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County craft beers looking to tap into English market

CARIBOU, Maine — Two County breweries packed their beer onto a semi-truck Wednesday as part of a Maine Brewers’ Guild project to ship beer made in the Pine Tree State overseas.

The international project began last year when the Maine Brewers’ Guild partnered with the Iceland-based shipping company Eimskip, whose North American headquarters are based in Portland. The inaugural event involved shipping Maine craft beers in a specially designed “Maine Beer Box” — a converted cargo container retrofitted with 78 taps — to Iceland for a festival last summer in hopes of tapping into the European market. Then Iceland beer came back in the box for a festival organized by the guild in Portland later that year.

This year, beer from over 60 Maine breweries will be shipped to Leeds, England, for the Leeds International Beer festival from Sept. 5 to 9. English beers will then be shipped back for the Maine Brewers’ Guild Winter Session beer festival on Nov. 10 in Portland.

On Wednesday, Joseph Gervais, head chef and general manager at Northern Maine Brewing Company in Caribou, transports one of six slim kegs of Windrower Wheat Ale to be loaded onto a truck carrying the “Maine Beer Box.” Windrower, along with craft brews from over sixty Maine breweries, will be shipped to the United Kingdom for a beer festival in Leeds this September. (Christopher Bocuhard)

Among the dozens of Maine breweries involved in the project are First Mile Brewing Company in Fort Kent and Northern Maine Brewing Company in Caribou.

Joseph Gervais, head chef and general manager of the Northern Maine Brewing Company, said Wednesday that with First Mile participating this year, he wanted to join in representing Aroostook County.

“As far as craft breweries,” he said, “there are only two of us here. There are a ton down state but we really wanted to make sure we represent The County, plus it’s a really cool idea.”

Gervais said he believes all participating breweries are members of the guild, and praised the organization for its work in helping to put Maine brewers, growers, and exporters on the map.

“It’s a really great organization,” he said. “By getting so many brewers together for the greater good of boosting Maine’s beer economy, it’s been doing surprisingly well for Maine, especially with the beer trail map in which people are trying local beer from the bottom of the state, and now, all the way to the top.”

On Wednesday, Joseph Gervais, head chef and general manager at Northern Maine Brewing Company in Caribou, loads one of six slim kegs of Windrower Wheat Ale onto a truck carrying the “Maine Beer Box.” Windrower, along with craft brews from over sixty Maine breweries, will be shipped to the United Kingdom for a beer festival in Leeds this September. (Christopher Bouchard)

Gervais said he was sending to England a barrel and a half, or six slim kegs, worth of Northern Maine Windrower Wheat Ale, which he referred to as a “signature beer” for the Caribou brewery that utilizes local grains from the Maine Malt House in Mapleton.

He is particularly anxious to find out how well the beer fares with a European audience.

“It’s great to get your name out there, and also to see where your product ranks up against other products,” he said. “Is it well accepted? How does it rank with the flavor profiles of English beers?”

He said the best way to determine how well a beer is doing is to see if someone comes back for more or just spits it out.

“Someone might say it’s good, but did they finish the glass? If they order another, you know it’s a great product,” he said.

Northern Maine Brewing Company celebrated its two-year anniversary just last month, and Gervais believes the firm’s participation in the Maine Brewers’ Guild has helped immensely.

“For us in Aroostook County, we’re known for our potatoes,” he said, “but I’d like to see us become known for our malts and hops as well, in the next ten to fifteen years. The guild has been involved in drawing all parts of the brewing process together, not just brewers, but growers and exporters. They’re really getting us on the map.”

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