Read any Maine brewer interview and you’ll hear mention of the strong sense of community in the craft beer industry here. Rather than fighting it out as cutthroat competitors, local brewers live by the idea that they are better and stronger together. They support each other’s growth and creativity and are quick to include their colleagues when praising the industry. Collaborations are common, as is the lending of equipment, the use of another brewery’s bottling line when one breaks down and praising other breweries to patrons of their tasting rooms.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that a few brewers got together to create a collaborative beer and host a fundraiser for a good cause. What is unusual about this instance is that the cause is one of Maine’s brewers with a life-threatening medical condition.
Tom Bull, owner of Dirigo Brewing Co., has a story that starts like many others in the beer industry. His first beer-related job was at Gritty McDuff’s in 1993, which gave him the interest in brewing that he still maintains today. Bull opened his first brewery, Bull Jagger, in 2011, and is now at the helm of the Biddeford-based Dirigo Brewing that has been operating since 2016.
Unfortunately, Tom was born with a serious heart defect that causes thickening of the heart’s muscular walls and eventually leads to heart failure. This winter, his heart began to falter, and Tom ended up hospitalized several times with heart-related complications. After a battery of tests this summer, it was determined that Tom would need a new heart and would have to be added to a waiting list of transplant recipients. He is currently waiting in residence at Tufts Medical Center in Boston for an estimated six to nine months until a heart becomes available.
Upon hearing the news about his colleague and former employee, Richard Pfeffer, one of the owners of Gritty McDuff’s, called Dirigo. He offered to dedicate their semi-annual “Ripped and Gripped” golf tournament to Bull, as a fundraiser to assist with the transplant costs. Distributors, colleagues, friends and brewers put together teams to compete, sponsored holes and sections of the course, and bid on donated silent auction items to raise funds. The day ended with a Skype call placed directly to Bull in the hospital, with everyone there wishing him well. While the total amount raised hasn’t been officially tallied yet, Bull said he is “speechless” about how much support he has received.
Of course, brewers being brewers, no one wanted to stop at just golfing. Ed Stebbins, the other owner of Gritty’s, arranged to stop by Dirigo to brew a collaborative beer named Corazón del Toro, which means “The Heart of the Bull.” It is a Vienna lager that uses both Pilsner and Vienna malts and four different hops (one for each chamber of the heart). Corazón del Toro was released in cans at the brewery in Biddeford on Aug. 30 and will also have some limited distribution at local beer retailers. The design on the can features a stained-glass bull with a shining heart, as well as text and a link to find out more about Bull’s situation.
If you are wondering who is manning the brew kettle in Bull’s absence, you need not worry. At the beginning of the year, two key brewery team members were added to Dirigo Brewing. Ray Edgar, a Gulf War veteran, joined Dirigio Brewing as head brewer after working at Amherst-based Airline Brewing and Geaghan Brothers Brewery in Bangor. Bryan Tavares, now the assistant brewer and chief science officer, is a graduate of the American Brewers Guild (a beer and brewery training institute) and recently completed his apprenticeship at Tributary Brewing Co.
Together, they have been responsible for a suite of new beers at Dirigio that both fall in line with the more traditional styles of lager that Dirigo is known for and also push the boundaries by giving them a new twist. Red Sky at Night (available in both the tasting room and in cans) is probably the most unique: a lager with hibiscus, ginger, lemongrass and lime zest. Individually, these ingredients could easily overwhelm a beer, but they are added in concert to create a balanced and thirst-quenching summer treat that is as bright as a late summer sunset.
There is no doubt that breweries in Maine do what they can to support each others’ business interests; a strong brewing scene is important to everyone who participates in it. But in this outpouring of support for one of their own, Maine’s beer industry showed the true size of its heart.