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By my count, 12 new Maine breweries opened for business in 2014. As the craft beer boom chugs along, 2015 promises to see even more homebrewers enter the competitive world of commercial brewing.
These brewing hopefuls are no doubt passionate about the craft of brewing, but what exactly is entailed in making the Herculean leap of opening a brewery?
On a snowy evening in February, I sit down with Charles and Erika Melhus at Little Tap House in Portland. The husband and wife team are in the midst of starting Norway Brewing Company, a brewery, tasting room and restaurant slated to open in Norway, Maine in late 2015.
As we sip from our pint glasses in the low light of Little Tap House, Charles and Erika take me through the process. Erika, smiley and rosy-cheeked, says they spent hours yesterday with the state fire marshal discussing fire codes. Charles teases the end of his handlebar mustache and jokes that he never thought sitting in a cramped cubicle in Augusta talking about fireproof drywall was part of the brewing process.
They continue through the tasks on their to-do list: figure out which state inspectors they will answer to, navigate hop contracts to secure hops, price out brewing and restaurant ingredients, meet with town building inspectors when they sign their lease, apply for federal and state brewing licenses along with a license to have live music, and the list goes on.
I’m dizzy from listening. I take a sip of my beer. It helps.
The Melhuses are close to securing their location, and once that happens, they can finally price out and purchase their brewing system. Charles sought council on this matter from David Carlson of Marshall Wharf Brewing and Nathan Sanborn of Rising Tide Brewing. Both brewers told Charles that he should put together two plans for the brewing equipment: one plan that has all the bells and whistles he can dream of, and another plan that has the barebones of what they would need to start brewing. Their purchases will depend on their ability to obtain capital as they pitch their business plan to investors.
And there’s the big challenge: getting investors. Both Charles and Erika are clocking countless hours putting together a business plan to present to investors. Once the site is secured, the equipment priced out, the tasting room build-out planned, the licenses applied for, they will begin pounding the pavement to acquire the capital needed to bring the plan to fruition.
Throughout our conversation, it becomes clear that Erika and Charles are a great match as business partners. Charles, who was born in Norway (the country, not the town), has brewed professionally. He’s also worked for many local restaurants and has a culinary arts degree from Southern Maine Community College. He will be head brewer and in charge of crafting their menu. Erika has a degree in woodworking and furniture design from Maine College of Art and a restaurant background. She is designing the tasting room and will build much of the room herself. She will also be the tasting room manager.
The months ahead involve hours of work, and that’s all before they brew their first beer. For now, they are fueled by the vision of seeing their brewery open in Norway, Maine, the town where they live and are raising their two children.
Before we leave Little Tap House, I ask Erika, “How are you guys planning on raising two small kids and running a brewery?”
She smiles and says, “My motto is one day at a time.”
OTHER BEER HAPPENINGS
Foundation Brewing First Year Anniversary Celebrations
Saturday and Sunday
Various locations in Portland
Foundation Brewing Company has established itself as a place to drink yeast-forward farmhouse ales and a brilliant hop-forward offering in their crowd pleasing Epiphany. Catch up with the Foundation crew during tasting room hours Saturday at the brewery at One Industrial Ave to get a limited-release bottle of Forge, a Russian Imperial Stout. On Saturday night, join them at Slab for pizza and Forge on draft. And on Sunday complete the year-one celebrations from 3-6pm at Arcadia National Bar for more Forge and other Foundation beers and free video games courtesy of Foundation.
Sebago Day at Saddleback Mountain
Join Sebago Brewing Company for their annual Sebago Day at Saddleback Mountain. Price of ticket includes pick-up and drop-off at South Portland and Gray park and rides, a lift ticket, and Sebago brews at the Swig ‘N Smelt when the lifts close. Tickets sell out quickly for this event, so secure yours immediately if you want to join in the fun.