In business

North Haven Brewery, second Midcoast island brewery, opens for season

Fri, 05/04/2018 - 8:45am

NORTH HAVEN—So many home brewers in Maine are thinking of turning their hobby into a business, but North Haven siblings Ben Lovell and Liz Lovell along with Ben’s best friend Jesse Davisson, knew that they would have more than just the normal challenges if they wanted to start a brewery on the island. 

“We just had one of those winters where we were both fisherman; he is the captain now, but at that point we were just lowly sternmen,” said Lovell. “We had a bunch of time and decided to mess around with a beer kit. So, we started experimenting with batches; some turned out well; some didn’t, but it spurred our interest in trying stuff out. That same winter, Jesse and I went on a trip to Europe, and we got to try all of these different brews in Amsterdam, Edinburgh and Galway, a bunch of great, European brews. That really opened our eyes, I think to what beer could be.”

Beyond expanding their beer palates, Lovell knew if he was going to get in this game, he’d better get some practice. 

“The trope is that every home brewer wants to start a brewery,” he said. “But, I knew this wasn’t an undertaking I wanted to take lightly.”

A graduate of Bowdoin College with a major in history and a minor in teaching, he could have taken a business-related job. Instead, he took a job off island to work at Sebago Brewing Co. in Portland, working his way up from bottling beers to becoming an assistant brewer. “I knew I loved it as a hobby, but having this be a full time job was something totally different.”

As he learned the ropes at Sebago, he and his North Haven compatriots began working on their own plans. They had their business plan in place and the right space, the bottom floor of Calderwood Hall, a 1902 building, which was a former gift shop that had gone through a number of incarnations including boat shop and breakfast restaurant. They began renovations in 2015.

The paperwork was taking a long time however. And, the challenges of getting everything they needed by boat, was also an additional obstacle that mainland brewers didn’t have.

“You’ve got to work around the boat’s schedule,” he said. “The logistics of getting grain, C02 or your cleaning chemicals out and if it’s 6 p.m. at night and you have a brew day the next day and don’t have what you need, you have to improvise. But, that’s the reality of island life and we’ve all grown up with that one extra step of logistics, so it wasn’t as big of a deal as you’d think.”

During that time, they turned to the folks at Monhegan Brewing Co. to get their feedback.

“They were great,” said Lovell. “That’s one of the best things about the brewing industry. Everyone is so helpful. I knew if anyone knew what we were getting into, those guys would.Their flagship beer is Keeper, an IPA, (which is a lobster lingo for a legal-size Maine lobster) and the Highligher, a pale ale (which is the term for a proficient and respected lobsterman). Keeper is our biggest seller. People love it. Our philosophy is to create balance in flavor. We use a lot of English grains, to create brews that are a little more toasted, balanced by a combo of American and Old World hops. We also use as many local ingredients as possible. For example, we’ve paired up with 44 North Coffee from Stonington, to make a coffee stout.”

For a year, they bid their time before officially opening. They were able to begin production in the fall of 2016 and spent the next year serving their brews to the locals and people passing through out of their small tasting room, and at four restaurants located on North Haven and Vinalhaven islands. 

“Last year, we brewed about 140 barrels of beer,” he said.

The tasting room is small, containing a seven-barrel system visible from a Plexi-glas kneewall that separates the tasting room from the production area. The room can fit about 30 people and people can get their growlers filled.

North Haven Brewing beer is currently on draft at Rock City Coffee in Rockland and The Drouthy Bear in Camden with plans to be in more pubs and spots this summer. They are still small and not planning to distribute any cans or bottles yet.

The big question for mainlanders looking for a beercation is, how do I get out there and try one? Take the North Haven ferry out of Rockland. Go out on the 9:30 a.m. boat which gives you plenty of time to check out the island, sample some brews and make it back on the 3:45 p.m. boat. Or, make arrangements with one of their island inns or Airbnb and really take your time. Do be sure to check their website beforehand however for the days and times their tasting room is open.

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Kay Stephens can be reached at