Passion First – The Evolution of a Brewer
His smile reminds me of something grandfatherly, although he’s about the same age I am. Jay Horne shook my hand and gave me a clap on the back as I strode into his new brewery and tasting room in Waterboro. Xota Brewing, the brainchild of owner Josh Charette, is a stately, newly constructed building 40 minutes away from downtown Portland on Main Street in Waterboro. It has a clean, no-nonsense aesthetic. Edison bulbs hang above, and the bar is the only hardwood I can see.
Outside the double French doors is a fenced-in back yard with four sets of cornhole boards ready for league play that evening, a frisbee golf pin in the corner to practice putts, and a covered patio with fire pit to just relax with a pint and be social.
Jay walks me around the 3.5 barrel brew house dwarfed by the vaulted ceilings. I try a pint of Xavier, a lightly smoked, malt-forward ale with a soft sweetness. He’s happy and proud of his beers. And he’s right to be so – they are well-made and thoughtfully built. It isn’t a surprise to me since he has spent a lot of time as a homebrewer, assistant brewer, and is now designing beers as the head brewer for a start-up. It’s been a long road getting here, one that involved a thorough education.
Years ago, Jay made his mark in the homebrewing scene with several strong performances in brewing competitions, and people found him affable and knowledgeable. In 2016, Jay was hired by Foulmouthed Brewing in South Portland for his first job transitioning from homebrewer to working in a real brewery. Nestled in the heart of South Portland’s Mill Creek, Foulmouthed quickly gained recognition for their off-the-wall but delicious beers, menu, and cozy atmosphere. “We initially hired him because we were desperate for kitchen help,” said Foulmouthed owner Craig Dilger, chuckling. “But it was always with the understanding that he wanted to transition to the brewhouse.” By the late fall of that same year, Jay moved from his sous chef position to assistant brewer. “He’s an exceptionally dedicated worker,” noted Dilger. “Putting in time was never a concern for the man.”
As Foulmouthed rapidly began scaling up their brewing capacity due to popularity and accolades, Jay took on more responsibilities. “I thought I knew what note-taking was until I worked with Craig [Dilger] and Bill [Boguski],” said Jay. “I learned a lot about being meticulous in the process.” Clearly, the time before the mast at Foulmouthed yielded good work habits that are now being translated to Xota.
While Foulmouthed was gaining traction and work was plentiful, Jay ran into his future partner, Josh Charette, on the disc golf course. Josh, a 10-year homebrewer who recently was given notice at a corporate job, decided that he was destined to make the leap into professional brewing. Being a local to Waterboro, he wanted to build something in his own back yard and quickly realized that working with Jay was just the thing his brewery needed. Not long after, he offered Jay the head brewer’s position, and Jay initially agonized over it. “It took me a month and a half to make the decision,” Jay said. “It was truly hard to leave those guys.” In the end, the appeal of a shorter commute and a head brewer position was compelling enough to pull him to the new start-up. It was evident that losing Jay to a new brewery was hard for Craig and Bill, but as evidenced by their new collaboration beer at Xota, they have a great respect for one another.
Xota’s approach is to build clean, well-built beers that tend to hug closer to style guidelines. You can get a sense of how a brewery is doing by their cleanliness, attention to details, and how they speak about their art. It is easy to see that the brewers at Xota love their products and care about building a strong footprint in Waterboro. And while they share duties during a brew day, it’s clear who Jay answers to. “I work for the yeast,” he notes. Clearly, he has his priorities straight.
Xota is located on 721 Main Street in Waterboro. You can find them Thursday through Monday (they are closed Tuesday and Wednesday for production), and times are available at www.XotaBrewing.com. Be sure to check them out on Facebook and Instagram (@xota_brewing).
— Text: Matthew Brown. Matthew is a resident of Portland, a Certified Cicerone®, an avid homebrewer, and financial planner.