Maine Craft Brewers Talk Dry Hopping, Quality Control & Sustaining Industry Growth

On February 28, the Maine Brewers’ Guild gathered more than 600 attendees for the fifth annual New England Craft Brew Summit. The topic on everyone’s mind: how to sustain the industry’s rapid growth.

Five years ago, craft beer in Maine was primarily seen as a cottage industry. Since then, it has become one of the state’s biggest economic contributors, growing from 82 to 153 licensed breweries and employing nearly 2,000 people. Rob Tod, founder of Allagash Brewing Company, has weathered industry ups and downs before and shared his insight with the standing-room-only crowd.

“None of us are immune to market forces,” said Tod. “Don’t get over your skis. Focus on safety and quality. Be thoughtful about where you grow and how you grow, and get involved in your community and the larger craft beer industry.”

Many of the brewers are taking Tod’s advice to heart, including Pam Powers, owner of Bigelow Brewing Company in Skowhegan.

“Over the past few years, we’ve grown our brewery organically within a horse barn on our family property,” said Powers. “As we look to build a business to last for years to come, we’ve decided to reinvest in our community by purchasing a blighted old mill to breathe new life into our downtown. We’ll be able to make more beer, but most importantly, we’ll be able to give back to the people and place that have helped us build our business.”

Like Powers, other brewery owners are continuing to invest in their businesses as the industry expands. In addition to experimenting with new flavor varieties and hopping techniques, brewers are taking a hard look at training, safety, financial and legal risks that come with growth.

“As breweries expand, it is a great time to step back and look at the various risks involved,” said James Sanborn, account executive at GHM Insurance who manages their craft beverage program. “A brewery’s risk management program should include several layers of staff training, frequent reviews of policies and procedures, disaster planning and a comprehensive insurance program that is frequently updated to keep pace with a changing business.”

The 2020 New England Craft Brew Summit set a record, with 600 attendees from across the east coast. During the full-day conference, brewers were able to draw on the collective wisdom of their peers and discuss pertinent issues with those who have been in their position. In a nod to the industry’s impact, Governor Janet Mills and Senator Angus King joined the event to offer remarks and support for the brewers.

“Craft brewers don’t just make a good drink – though as beer-lovers across the country will tell you, Maine beers are among the best in the world,” said Senator King. “These brewers also create thousands of jobs across Maine and spur sustainable economic development, particularly in our rural communities. It’s about more than just the brewers, too – from tourism to agriculture to manufacturing, the industry has a serious multiplier effect that boosts all sorts of businesses. So, cheers to the success of Maine’s craft brewers – looking forward to your next round of success!”

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