When it comes to craft beer, there’s no such thing as too much. At least not yet.
As the popularity of craft breweries continues to explode in Maine and across the country, more brewers and aspiring brewers are focusing on York County.
Biddeford and Saco, known historically for their sprawling textile mills, have become especially hot spots for breweries. Each city now has one brewery, and those numbers are expected to double this spring as two new brewing ventures are launched.
Farther south, SoMe Brewing Co. opened recently in York, bringing the number of breweries in the county to seven. Another craft brewery, Tributary Brewing Co., will open soon in Kittery.
The Saco Planning Board is expected to give approval next week for the second brewery to open in the city. Business partners Chris Schofield and Matthew Mills plan to open Barreled Souls Brewing with a speakeasy-style tap room in the basement of a law office on Route 1.
And in Biddeford, Shonee Strickland recently won a business incentive contest that will support her effort to open a brewery and tap room downtown.
Both breweries could open as early as June.
“The rate of growth of craft beer in Maine is unprecedented,” said Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Maine Brewers’ Guild. “We’re entering the golden age of brewing here in Maine.”
Forty-nine breweries and brewpubs are operating statewide, up from 32 at the beginning of 2013. Sullivan said he expects about one brewery to open each month in 2014.
Such quick growth mirrors a national trend. The U.S. had just eight craft breweries in 1980 and 537 in 1994, but more than 2,500 by 2013, according to the national Brewers Association. The association says the majority of Americans now live within 10 miles of a brewery.
A total of 2,403 breweries operated nationwide for some or all of 2012, the most since the 1880s, according to the Brewers Association.
For Schofield, the brew master for Barreled Souls, the time seems right to jump into the business. After working for eight years as an engineer in Texas, he’s returning to his home state to follow his dream of brewing beer on a larger scale than the home brewing he’s been doing for more than a decade.
“Brewing has always been a passion of mine,” said Schofield, who also worked as an assistant brewer for Federal Jack’s in Kennebunk and as a consultant for a brewery in Texas. “There’s no better circumstance than to come back to Maine to open a brewery.”
Schofield and Mills, who plan to invest about $100,000 to get their brewery up and running, say they will brew beer with the Burton Union system, a method developed in the 1830s that was once a staple of British beer-making. Schofield said just one other brewery in the country is using that method of fermentation.
Schofield and Mills started their search for a location more than a year ago. They struck out in Portland and Brunswick, but found a welcoming community in Saco, Mills said.
“We’ve had nothing but support,” he said. “I think Portland has a great beer scene because of all the support, and I see the same thing happening in Biddeford-Saco.”
Justin Kurz, dining room manager of Run of the Mill in Saco, said it’s obvious that Maine has a “booming craft beer market developing,” and the Biddeford-Saco area appears to be a desirable place to set up shop.
“I feel this is kind of an artsy community that is focused on locally crafted beer, food and art. It’s affordable down here with lots of mill space,” he said. “I think all of that, combined, has led to a boom down here. There is a demand for more local breweries. There’s no reason why every town can’t have a few breweries.”
The benefit of having multiple breweries in one area is that they tend to attract people who visit each brewery and other businesses, said Delilah Poupore, executive director of the Heart of Biddeford, which promotes the revitalization of downtown Biddeford.
Despite the growing number of breweries in Maine, there is little concern about too much competition, at least so far.
Strickland, the brewer who is opening her own brewery in Biddeford, said the craft beer industry is known for its supportive and collaborative spirit.
“There’s a sense of camaraderie in the brewing community,” she said. “There’s this ‘we’re all in this together’ feeling. If Portland hasn’t reached its limit (of breweries) yet, Biddeford-Saco certainly hasn’t. The more, the merrier.”
Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: