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PORTLAND — It was near a poet’s birthplace, and then a source of the region’s metallic might. But the expansive brick complex at 86 Newbury St. is now the state’s biggest source of beer.
“If I said I knew we would be here like this, I’d be lying to you,” Shipyard Brewing Co. owner Fred Forsley said Monday at the brewery that has expanded to 100,000 square feet and annual sales of 166,000 barrels of beer (which becomes almost 2.3 million cases if all is bottled).
This weekend, Shipyard will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a day-long party at the Maine State Pier on Saturday, and half-marathon and 5K runs Sunday.
The festival is for all ages, with a beer garden for adults 21 and over, local food trucks, and a health-and-fitness exposition tent. It opens at 11 a.m., with music beginning at noon. Amy Allen will open the free concert, which wraps up with an 8:30 p.m. performance by Rustic Overtones.
Beer sales will benefit Candace Cares, a foundation named in memory of Forsley’s sister, Candace Forsley, who died of breast cancer about a decade ago. The foundation raises money to help organizations that support cancer victims.
The taps began flowing more than 20 years ago in Kennebunkport for Forsley, his cousin, Bruce Forsley, and English-trained brewer Alan Pugsley, when they began brewing at Federal Jack’s restaurant.
The trio was riding the initial crest of the craft brew revolution, and Forsley said it was soon apparent the wave was too big for Kennebunkport alone.
“I was trying to figure out how we could expand,” Forsley said. “We were bottling by hand in Kennebunkport.”
Forsley was aware the former Laughlin steel plant, built near where poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born, was for sale. It had an affordable price and plenty of room near the city’s waterfront.
The first batch of Shipyard beer was brewed there on April 24, 1994. The company occupied 5,000 square feet with 10 employees. Twenty years later, there are 110 employees working in 100,000 square feet and a gift shop offering apparel, glasses, pancake mixes, and, of course, beer. As measured by the nonprofit Brewers Association, Shipyard is 14th nationally in craft beer sales.
Craft breweries have come and gone in that time, while Shipyard keeps flowing. The company bought rival Sea Dog Brewing, which Pugsley helped establish, out of bankruptcy about a decade ago. The brewery also offers Capt’n Eli’s sodas.
Original staples such as Old Thumper and Export Ale are still brewed, but the beer market requires variety, Forsley said.
“The toughest part is the seasonality, managing that is very tricky,” he said.
That means a fall favorite, Pumpkinhead Ale, is now being bottled, passing through production above the cardboard 12-pack boxes.
Pumpkinhead opened doors and taps throughout the country for Shipyard, Forsley said.
“It’s tricky because you have to get your distributors’ support and keep it,” he said.
With locations on Peaks Island, in Bangor, and in Florida, Shipyard can test brews in large and small batches, even though a company consensus on taste can be hard to come by, Forsley said.
“We always have different opinions,” he said. “It can be people’s personal preference.”
The company is also a starting ground for brewers and lab technicians to learn the craft.
Brewers Nick Aschauer and Doug Connell have worked for the company for about 2 1/2 years, learning the basics and getting some leeway in development.
“There is a repetition aspect, but we have so many new things you don’t get bored,” Aschauer said.
Kellie McMahon brought an environmental science degree to the company lab and discovered that analytical sampling and testing for flavor development and quality control require varied skills.
“You really need a broad base in biology and chemistry,” she said.
Forsley said the broad base of consumer tastes requires the willingness to experiment and develop.
“It is a nice surprise, but I never would have expected the expansive variety people will try,” Forsley said.
“If I said I knew we would be here like this, I’d be lying to you,” Shipyard Brewing owner Fred Forsley said Monday about the company’s 20th anniversary in Portland. The brewery will celebrate this weekend with a Saturday festival on the Maine State Pier and Sunday half marathon and 5K run.
Shipyard brewers Nick Aschauer and Doug Connell show the hops and grains they use on a daily basis.
Bottles of fall favorite Pumpkinhead Ale moved through the Shipyard Brewing Co. production line in Portland.