Sebago Brewing Co., one of the early players in Maine’s now-booming craft beer scene, is planning to build a new, larger brewery with a tasting room and tap house to capitalize on the growing popularity of beer tourism.
The company, which was started by three friends in 1998 as a brewpub next to the Maine Mall, plans to double its production at the new “destination brewery,” which will offer tours and tastings and serve a menu of beer-centric food at a tap house that has space for small- to medium-sized events, said Kai Adams, vice president and one of the founders.
“This year, we have seen amazing growth that we feel has come from the local love of craft beer, our ever-changing unique beer styles and recent conversion to all cans,” he said.
The location of the new brewery hasn’t been decided. Adams said the company has been searching for a site for more than a year and has considered several locations.
However, Sebago is currently exploring whether to rezone land at the intersection of routes 25 and 237 in Gorham, not far from the current location of its corporate offices and brewery on Sanford Drive. Gorham town councilors will discuss that potential location at a meeting Tuesday.
Not far from downtown Gorham, on Main Street across from Martin’s Point Health Care Center and Beal’s Ice Cream, the potential new location would be much more visible than the existing headquarters.
But visibility may not be critical. According to Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Maine Brewers’ Guild, breweries in the state are bound to become destinations, “whether they’re down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere or smack in the middle of Main Street.”
The number of craft beer drinkers is growing in Maine and nationwide and so are visits to breweries. Fans of craft brews visit an average of 1.5 breweries a year while traveling and visit even more close to their homes, according to the national Brewers Association.
The Maine Office of Tourism’s latest survey shows that 35 percent of tourists visited a local brewery or brewpub, which means it’s not as popular as eating lobster but more than visiting a farm market or eating at a high-end restaurant.
People from all over the country participate in the Maine Brewers’ Guild Beer Trail, in which beer tourists can receive prizes for visiting a certain number of breweries, Sullivan said. He expects to send out about 750 hats awarded to people from Nebraska to Texas who visited at least 10 breweries in Maine this year.
None of that’s lost on Sebago, which was one of a handful of local breweries when it opened its first pub. There are now dozens of craft breweries around the state with tasting rooms that open for limited hours and serve fresh samples of the latest brews.
“Beer tourism is booming in Maine with the help of companies like The Maine Brew Bus and Maine Beer Tours,” said Adams. “Our new location will have a tour and tasting room so that guests can get a firsthand look at the brewing process and connect with where their beer is made.”
The Gorham Town Council will take up the company’s request for a contract zone at the Main Street site on Tuesday.
“It’s a great project. It’s interesting, and I think it would be a great location for them,” said Gorham Zoning Administrator David Galbraith. “I hope they stay in town.”
Adams said Gorham is a good location for the brewery, because of proximity to its local wholesaler, Nappi Distributors.
It’s also one of the locations of its four brewpubs. The others are Portland, Scarborough and Kennebunk.
Adams said the restaurant in Gorham village will remain there, regardless of where the new brewery is built.