beers.

“What I see is, I see growth, both in the industry here in Maine and in terms of new breweries opening up on a regular basis,” he said. “It certainly is fashionable — if you look at the tap rooms. The Beer Trail in Maine has become a real phenomenon. I certainly believe there’s a great deal of substance behind all this.

“And I see growing interest in Maine products and in use of the raw grains with creativity and innovation.”

Maine Grains, which dropped the name Somerset Grist Mill earlier this year, employs 12 people. The Miller’s Table employs another dozen, Lambke said.

Lambke is president and CEO at Maine Grains, stone-millers of organic grains in the 1895 former Somerset County Jail near downtown, which has become the epicenter of Skowhegan’s food hub.

Lambke, along with her then-business partner Michael Scholz, a baker from Albion, purchased the vacated county jail in 2009 and began renovation and fundraising for the businesses that would come, believing there was a new market for locally produced flour and other grain products. A new county jail opened the same year in East Madison.

Today the complex includes the Miller’s Table restaurant, a dry goods store, a community radio station and a knitting shop. Other businesses have incubated in former cellblock space including the Tech Spot for computer instruction, a pottery studio and office space.

Some of the more colorful beer names available at the restaurant include Allagash’s 16 Counties, Bissell’s Pine Tree Agronomics, Orono Brewing’s Tubular Beer, Hoppy Table, Substance, Mason’s Hipster Apocalypse, Dementia Dog and Jolly Woodsman.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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