BELFAST—Recall the 1980s in Maine when you wanted a cold beer. There wasn’t much variety—or taste. There were approximately 100 companies in the U.S. making beer with 20 massive facilities producing nearly 95 percent of the beer. Only two Maine craft breweries existed around that time with D.L. Geary Brewing Co. the first to open in 1986, since the end of Maine’s Prohibition laws.
According to the Maine Brewer’s Guild, as of October 31, 2016, Maine has 89 active, licensed breweries, with more set to open in 2018.
On Nov. 14, Maine Farmland Trust’s annual meeting brought together people to eat, drink and be merry, of course, but also to focus on an interesting trend: h\How the growing Maine grain economy and Maine brewers (and other businesses) are working together to reinforce and reinvigorate each other.
Within the last five years, a number of Maine breweries began seeing the potential for sourcing their fermentables—barley wheat and oats—locally, rather than import from gristmills and farms out of state. Allagash Brewing Co., which began in 1995, and was founded by Rob Tod in Portland, crafts a beer made with grains grown and processed exclusively in Maine, which we wrote about initially in a 2016 summer edition of The Wave, A Maine beer so good, it had be made from 16 Counties.
On the night of the Maine Farmland Trust’s annual meeting, that beer, “Sixteen Counties,” stood out among the many edibles and offerings, not only for its herbal, crisp taste, but also because it embodied everything the gathering centered around – forging symbiotic relationships between brewers and farmers and millers to create an excellent product while elevating the economy.
On hand to speak that evening was Allagash’s founder Rob Tod, Amber Lambke, Maine Grains and Sara Williams, Aurora Mills & Farm, as each had a hand in creating Sixteen Counties.
"The special thing about the brewing," said Tod, "is that it's becoming less industrialized. Instead of leaving communities like many other industries, breweries are coming back. And by returning to communities these breweries give people the chance to see, touch, and smell the process, and know who's making their beer. Seeing the passion and value the brewers are bringing to their work makes people more willing to pay a higher price for the product. If people weren't willing to pay a slightly higher price, these breweries, and the communities they're creating, wouldn't be sustainable. That extra support for local beer also helps support other local industries, like Maine agriculture."
Beyond the beer industry, the emerging grain industry has fostered many more interconnections. As Lambke said to the audience, “We’ve milling grains for about 12 years now and the demand for high quality grains keeps growing. The process actually benefits even more people than you realize. Beyond the farmers and millers, we’re employing bakers, oven builders, and that network keeps growing and growing.”
So at your next gathering place, break some Maine bread with your neighbors, hoist a Maine beer and toast to the ingenuity of the hardworking people of this state.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org