A lot of beer for a little state: Maine tops on the craft beer scene

Craft and micro-brewed beer has a rich and storied history in Maine; a history which has paved the way for what is today one of the most abundant craft beer landscapes in the country – as breweries both big and small dot the rocky coast from Kennebunkport to Presque Isle. Mainers themselves have always had a taste for better beer; even before the arrival of the D.L. Geary Brewing Co. in 1986 (and Gritty McDuff’s Brewing Co. a short while after), Maine was one of the largest export territories of England’s famous Bass Ale. “Mainers have always wanted more than watered-down domestics” explains Alan Pugsley, brewmaster and co-owner of Shipyard Brewing Co., Maine’s largest brewery and the 16th largest craft brewery in the country).
Pugsley began brewing in the United Kingdom in 1982 at the Ringwood Brewery in Hampshire, England, owned by Peter Austin. He and Peter consulted for and built brewpubs and breweries across Europe and around the world. But, it was in June 1986 that Alan came to Maine as part of a two-year contract to help establish the Geary’s brand and their famous Geary’s Pale Ale recipe. After a short jaunt around the rest of the country – setting up breweries from Burlington, Vermont to Syracuse, NY – Pugsley again returned to Maine to partner with Fred Forsley and establish the Federal Jack’s brewpub in Kennebunk, the precursor to the Shipyard Brewing empire.
Pugsley’s conquests happened in Maine at a time before craft beer was a household name and they continue to flourish here, even more successfully than many larger states around the country. When asked how this is possible in such a sparsely populated state, Pugsley responds, “This reflects the good craftsmanship and quality products made here, not just in beer – that’s what Maine is known for. Mainers have really embraced quality beer wholeheartedly, which can be seen by the countless taps at pubs like The Great Lost Bear and $3 Dewey’s and many others across the state. There has been a great change of face here since 1986; it’s been fun to be a part of it.”
Pugsley’s work has had a great effect on the state. “Maine is the best state in the country if you wanted to taste beer like you’d have in England” says Ben Lowe, a brewer at Gritty’s Portland location, who began brewing at Gritty’s in September 2007, following seven years of homebrewing and successful graduation from the American Brewers Guild brewing school in Middlebury, VT.
The road, however, has not been so easy-going for all Maine micros. What is today one of the state’s most recognized brands – and the most renowned among true “beer geeks” around the country – had a bumpy beginning. The Allagash Brewing Co., founded by owner Rob Tod, opened its doors in Portland in 1995. A few years earlier, Tod was attending graduate school in Vermont when he found a job washing kegs at the Otter Creek brewery in Middlebury, VT in order to pay the bills. However, quite unexpectedly, Tod fell in love with the world of brewing after only two days on the job.
It was while he was at Otter Creek that Tod discovered the world of Belgian-style ales. “I love Belgian beers,” he explains, “Because they are experimental by nature – there is a virtually limitless palate to choose from when creating a new recipe or style.”
Tod chose to locate in Portland after leaving Vermont because he had seen first-hand the emergence of “the finer things” – restaurants, upscale bars, art galleries, etc. – beginning to take shape in Maine and he wanted to be a part of it. However, convincing people to try Belgian-style ales in the early days was no easy task. “Belgian beers were a hard sell then. No one here had tried spiced beers or unfiltered, cloudy beers at all,” Tod notes. Allagash began in 1995 with eight all-draught sales accounts and one employee (Tod); today the brewery employs more than 15 people and distributes their beer across the country. Says Tod, “These days our biggest problem is keeping up with demand. It’s not a bad problem to have.”
About the author: Luke Livingston, 24, is a graduate of Edward Little High School and Clark University who now resides in Portland, Maine; he is a freelance writer, an avid homebrewer, beer geek and the author of Maine’s largest beer blog, www.BlogAboutBeer.com. Luke can be reached at [email protected]

Local brewing supplies:

If you want to try your hand at brewing your own beer (or wine), there are plenty of options around to help you get set up. You can purchase homebrew supplies, recipe books and instructions at Axis Natural Foods, 250 Center St Auburn, ME, (207) 782-3348; The Hop Shop, 59 Portland Rd, Gray, ME, (207) 657-5550 www.thehopshop.com; Kennebec Home Brew Supplies, 235 Farmington Falls Rd, Farmington, ME, (207) 778-5276 www.kennebechomebrew.com; and Maine Brewing Supply, 542 Forest Ave Portland, ME, (207) 791-2739 www.brewbrewbrew.com.

If you want to try all of the beers Maine has to offer, consider hopping on the newly established Maine Beer Trail (for more information, or to print out a Beer Trail map, visit www.mainebrewersguild.org/BeerTrailWeb.pdf) or attend one of the great brew festivals which happen throughout the year. Some of the most popular are the Maine Grains & Grapes Festival, which takes place in Lewiston in July of every year (see www.mainegrainsandgrapes.com for more information); The Maine Brewers Festival (see www.mainebrew.com) which takes place in Portland in November; and the Maine Lakes Brew Fest (see www. lakesbrewfest.com) which takes place at Point Sebago Resort in September.

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