In’Finiti Fermentation & Distillation, which opened a year ago on the Portland, ME, waterfront, is a unique combination of a brewery/distillery, bar and restaurant all under one roof.
While the name comes from the phonetic spelling of the word in the dictionary, the concept of infinity conveys the endless interconnectivity between beer and spirits and food, says owner Eric Michaud. “At In’Finiti, everything is made on-premise in front of customers, from the beer to the food to the cocktails.”
That theme is visually reinforced by the gleaming copper distillation apparatus that stands just inside the restaurant’s entranceway on the production side of In’Finiti. Custom-built in Germany, the hybrid is a pot still with a whiskey helmet on top and a rectification column.
“That setup gives us a lot of flexibility,” notes Michaud. Among the rows of stainless fermentation tanks is an impressive copper brewing kettle, imported second-hand from Germany. The kettle is also flexible, allowing the brewer to do multiple-step infusion mashes and decoctions.
Sitting at the restaurant’s bar, guests can watch brewing and distilling action through a floor-to-ceiling glass barrier. The decor is nautical steampunk meets new industrial. Windows are portholes; ductwork is exposed; old whiskey barrels have been repurposed into light fixtures; barrel staves serve as railings.
Much of the woodwork is recycled old barn board. The bar top, table tops and stool tops all came from a single black walnut tree, felled by a storm and milled by a local artisan.
“My father and brother did most of the build out for the restaurant,” says Michaud. The pair had also helped renovate his other establishment, Novare Res Bier Café, which opened in central Portland in 2008.
The threesome created the steampunk draft taps using oversized industrial black piping (also used as the foot rail around the bar). The restaurant has 16 draft lines dedicated to beer, plus a few other taps for wine, mead, cider, house-made soda and kombucha. About half of the beer taps dispense a rotating selection of house brews, priced $4 to $6.50; the other lines feature guest beers, usually from regional craft producers.
Recent examples of “haus bier” include Small Baltic Porter, a low-ABV version of the traditional style; Azacca IPA, made with Belgian malts and Azacca hops; and Lumber Smack DIPA, a double IPA brewed to commemorate Portland’s ladies arm wrestling champ Lumber Smack Sally.
Guest beers include appearances from local brewers Allagash, Marshall Wharf Brewing and Maine Beer Company.
In’Finiti currently offers house-made rhum and vodka; both are un-aged products, but a number of spirits are maturing in barrels right now. Ten cocktails fill out the beverage list, priced from $9 to $11.
The Boys to the Yard cocktail mixes In’Finiti vodka with almond malted stout syrup, cold brewed coffee, orange juice and egg white. Rosemary’s Bebe is concocted with house rhum blanc, Cocchi Americano, cranberry and lime juices, rosemary and bitters. The latest creation is the Commercial Street Mule, a play on Moscow Mule with house vodka and house-made ginger beer.
Mead, cider and kombucha are provided by local producer Urban Farm Fermentary. “It’s a symbiotic relationship,” says Michaud; “we are supporting other local fermentation specialists.” The kombucha figures in a cocktail, as do housemade soft drinks—ginger, cola and citrus ($3.50 a glass as well). “Our bar manager makes the syrups and carbonates them, so we don’t have to buy mass-produced sodas that are overly sugary. In’Finiti is all about making a craft product in house,” he says.
The food menu, which changes often, is divided into Tapas ($5 to $13), such as Chorizo & Quail Eggs and Lobster Mascarpone Arancini, and Entrees ($9 to $28), including Pretzel-Fried Chicken and Malt-Crusted Arctic Char. The burger is the biggest seller; the meat is cooked sous vide, which retains the juices, then finished on the grill to order, served on a kaiser bun. It’s accompanied by classic Belgian fries, which are blanched, frozen and fried to order, so they are crispy on the outside and soft in the middle.
“We also bake all our own breads, which is pretty unheard of for a bar,” Michaud notes.
In’Finiti opened in March 2013, just before Portland’s busy tourist season. “Business took off through the spring and pretty soon we were slammed,” recalls Michaud. Winter is slow in Maine, but he expects business to pick up with spring.
The customer base has been a mix of tourists and locals. “We get foodies who are interested in the food and don’t care what they are drinking, people who come in just for the beer and a snack, and we attract the cocktail geeks, too,” Michaud says.
A CREATIVE OUTLET
After Michaud got into beer through homebrewing, he was sidetracked managing bars and restaurants. His intention with In’Finiti is to return to the creative process of brewing and now distilling. “The possibilities are endless for me here,” he explains.
Experimenting with new brews and spirits keeps Michaud busy. He is now collaborating with Sebago Brewing Company, distilling the Gorham, ME-based beer into whiskey. “I wanted a creative outlet, and this is it, the final playground,” Michaud says. ·
Thomas Henry Strenk is a Brooklyn-based freelancer who writes about all things drinkable.