When this edition of the Sun Journal hits newsstands, Lewiston-Auburn will have celebrated one of its first festivals of the summer; the Maine Grains and Grapes Festival.

In its second year of existence, the festival displays the products of Maine-based wineries and microbreweries, allowing attendees to sample the various adult beverages in a large venue.

And while the popularity of local wines and beers may not be as visible to some, the growth in sales in this market segment continues to grow despite the recession.

So, as with other festivals hosted in this region, leaders must askg how we can best leverage the event to spur the maximum amount of economic activity, both during the event and through some sustained effort.

I would argue that, unlike the Great Falls Balloon Festival or Liberty Festival that draw tens of thousands for a defined period of the event, Grains and Grapes could be part of leveraging Lewiston-Auburn into this growing economic sector of micro-brewed beers.

Maine ranks among the states with the most microbreweries per capita, less an indictment on drinking in the state than confirmation Mainers have a refined palate when it comes to beer.

The Legislature helped to confirm this by lifting the long standing prohibition on sales of growlers, a half- gallon to a gallon jug of beer, from local brewpubs.

The ability of a visitor to Maine, or a resident, to take home some of favored brew after a good meal is common sense; it is unfortunate it was prohibited until now.

Portland is home to the largest number of brewpubs in Maine, which is a boon to the Old Port. The ripple from the small restaurants that serve local beer are the brewing and bottling facilities that enhance the local tax base and create good paying jobs.

This growing industry of microbrews has been a driver in other regions. While big cities like Boston have seen their brands, like Samuel Adams, marketed nationally, small towns have taken off too. Take Milton, Del., population 2,000, and the significant impact the rapidly growing Dogfish Head brewery is having there.

Here in Lewiston-Auburn, with the second year of Grains and Grapes, the potential for growth in this area is there, you just have to looked carefully. Gritty’s is a perfect example, with their significant investment in a new brewpub along the Androscoggin River.

A niche for Lewiston-Auburn in recruiting potential brewpubs, in addition to the population base, is the mill town setting, with its great architecture and a large riverfront, in addition to college campuses that could draw young professionals to the downtown.

Add vacant mill space scattered throughout the downtown, growing industrial parks, and the marketing of Lewiston-Auburn as a distribution and logistics hub, with a couple of large, local beverage distributors, and we might be well-positioned to recruit a growing brewer to join us.

(How does L-A Lager or Androscoggin Amber Ale sound?)

No, L-A’s shouldn’t bet on becoming the beer capital of the Northeast.

But with the savvy of our economic development staff, the good bones to support this type of business, it is worth a closer look.

Jonathan LaBonte, of New Auburn, is a columnist for the Sun Journal and
an Androscoggin County Commissioner. E-mail: [email protected]


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