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Brewers, local industries hope to drum up interest in craft beer

CARIBOU, Maine — The number of Maine breweries has tripled in just five years, going from 43 in 2013 to over 120 today, and farmers and brewers are taking notice.

In an effort to ensure the industry continues to thrive, Focus Maine, CEI, and the Maine Brewers’ Guild unveiled a unified plan to distribute about 50 customized tap handle risers to breweries across the state.

The custom made risers go between the tap handle and the faucet, and indicate that the grains used to make the beer originated in Maine. Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Maine Brewers Guild, said during a March 22 presentation at the Northern Maine Brewing Company in Caribou, that he hopes this eye-catching product encourages more customers to try locally made beers.

Sullivan said the idea came from Joshua and Jacob Buck, owners of Maine Malt House in Mapleton, and that he then pitched it to CEI and Focus Maine, who fully supported the concept. Ideally, he hopes it will create “bottom up interest” from consumers in addition to the “top down” interest from breweries.

“Imagine you visit a new city,” he said, setting the stage for an audience consisting of local entrepreneurs and farmers. “You’re traveling and want to try a local beer, but you sit down and there are 20 taps in front of you, and you don’t recognize any beers. You don’t know if it’s an IPA or a stout, and you can’t find the menu because it’s busy.”

“How are you going to make the buying decision?” Sullivan asked guests.

This, for Sullivan and the Bucks, is where the tap handle risers come into the picture.

“We create bottom up interest from consumers to drink beer made with local grains,” Sullivan said. “People often ask, about wine, what style it is and where it is from. Beer doesn’t want to be that snooty, but in the long run we think, and hope, people will be saying, ‘What kind of beer is this, and where is it from?’”

Sullivan said that while the number of breweries has tripled since 2013, there’s still plenty of room for growers and brewers.

“Craft beer still only makes up about 20 percent of the beer consumed in America,” he said. “That’s grown from about 10 percent five years ago, and there’s still plenty of room to grow.”

To tackle the increasingly crowded Maine market, Sullivan said the tap handle risers will allow individual brewers to differentiate themselves.

“We want to create a community within Maine where craft beer isn’t just good for the folks that brew and sell beer,” he said, “but for all parts of the state.”

With craft beer being a premium product, Sullivan said brewers have the advantage of flexibility within the market, and can alter their prices to offset the cost of raw materials.

“Beer consumers are an interesting type,” he said. “People aren’t trying canola oils and making tasting notes on their cell phones, but people do that with beer.”

Sullivan, the Bucks, and representatives of CEI, Focus Maine, and the Northern Maine Brewing Company all hope that these consumers will make note of the risers and have additional incentive to try local brews.

“Now imagine you walk into a bar and see the tap handle riser,” that reads, “Brewed with Maine Grown Grains, Sullivan said. “With any luck, this will pique the interest of the consumer to try that beer, which will then embolden brewers to purchase more grains, which will in turn help farmers be emboldened to plant more acres and grow the size of their facilities and malt houses and really create a vibrant economy here in Maine.”

He said the distribution of 50 risers would not be possible without help and interest from CEI and Focus Maine, and that he is excited to see how much interest is generated.

“By measuring how this is working with bars and restaurants, we can determine if this helps sell beer faster and if this is truly a valuable marketing proposition,” he said. “We believe it is, but we will come back and look at the data.”

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