Justin Amaral says he’s often asked when he finds time to sleep, and his answer is that he doesn’t. Sleep deprivation, it would seem, is what’s required to start a winery, coffee roaster, restaurant, and brewery all in short order. The latter, Sidereal Farm Brewery, opened in Vassalboro this fall. “It may sound like a lot, but that’s a fraction of what’s going on in my mind,” Amaral says.
Thick-bearded and burly, he looks the part of the prototypical brewer, but, one recent day, his Sonic the Hedgehog socks betrayed that he’s also something of a power nerd. After dropping out of high school, he worked as a computer-network technician while teaching himself microbiology on the side because he had become interested in making wine. Soon, he was tumbling down the rabbit hole of food-and-drink science, leading brewing courses at the University of Maine and consulting for chefs on fermentation and other cooking techniques.
Now, his wine operation is housed at the brewery, as is his formerly pop-up restaurant, Maillard Kitchen, and his roastery, Way of the Warrior Coffee, which does small-batch beans often with a twist — aged in whiskey barrels, say, or on anaerobically fermented limes. Since 2018, Amaral has also run a commercial lab that grows various strains of yeast and bacteria for brewers around the world. A few years ago, he collaborated with a Hawaiian brewery on a beer commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, by culturing yeast from an air sample that NASA research pilots captured in the stratosphere. The name of this latest project, Sidereal, is a semi-arcane adjective that describes a relationship to the stars.
The brewery is a joint effort with David D’Angelo, who sold Maine-grown barley to brewers while working at Skowhegan’s Maine Grains and runs the 22-acre organic farm the brewery sits on, where many ingredients are sourced. There’s a beer for every drinker among the dozen rotating taps, from a restrained but nonetheless juicy and hazy New England–style session IPA to a hearty imperial stout aged on cashew butter, organic marshmallows, and cacao nibs. For a Berliner weisse, a tart German-style wheat beer, Amaral culled yeast from unopened bottles of Berliner weisse that were more than half a century old. He also has one of just a handful of coolships in the state — the open vat lets yeast and bacteria from the surrounding environment ferment certain beers, which then age in rows of barrels.
Maillard, the restaurant side of the business, takes its name from the chemical reaction in food that produces a toasty flavor. Most of the oft-changing menu is cooked outdoors over an open fire, from grilled oysters that burst with salty umami to local rabbit paired with buttery beans and pickled okra on tacos. Whether sidled up to the wooden bar, with picture windows looking into the brewery and out onto expansive fields, or lounging on the campfire-scented patio, the obvious fact is that a lot of thought goes into everything Amaral does. “I’ve realized I’m not passionate about one thing — I’m passionate about creativity,” he says. “It has nothing to do with food, beer, wine, or coffee. I just want to be creative, and science allows me to do that.” Fortunately, a scientific background isn’t a prerequisite for visiting. A working set of taste buds is all a person needs to know when a darn good beer has been poured.
The brewery is open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 772 Cross Hill Rd., Vassalboro.