FREEPORT — Maine Beer Co., owned and operated by brothers Dave and Daniel Kleban, quietly opened April 12 and is now serving a full lineup of beers at its new brewery tap room.
Colleen Croteau, marketing and logistics director, said the company, formerly based in an industrial park off Riverside Street in Portland, didn’t advertise the opening. But it has had a steady stream of beer drinkers lining up for Peeper, Zoe, MO and other Maine Beer favorites since the doors opened.
“There’s no grand opening at this point, we’re pretty much just open,” Croteau said at the brewery, which was built where the old Dutch Village Motel previously stood on Route 1, near Exit 20 of Interstate 295. “We honestly weren’t sure if anybody would show up when we put the open flag up. So far, we’ve had a good response.”
Besides the company’s retail beers, the tasting room, which overlooks the brewery, will offer two rotating pilot beers, currently an American pale ale and a saison, that can only be found at the brewery.
“It’s a treat for people who come up to visit us,” Croteau said. “We’re curious to see what the tasting room does for the brewery.”
Maine Beer Co.’s mostly hoppy, American-style beers are served in 5- and 10-ounce glasses, for $2.50 and $5, respectively. Beer drinkers who want to try a range of beers can buy a flight of four, 5-ounce pours for $10.
Corteau said the tasting room is more of a community room, not a bar, with board games and a kid-friendly area. The company also hopes to host small community events and possibly become the finish line for road races, she said.
The brewery will not host formal tours, but may plan specific event tours in the future, Croteau said.
Another change from the Portland location will be the addition of retail clothing and gear sales. Patrons can also buy beer to go, although only in their odd-sized, European bottles.
Croteau said half-gallon growlers, which are filled to-go and popular with many standalone breweries, are not part of the plan right now for the tap room. Although that might change, she said, much of their decision to not fill growlers, in addition to needing equipment and training, is the potential negative impact on taste.
“Freshness is a huge factor for us and making sure it’s not exposed to light and heat,” she said, noting that with their hoppy beers, the aroma and taste can quickly dissipate.
The main reason for the tasting room is to be accessible, Dave Kleban said.
“We got beat up by out fans for that,” he said. “We basically weren’t accessible to public.”
The new brewing space is a stark change from the former location off Forest Avenue in Portland, which could probably fit inside the new brewery a few times over.
Brewing equipment lines most of the south wall, leaving room for additional fermenters. The large, open middle section of the brewery provides generous room for operations and is partially lit by sunlight pouring in through the clerestory windows.
The brewery can now churn out about 5,000 barrels of beer per year, up from 3,000 in Portland, said Daniel Kleban, who manages brewing operations.
“It’s a custom-built brewery,” he said. “It’s definitely a lot more pleasant.”
Outside of the brewery, they also have a storage room for conditioning beers. Kleban said they will also be experimenting with a small-scale barrel-aging program, but it’s still in the early stages.
The home-brewing brothers, who moved from Michigan about 10 years ago, started the brewery without a stylistic bent in mind, Dave Kleban said. And with the latest expansion, that’s not changing.
“We make beers we like to drink,” Kleban said. “That’s rule No. 1.”
They also want to keep customers, and their brewers, interested, he said, adding that the pilot series, which will alternate every couple months, is designed to do that.
The large barn-like brewery could allow them to grow into a much bigger brewery, Kleban said, but that’s not the goal.
“It looks like this big, impressive building,” he said. “You could do 10 times as much beer here, but that’s not our intention. It’s growth, but it’s not going from a tiny brewery to 50,000 barrels.”
Maine Beer Co. now distributes in 11 markets in nine states and has about 10 employees.
And while the Kleban brothers are both passionate about beer, together they also make solid business partners: Dave is a financial analyst, and Daniel is an attorney.
“It’s been a great advantage,” Dave Kleban said. “Daniel took on the science of the beer and I took on the science of the business.”
And to continue brewing in the ever-growing craft beer market, their skills will be put to the test.
The number of breweries in Maine, and the country, continues to climb, with nearly one brewery opening every day, according to the Brewer’s Association, a national craft beer industry group.
When Maine Beer Co. opened in 2009, the total number of breweries was about 1,600. Now, there are about 2,500, including one rumored for their former location.
“When we opened in 2009, the economy kind of sucked, but not for craft beer,” Daniel Kleban said.
Still, the brewing community in Maine is more “collegial” than competitive, he said, noting that despite their rapid growth, craft breweries only make up about 6.5 percent of the entire domestic market, with the few conglomerate “big beer” corporations taking in the lion’s share.
“It’s more of a collective feeling. We’re not fighting for the same market share,” Kleban said of Maine’s craft beer industry. “I’m not sure if it’ll always be that way, but it’s a pretty tight community around here. … There’s still a lot of room to grow.”
Dave Kleban said that the rampant growth in breweries is good, but it also has its pitfalls. He said while it means more beer, it might not always mean quality beer.
“A lot of people get into it for the wrong reasons,” he said. “As kids, we’re told not to touch things that are hot, but as adults we ignore that. We’re strange beings.”
Kleban said for Maine Beer to be where it is in four years took hard work and dedication, skimping on luxuries.
“It’s not the magic in the label or a fancy cap,” he said. “It’s about what’s in the bottle.”
Maine Beer Co. co-owners Dave and Daniel Kleban at their new Freeport brewery on Thursday, April 18.
Jeremy Buck pours a 5-ounce Lunch – a West Coast-style India pale ale – on Friday, April 18, at Maine Beer Co.’s new tasting room and brewery on Route 1 in Freeport. The tasting room offers the all of the brewery’s regular beers, plus two rotating specialty beers.