The area’s beer industry is spearheaded by four breweries: Black Bear Microbrew (Orono), Sea Dog Brewing Co. (Bangor), Geaghan Brothers Brewing Co. (Bangor) and Penobscot Bay Brewing (Winterport). Even the state-renowned Friars’ Bakehouse has gotten into the game with its Bucksport location Friars’ Brewhouse, which just made its beer available to the public last year. And, in addition to those making beer, consumers in the area have become increasingly sophisticated with the help of establishments such as Nocturnem Draft Haus and Blaze restaurant and bar offering a nice selection of local and domestic craft beers, as well as somewhat obscure international options.
“The Bangor scene is really being driven by local businesses,” said Andrew Geaghan, owner and brewer of Geaghan Brothers Brewing Co, at Bangor’s annual Tap Into Summer brew fest on June 21.
“I was very scared, to be honest, when [Hollywood Casino Hotel and Raceway] came into town. We knew it was going to be an influx of people, we knew it was going to be an influx of money, but I was afraid it was going to turn Bangor into a sort of cookie-cutter, chain restaurant sort of affair. And the local business community has really stepped up to the plate and owned it, and embraced the casino in a positive way, and turned what could have been this white-washing sort of effect into a real coloring of our community.”
In turn, Bangor has blossomed into a place where young entrepreneurs can thrive, including the local brewers who can contribute to the burgeoning Maine beer scene. But what is it that draws so many Bangorians and other Mainers into the business?
“I think some of it is Maine independence, you know, everyone likes to do it their way,” said Mike Anderson, owner and brewer of Penobscot Bay Brewery, at the Tap Into Summer fest. And, for Anderson, there’s also the appeal that Winterport’s water chemistry is uncannily similar to that of Munich, Germany. It’s great for wine, but for Anderson, it’s even better for beer.
“Basically I tend to hold my beer to the German purity law,” he said.
“Water, grain, barley primarily, a little bit of wheat – I like wheat because it makes nice texture – yeast and hops. Anything else, it doesn’t qualify as beer in Germany. I do have one beer that doesn’t fit that, I make a honey ginger lager. Because it has Winterport honey in it, local Maine honey in it, and it has Maine-grown ginger in it.”
Geaghan, on the other hand, prides himself on bringing American-style ales to Bangor.
“We felt like when we came into the game three years ago, the American beer scene was dominated by English-style beers. Which is fine. There’s nothing wrong with it. They’re big, malty beers,” said Geaghan.
“This hop-forward, clean malt profile, American-stye beer is just growing in this country, and that’s what we wanted to bring into the Maine market. It’s kind of us, guys like Sebago; Baxter came into the game with that style, Rising Tide has that style. And we try to be Bangor’s beer, really.”
But ultimately, despite different tastes and approaches, Bangor’s brewers display a sense of unity and cooperation that Anderson described as “unbelievable.” Each beer maker is ready to lend a hand to their fellow brewers at a moment’s notice.
“Bangor’s really growing. It’s a fun place to be. It’s vibrant, it’s alive,” said Geaghan.
“There are a lot of festivities, a lot of festivals, a lot of concerts, just a lot of fun local stuff going on. And the beer community is a big part of that.”
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