Lone Pine Brewing Company opened in 2016, joining the hub of fermentation and hand-crafted beverages in Portland’s East (aka “Yeast”) Bayside neighborhood. On my first visit, its quirky pink building on Anderson Street struck me as a little weird, and the inside felt a little cramped. But the beverages that emerged from behind those doors quickly grabbed my attention.
Lone Pine started pursuing – and then leading – the field in producing hoppy, bitter and fruity brews for IPA fans. As soon as its flagship Portland Pale Ale got into cans, the demand for its hoppy beers never stopped growing.
“We really wanted to make sure that Maine was getting taken care of,” said co-owner John Paul. With up to 60 percent of its beer being sold out of the tasting room, Lone Pine could only send small allotments to their accounts, and sometimes had to disappoint them. Soon, the brewers were using their five-barrel system almost nonstop in an attempt to catch up.
Only 16 months after launch, an unprecedented opportunity appeared; Gorham-based Sebago Brewing Co. announced plans for a new brewery and put its current facility – equipment included – up for sale. It took nearly a year to finalize, but Lone Pine was able to make the purchase happen and plans to move in over the next two months.
The upgrade will not only quadruple Lone Pine’s brewing capacity but will also allow the brewery to expand its quality-control laboratory and increase its ability to package its beer. The 10-person company will hire seven additional staff members, most of whom will be coming on board in March.
If head brewer and co-owner Tom Madden is worried about the change, he doesn’t show it – and talks about the expansion with eager optimism.
He has a reason to be confident. If Lone Pine had purchased equipment for a brewery of Sebago’s size, it would have spent months making decisions about how to set up the system and even more time attempting to test it and “do the math” to scale up its five-barrel recipes. But purchasing a working brewery’s equipment has a unique advantage. Its quirks and limitations are known, and its ability to produce excellent beer has already been realized in the hands of Sebago’s brewing and production staff.
The brewery that Lone Pine will inherit is seasoned, but also dialed in. The brewhouse includes pieces that are original to Sebago’s 1994 brewery (as well as more recently-purchased equipment). In all, the system has already been used to brew over 2,000 batches of beer.
“All that math has already been done for us,” John Paul said, “and it all checks out.”
Just over a year since the announcement, the move is approaching its final stages. Madden says that Lone Pine has successfully brewed three brews on the Sebago system so far, under the generous guidance of the Sebago brewery staff. Madden and other Lone Pine staff have been shadowing, asking questions and troubleshooting the process at the Gorham location, popping in two to three times a week.
Lone Pine’s current system will be turned into a pilot system to provide an opportunity for more experimentation.
In the past, I’ve slightly picked on Lone Pine for being limited in the range of beer styles that it offers. Lone Pine is known for its fruity, tropical and hazy IPAs, but it turns out that’s more out of necessity than simply a fervent passion reserved for those styles in particular.
By retaining the small system at its Anderson Street location, Madden says that he hopes that the brewery will broaden its portfolio. “We’d love to see more yeasts, more diverse styles,” said Madden. The smaller system will allow some of the new brewing staff to have authorship of pilot batches served only in the tasting room. If brewers want to make a crazy stout or experiment with other ingredients, they can brew to their hearts’ desire.
Between the two facilities, Lone Pine is hoping to use the additional capacity to finally fulfill agreements, and then push out into the state. “Our goal is to take care of Maine first,” Paul said. “We want to fill Maine and then find the nooks and crannies and fill those, too.”