Birchwood Brewing gets approval from Gray Planning Board

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GRAY — Plans for a new business are brewing in Gray. 

Partners Andrew Sanborn and Wes Hewey, both Gray-New Gloucester High School graduates, hope to open Birchwood Brewing sometime in August just south of Gray Village on Route 100. 

Both metal fabricators by trade, Sanborn and Hewey say that they’ve helped build brewing systems for several other Maine breweries and realized they could make their own beer.  

After five or six years of home brewing, with good reviews from friends, they’re ready to try their own taproom. 

“We decided to build our own system one day — and make some good beer,” Sanborn said. 

They specialize in American ales and lagers, and plan to have rotating taps that will include three flagship beers: a brown, a wheat and an IPA. 

Birchwood is named after the road that Sanborn lives on in Poland. The taproom would be open to the public 30 hours per week, according to Birchwood’s application to the Gray Planning Board. 

Their third partner is Sanborn’s mother, Stacy Strattard, who first discovered the available 4,600 square foot location at 19 Portland Road. The building, owned by B & N Properties, is on the left side of the Gray Plaza. It was formerly home to stove and fireplace retail store the Hearth Doctor, along with several other businesses at various points. 

Sanborn said that Birchwood plans to lease the space from B & N, but that no formal lease agreement has been signed at this stage while plans are being finalized. 

The Planning Board signed off on the Birchwood project at an April 12 meeting, voting 5-0 to approve the brewery’s new retail use of the space. 

Sanborn and Hewey expect to brew 1,000 barrels per year initially, and have “no plans on distributing it right out of the gate.”

Birchwood could distribute to “a few local restaurants — maybe,” Sanborn said, adding that there could be an expansion in the future. 

With approval for a 50-seat establishment, they envision “a place that’s just comfortable to hang out” and “very far from the bar scene.” 

Along with the brewing operations and taproom, they are planning a beer garden in the space behind the building.  

Sanborn said the brewery hopes to start construction in May to revamp the interior of the building and add the brewing system, which he said is ready to go. They are still working with the town code enforcement office on some of their permits, and hope to be open sometime in August. 

Some of the issues discussed during the Planning Board’s review of the project included impacts on parking in the Plaza, traffic and water use. 

An email from Birchwood Brewing to Jim Foster of the Gray Water District, included in the brewery’s Planning Board application, outlines a plan to brew three days a week and have three days of brew cleanup and sterilization.

In total between those processes, the brewery estimates using more than 300 gallons of water per week. Foster said in an email that the water district “has no concerns with the additional water usage.” 

Birchwood’s approved proposal includes approximately 20 parking spots, including new parking towards the side of the building that Gray Town Planner Kathy Tombarelli said would be on both B & N and Gray Plaza property. 

“We see no problems with the new plan drawn with extra parking spaces in front of the garage,” said Melissa Bagdon of Gray Plaza in an email included in the application. “This seems like a win-win to us.” 

One neighbor did speak during the Planning Board’s public hearing on the Birchwood project and expressed concerns about the impact on traffic near Gray Plaza. But she also emphasized that she is “thoroughly in support” of the brewery project. 

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@keepmecurrent.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

Wes Hewey and Andrew Sanborn are hoping to open Birchwood Brewing in Gray by August. 

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