Do you remember the first time you had a Geary’s? I do.
It was 2004. I was living in Johnson, Vermont. My then-girlfriend, now-wife and I stood in front of a cooler looking for beer to take on a riverside picnic. My wife, a lifelong Mainer, noticed the artsy label of Geary’s Summer Ale.
We sipped from those stout bottles on the banks of the Lamoille River. The clean grain bill and light copper flavor of the Kolsch-style ale danced on our tongues. When it grew dark, I built a fire. A coyote yelped in the distance.
That memory looms in my mind, cemented by the addition of the iconic Geary’s Summer Ale.
I have memories of the first time I had Geary’s Pale and London Porter, and a fuzzy recollection of my first encounter with HSA. If you turned 21 before 2005, your first craft beer experiences involved D.L. Geary Brewing Co.
A month ago, reports came out that Geary’s founder, David Geary, was selling the brewery to local investors. News stories were filled with quips of declining sales numbers, botched layoffs, possible boycotts at local bars and insinuations that this was proof that the bottom was falling out of the craft beer market.
Lost in this maelstrom has been the legacy of David Geary, the founding father of Maine craft beer. In 1986, he sold the first Maine-made beer after a statewide prohibition that began in 1851.
After reading the recent news stories, I decided that David Geary wasn’t going out like that.
I sat down with Geary at the Little Tap House in Portland to talk about his journey over the past 30 years.
As the 72-year-old sipped a Hendrick’s gin and tonic, he said that he still goes into the brewery a couple hours a day to help with the transition to new ownership. This includes cleaning out files he’s collected over three decades.
“I’m finding the most amazing correspondences. Things that I’d completely forgotten about,” Geary said.
He explained that he recently stumbled upon correspondences with Three Dollar Deweys founder Alan Eames.
“He was the one who encouraged me to start a brewery,” Geary said.
Back in the early ’80s, after a day of selling medical equipment, a 30-something Geary would stop in to Three Dollar Deweys for a post-work pint. He was struck by the imports that Eames had on draft.
“They were mostly English ales at the time, but it was stuff that you couldn’t get anywhere else. Back then, people thought Eames was crazy for only selling imports,” Geary said.
As the two became friends, Eames told Geary someone should make this style of beer in Maine. Geary, unsatisfied with his career, decided he was in.
This decision set him off to Scotland to learn how to brew English-style ales in a 1,000-year-old castle on a 350-year-old brewing system at Traquair House, an hour outside of Edinburgh.
He returned to Maine, wrote a business plan (at a time, mind you, when there was no blueprint for opening a brewery), found investors (again, no small feat) and broke ground on D.L. Geary Brewing Co. in 1986. By the end of that year, he sold the first pint of Maine-crafted beer since before the Civil War. Yeah, there were still slaves in America the last time a Maine beer had been legally sold in-state.
“Everyone was excited to help us in those early days. They were excited that someone was doing something so outrageous,” Geary said.
When six-packs of Geary’s Pale Ale hit the shelves at local stores, it was the only New England beer. Store owners were unsure about how to sell a locally brewed beer, so it often sat alone on a shelf. Just try to imagine a world where there is only one local beer. You can’t.
Fast-forward 30 years to last fall when Geary, taking his dog out for a walk, fell and broke his neck. Well into the age when most of his peers were retiring, Geary had an epiphany.
“You just broke your [expletive] neck. What are you [expletive] doing?” Geary remembered thinking.
Before finishing his second G&T and walking out into the cool April evening, I asked Geary to sum up his experience at the helm of Maine’s first post-Prohibition brewery. He stared out the window for a moment; a smile slowly grew across his face as his mind mused over countless memories.
“I will always cherish this experience,” he said. “Not only was it fun, but it was also a spiritual journey to be part of an ancient tradition and follow in the footsteps of 6,000 years of brewing.”
Thank you for getting the mothership off the ground, David Geary.
OTHER BEER HAPPENINGS
5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, 50 Industrial Way, Portland. $50 per ticket. fareharbor.com/allagash/items/48737/
Here’s another great fundraiser from Allagash Brewing. 8 Great Plates benefits Cultivating Community, a nonprofit dedicated to creating and sustaining access to healthy, local foods and bolstering local food systems. Allagash will be pairing eight of its Belgian-inspired beers with dishes from eight local restaurants. The restaurants include Mami, Piccolo and Woodford F&B, among others.
5 to 8 p.m. Friday, 49 Washington Ave., Portland.
Bob’s Clam Hut of Kittery is setting up shop at Oxbow Blending & Bottling. This marriage of savory seafood from Bob’s and funk-forward ales from Oxbow will hit the spot as you slide into your weekend. The menu includes clam tacos, lobster rolls, clam chowder and onion rings. Clam tacos paired with a pour of Crossfade sounds heavenly. On May 20, Bob’s will bring its portable seafood experience to Tributary Brewing in Kittery.