Baxter Brewing Company, Maine’s newest microbrewery and the only New England brewer to ship all its beer only in metal packaging (cans and kegs), is doublinge its production capacity after only 90 days of operations.
“Demand has been absolutely phenomenal from all corners of Maine, from restaurants, bars, beverage stores, convenience stores, grocery chains, from everyone!” said company founder and president, Luke Livingston. “We are extremely gratified.”
The brewery began shipping its first two varieties of beer, Pamola Xtra Pale Ale and Stowaway IPA, in January. The handcrafted beers ferment for a week and then are cold conditioned for two more weeks, a three-week process that is longer than typical for other Maine breweries, but which produces smoother, more robust beers.
The 30-barrel brewhouse system, with two 60-barrel fermenters and two 120-barrel conditioning tanks, and the three-week cycle enables the brewery to yield just over 300 barrels (9,300 gallons or 4,200 cases) monthly. “But demand has already exceeded our capacity,” Livingston said. “And we’re just now coming into peak beer season in Maine.”
The addition of two more fermenting tanks and one new conditioning tank, expected to arrive in early June, will double the volume the brewery can ship each month, as well as allow the company to introduce new varieties to their lineup. Furthermore, the new tanks will result in the creation of 2.5 new full-time-equivalent jobs, bringing the total workforce to nine.
“There’s no question this is a major capital expansion and one we didn’t expect to undertake nearly this quickly,” Livingston said. “The fact that we’re growing so fast is something that no one could have anticipated, but it shows that we are really filling a high-demand niche. I know there were beer fans who were skeptical that we could package great beer in cans, but we seem to have satisfied their concerns—and then some!”
Although new to northern New England, canning of craft beer has been an emerging trend on the West Coast and in Colorado for several years, corresponding to the introduction of micro canning equipment from Cask Brewing Systems, of Calgary, Alberta in Canada. The new tanks are being acquired from Newlands Systems Inc., suppliers of the original Baxter brewhouse. Although also a Canadian company, the new fermenters are some of the first be manufactured at Newlands’ brand-new American facility, located in Detroit, Mich.
“What is most encouraging is that one of our distributors (Pine State Trading Company of Gardiner, Maine, the biggest beer wholesaler in Maine) reported that 100% of those who ordered shipments from the first batch of beer in January re-ordered in February, and 80% of them increased the size of their orders,” Livingston said.
“We sold more than 200 cases in the first month,” said Elaine Roop of Rooper’s stores in Lewiston and Auburn. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Tully’s Beer and Wine in Wells sold out in a single afternoon. Pelletier Loggers Family Restaurant Bar and Grill in Millinocket sold through three full kegs of Baxter’s beers in a single evening, while Empire Dine & Dance in Portland went through two. Beer stores, including Florian’s in Auburn, Bootlegger’s in Topsham and RSVP and Downeast Beverage in Portland, have been reporting brisk activity, as well.
“We have some great, unique beers,” Livingston said. “People seem split down the middle in terms of preference for Pomola Xtra Pale Ale, a lighter, session beer perfect for Maine’s outdoor lifestyles, especially since it’s packaged in cans, the ultimate portable container; and Stowaway IPA, a more balanced and flavorful west-coast style IPA, unlike anything else currently brewed in Maine.
“And we’ve shown that cans really are superior packaging: less environmental impact to produce and ship, completely portable and actually better for preserving fresh beer taste,” he said. “We knew the market would be ready for us, but we’ve been surprised and thrilled by how enthusiastic everyone has been. This is a great community in which to do business, and we’re excited to be helping grow the economy.
“Of course, this also means that we have to re-open the walls of Bates Mill sooner than we had planned, in order to move in the new tanks,” Livingston said. “If we knew we would grow so quickly, we might have installed a garage door instead!”