Inside South Bristol’s 85-Year-Old Herring Smokehouse

Two brothers tend to a woodstove and a Maine tradition.

By Jillian Bedell
Photographed by Dave Dostie
From our December 2021 issue

Every fall, behind an old one-room schoolhouse in South Bristol, the air takes on the rich, commingled scent of woodsmoke, salt, and fish. Inside a small shack, brothers Ken and Todd Lincoln tend a slow-burning fire, and more than a thousand herring dangle overhead. Nowadays, herring is largely used as lobster bait, but the oily little fish have a long culinary heritage. They were prized by the Wabanaki as an overwintering source of fat and protein and later by canneries and smoking operations all along the coast (the down east town of Lubec was once the smoked-herring capital of the U.S.).

South Bristol’s smokehouse is 85 years old, give or take. Ken, a town selectman, and Todd, the local animal-control officer, have kept the smokehouse smoking since the South Bristol Historical Society acquired it in 2010. Local fishermen donate some of their catch, then the brothers soak the herring in brine for two days, hang them from hardwood rods, and set them to smoke for about a week. They’ll gladly demonstrate how to remove the tail, head, and belly to get at the good meat, which Todd admits is an acquired taste. “We do it for the history,” he says.

A $5 donation to the South Bristol Historical Society (207-644-8785) nets one rod of 13 smoked herring.