Craft Beer as Industry: New England Craft Brew Summit 2020
This past weekend, Matt and Ezra represented First Mile Brewing Co. at the 2020 New England Craft Brew Summit. The event, with a record 625 people in attendance, featured a keynote speech from Allagash Brewing's founder and master brewer, Rob Tod, and guest appearances by both Gov. Janet Mills and Sen. Angus King. Their messages were unique, but united by one common theme: craft beer in Maine is an industry, and it is as important an industry as any other in this state.
Janet Mills began her speech with an anecdote about Neal Dow, the "father of Prohibition," and his famous ban of alcoholic beverages in the state of Maine in the mid-19th century--a ban that would persist until the 21st Amendment ended prohibition nation-wide--and how the citizens of Portland rioted upon learning of Mr. Dow's private stash of booze inside City hall shortly thereafter. Such "spirit" is still clearly alive and well among Mainers, as the state can now boast the largest number of breweries per capita of any other state in the U.S.
Rob Tod's speech, given prior to Mills' address, also touted Maine's rich craft beer industry, citing that Maine has more breweries than existed in the entire United States circa the mid-1970s. His message, however, also featured a cautionary message. Craft beer experienced a market boom in the late 2000s, and this boom has only recently begun to level off. This leveling-off phenomenon, though, indicates that the craft beer industry will not experience a permanent growth trend. Allagash Brewing plans to celebrate its 25th year in business this July, but of Maine's 130+ breweries, more than 55% of them are between three and five years old. The message? Burgeoning breweries would be wise to grow in a sustainable fashion and take advantage of such practices as re-purposing used equipment, sourcing ingredients locally, and managing market outreach without sacrificing quality.
Angus King rounded out the discussion with an economic statistic: Maine's craft beer industry, altogether, employs more than two thousand people in the state (Bath Iron Works, Maine's largest industrial employer, maintains six thousand people, by comparison!) This extends beyond the brew house as well, as taprooms employ bartenders, hop-growing operations employ farmers, malt houses employ maltsters, and distributors connect these markets together. King described the state of Maine as a "big small town," and advocated for continued collaboration within the industry.
From Kittery, at the southern point of the state, to all the way up here in Fort Kent, and from Lubec to the east and Rangeley to the West, the fingers of our craft spread widely across Maine, and we all play a role--producer and consumer, alike--in the continued growth and success of the craft brewing industry in Maine.
As of this past weekend, southern Maine customers can now find First Mile Brewing at two locations far from home: Craft Brew Underground in Lewiston-Auburn, and the Great Lost Bear in Portland!!