MAINE, USA — After a challenging year, Maine's breweries are preparing for a, hopefully, busy summer.
“It was very scary, last spring and fall," Flight Deck Brewing Managing Partner Nate Wildes said Tuesday. “The COVID era has strengthened a lot of elements of the brewery business model.”
Some of those elements are as basic as seating layout, Wildes added. Breweries typically have spaced out, outdoor seats, barstools, and tables which is a natural fit during this time of mask-wearing and socially distancing.
“We’re seizing on that spirit as not just a way of getting through but frankly as a way of thriving into the future," he added.
The Brunswick-based location is one of 156 breweries in Maine. Now, Maine leads the nation in most breweries per capita, just edging out Vermont. There is one brewery per 8,654 people in Maine and one brewery per 8,657 people in Vermont based on the total number of breweries in each state and the estimated population from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Sean Sullivan is the Executive Director of the Maine Brewers' Guild and said the growth of the industry hasn't stopped since he started his job in 2013, or during this pandemic.
“We had ten breweries open up in Maine last year and we did have a few closures but none that attributed it directly to COVID," he added.
Despite the pandemic's harsh impact on restaurants, bars, and breweries, Sullivan said he expects a busy summer around the state, especially when tourists arrive by the thousands.
“They want to experience an authentic Maine, they want to meet the people behind the products, see where they’re made," Sullivan said.
Maine Tourism Association CEO Tony Cameron added the breweries began seriously attracting tourists three or four years ago.
“There’s a lot of movement within this segment of the industry," he said.
“It almost feels that each town, each community has their own brewery, and some have several.”
Mainers have known about the state's food and drink scene for decades, but Cameron said the national and international attention has increased dramatically in recent years.
Breweries and restaurants, he said, bring their own unique qualities and represent a lot of the "local flare" which is what people come here for.
“That’s what Maine is about, it’s about those authentic Maine experiences," Cameron said.
“Every brewery is unique and distinct, every brewery is putting out a high-quality product, and every brewery is offering a unique experience," Wildes added.
Now that Maine has the most breweries per capita of any other state in the nation, Wildes said now is the time for opportunity.
As the industry grows, Wildes said his brewery will invest in more outdoor seating, fire pits, space for a live band, and more.
“We’re all competing for the same thing which is elevating the experience of being in Maine," he added.
Cheers to that.