Maine craft brewers discuss resources network

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PORTLAND — From small, independent neighborhood breweries to household names like Shipyard, craft brewing has become a major industry in southern Maine.

But starting a beer-related business – whether it’s a brewery, a farm for ingredients like hops, or a distributor of goods – can be difficult. Knowing where to get ingredients and materials, as well as the tools to do the job, is essential. And in a market like Maine, there’s a push for more local ingredients in food – and craft beer is no exception.

That’s why the Maine Brewers’ Guild, an organization that promotes craft beer in the state, decided to put all the players in one room Monday as a way to map those resources.

Sean Sullivan, executive director of the MGB, estimated about 30 people came to a first-of-its kind roundtable discussion on increasing opportunities to use local ingredients and services in craft beer production. The discussion was hosted at Shipyard Brewing Co. on Newbury Street.

“There have been a lot of conversations happening around the state … about maximizing the economic impact of craft beer on the state economy,” Sullivan said before the event began.

He said the purpose of the event was to provide people who want to start a beer-based business with a map of resources about who to contact for various needs. It brought brewers, farmers and others together, with the goal of creating information packets containing all the resources.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, who spoke at the event, called craft brewing “an enormous growth industry” in the state, adding she has seen the number of breweries in Maine increase dramatically since she took office in 2009.

“(People) have no idea how many jobs you’re creating,” she said.

She told those in attendance that “helping you in any way we possibly can” is her goal.

Representatives from breweries – including Shipyard, Rising Tide, Baxter and Allagash – hop and malt growers, industry experts and others participated in the roundtable. John Benoit, chief financial officer for Shipyard, said networking events are important to solidify relationships.

“It’s a great opportunity to really enhance relationships between farmers and brewers,” Benoit said.

Sullivan said Maine used to be one of the largest hop-growing states in the country. He said there are opportunities to increase and expand the economic impact on the state through farming, raw materials and equipment, among others. He also said the craft brewing industry has helped create jobs and bring younger people into the state.

Sullivan said the U.S. beer market is more than $100 billion, with $22 billion in craft beer. He compared the situation to David versus Goliath, but said David is “chipping away” at Goliath’s armor.  In Maine, he said craft beer is a nearly $500 million industry.

“We aim to promote and protect the industry,” he said.

Peter Busque, a partner at Hop Yard farm in Gorham, said Monday’s event was helpful because it put everyone in a room together. He said it was a good way for members of the industry to make connections with each other.

“To get something formal is a pretty big thing,” Busque said.

John Entwistle, a mentor with Service Corp of Retired Executives, said he came to the roundtable because his organization provides counseling to people looking to start a business. He said like any small business, craft brewing has hurdles, such as financing and developing a business plan.

“Before they ever get to a bank or investor, it’s a good idea they visit with us,” Entwistle said.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, third from right, and people involved in craft brewing – from farmers to brewers – participated in discussions about the industry June 11 at Shipyard Brewing Co. in Portland.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.