This year will be a year of growth – and possibly some growing pains – for Maine’s craft breweries.
In 2013-2014, Maine saw the quickest growth of new breweries in recent history, with more than a dozen breweries joining the ranks. These breweries arrived on the scene with high hopes and even higher ambitions – and 2014 was a banner year for craft beer in Maine.
Looking at the list of breweries still in planning, it seems as if there’s a slowdown to this breakneck pace ahead – at least for now. There are only a few that are confirmed in planning (I know of four-ish, as opposed to the more than 20 that were listed last year), and the buzz about potential new openings has waned a little – taking a backseat to new beer releases from existing breweries.
Though you might be afraid that this signals a downturn or a popping of the “craft beer bubble,” I’d argue the opposite. Instead of just adding hundreds of new breweries, this will be the year of serious growth in capacity and distribution – a growth spurt if you will.
There’s a fundamental flaw in using only the number of breweries opened as a metric of success, when the capacities of those breweries are so varied. There’s a major difference between a brewery that sells a keg or a growler at a time and one that sells a truck full. It’s not that one is better than the other, but a little bit misleading if every one of the new breweries contributes only a tiny amount of product to the overall market.
We’re already beginning to see some of the younger breweries take great leaps forward. Funky Bow Brewery & Beer Company completed a major expansion in the fall and is now offering up a few of their beers in cans and has increased their availability. Bissell Brothers Brewing just knocked out a wall or two and have continued to add capacity almost without even stopping to take a breath. Banded Horn Brewing has begun to fill their expansive space with brewing equipment. Several breweries have also started distributing to states outside of Maine, expanding a demand for their products and driving a need for more expansion in the future.
This year, there might be stories about breweries growing too fast or not being able to keep up with demand. There might be beers that are released too soon, and there might be some competition between breweries fighting for shelf or tap space. Not everything in the craft beer world is rosy – but we can consider those the growing pains and charley horses of our craft beer growth. It might not all be smooth, but at the end of this year, we should have more beer available to more people. These growing pains will only push us towards a craft beer scene in Maine focused on high quality and brewing diversity.
Best of luck to all of Maine’s beer producers and cheers to all of the craft beer drinkers in the new year!