As whimsical as it might sound, Maine’s first flirtation with beer brewing dates all the way back to when the Pilgrim’s landed in what was known as the Massachusetts Bay Colony. We learned in grade school that the Pilgrims intended to land in Virginia, but they stopped in Plymouth because they were out of several necessary staples – including beer. There isn’t much information about early brewing in the state, but homebrewed beers were very popular among the colonists in the 17th and 18th centuries.
In 1815, Mainers created the first Total Abstinence Society in the country. As it turned out, lumberjacks and dock workers in what is now Portland and Bangor were wreaking drunken havoc on the locals. They consumed mostly rum, which was easier to procure, but this led to the first prohibition laws passed in the nation.
The Early 20th Century
It probably comes as a surprise to many that Maine remained legally dry until 1934. Some towns still prohibit the sale of alcohol. However, the state residents’ reliance on rum created an interesting reason to drink beer; it was advertised as wholesome when compared to the more abundant rum, especially because the Pilgrims drank it.
Craft Brewing and the 1980’s
In the mid-1980’s, the United States had only 13 craft breweries around the country. One of those craft breweries was in Maine: D.L. Geary Brewing Company. They started a cultural shift that would change Maine beer forever.
David Geary (of D.L. Geary Brewing Company) met Peter Maxwell Stuart while on a trip to Scotland. They struck up a friendship, which eventually led Stuart to invite Geary to his castle. Incidentially, this castle housed its own brewery. For a period of time, Geary lived in Stuart’s castle, traveling through Scotland and learning everything he could about brewing beer. He returned to Maine armed with the knowledge to start his own craft brewery right here in the Pine Tree State.
David and his wife, Karen, started their brewery in 1983, selling its first pints of a pale ale in 1986. This small-batch brewing method took hold in the minds of brewers across the state. Maine has a robust and unique range of flora, and those ingredients (blueberries, certain herbs, and some woods) began to seep into beer flavor profiles. Our state was at the forefront of the craft beer revolution, where we continue to stay.
Maine’s Present-Day Brews
Unsurprisingly, small-batch, handcrafted, high-quality beer stuck around. Today, there are nearly 50 craft brewing companies in Maine, and there hasn’t been any let-up in the micro- and nanobrewing space. That said, all Maine craft breweries have something in common: they’re all very serious about making a fantastic product. If you’re interested in trying some of the most loved beers in the state today, check out Maine Beer Company, Foundation Brewing, and Two Gramps Brewing.