As 2013 comes to a close, I think it is safe to declare it as the year of the new brewery – at least in Maine. In all, at least 12 breweries opened in 2013, making up almost a quarter of all of the operating breweries in the state by the close of the year. The growth, sometimes supported by crowd-sourced or creative fundraising, has been unprecedented in Maine’s history.
In Portland, In’Finiti Fermentation & Distillation has gotten off the ground in both brewing beer and spirits, and a few weeks ago Bissell Brothers Brewing launched with their first hoppy beer called ‘The Substance’. There has also been a lot of action outside of Portland, including the opening of the first brewery on Monhegan Island (Monhegan Brewing) and the first brewery in Biddeford’s history, Banded Horn Brewing Company. Spread out along the coast, furthest south includes the brand new SoMe brewing in York, Rocky Coast Brewing in Ogonquit, Fire ‘N Brew / Captain Dick’s Brewing Company in Wells. The communities of Lyman, Limerick, Harrison and Sedgewick are now home to breweries as well, making there even more places in Maine to go grab a fresh, local beer while on vacation.
While many of the breweries are starting out – and intending to remain – small, there are several that will soon be spreading their liquid goods both within the state and outside of it. And right on their heels are a handful of additional brewers and dreamers hoping to do the same. It’s going to be a stream of new things to try.
2014: The Year of the Worthy
People working in the craft beer industry like to speculate that there might be a ‘bubble’ of some kind forming in the brewery world, and that at some point we will reach a capacity that can no longer support the number of breweries opening. While I don’t subscribe to that particular viewpoint, the math in our state at least concerns me a little – especially when it comes to getting on tap at local watering holes.
When breweries bottle or can their beer, distribution is a matter of shelf space and visibility. But, in my observations, there’s plenty more “room” for Maine beer on shelves – but very little room for them on tap. Most bars that serve craft beer keep only a handful of draught lines – and that can create quite a bottleneck if there are dozens of new breweries all banking on being able to put a keg on regularly. Bars like Novare Res have a dedicated section for local taps, but even that is getting tight. How will bars be able to decide what goes on tap, and what their customers might like when there are so many vying for the same line?
I think that the key metric for any young brewer has to be consistency and quality. To become a permanent or at least seasonal fixture on tap, brewing the same beer that meets quality standards is paramount. There is pressure to get beer out the door, and it’s tempting to not get rid of a batch because it falls a little short on a particular dimension, or didn’t hit the right targets for ABV, etc. The breweries that are able to focus on their quality and brew the same beer each time will be the ones that can make the strongest case for being on tap.
I wish all of Maine’s breweries the best of luck in achieving that goal. Happy New Year – I can’t wait to see what else the Maine beer scene brings in the upcoming year.