BRUNSWICK — On the Friday after Valentine’s Day, Nate Wildes and Jared Entwistle, co-owners of Flight Deck Brewing, decided to have a “soft opening.” They assumed a few dozen people would come to it.
More than 500 showed up.
In the next six days, they served over 5,000 people, and continue to work full-tilt to keep up with the demand. A small bed stuffed in the corner of their office is evidence enough of the 100-plus-hour weeks both have been pulling.
“Oh, to be wanted,” Wildes said with a laugh.
The demand for beer from the new brewery located at Brunswick Landing has far outstripped expectations, to the point the pair’s plans for distributing some of their beer locally have been put on the back burner.
“We have not distributed one keg of beer, and not distributed one bottle of beer, because we have not been able to brew enough for just the tasting room,” Wildes said.
Originally, the soft opening was intended to test whether the building was ready for the public. Built in the former small arms range that served Brunswick Naval Air Station, the rectangular bullet-proof box of concrete brought its own set of challenges and benefits.
Challenges such as cutting windows into the foot-thick walls. Benefits like being able to put those windows basically wherever they wanted.
The result is a well-lit, open space with towering ceilings. Walls that were once thick concrete slabs have been opened up with floor-to-ceiling windows and a set of massive doors that can be opened when the weather is warmer. The industrial-sized beer cooler is made out of the garage doors that were once on the former base’s fire station.
Bare concrete walls – which still carry bullet holes from its former purpose – coupled with stainless steel brewing tanks and wooden tables give the place a distinctly modern industrial feel.
“People have complimented us on our ‘industrial chic’ decor,” Wildes said. “In reality, it looks like it does largely because of the building.”
Other bits of decor reference the days when Brunswick Landing was still the naval air station. Hats, photos of military life, and other paraphernalia dot the walls. All of the pieces of history were unsolicited donations from former Navy personnel.
While Wildes tends to handle the marketing of the business, Entwistle is the man behind the beer. At the grand opening on March 16, Flight Deck offered five different beers of distinct styles: Hibiscus Tea, a light beer; P-3 Pale Ale; 44th Parallel IPA; Pilots Porridge Oatmeal Stout; and Rye Wing Porter.
“My philosophy has kind of been, we wanted to start out with a wide variety of old-style beers that people really know and like,” Entwistle said. “It’s the motto of easy drinkable beers that someone, no matter who it is, is going to like it.”
Entwistle started brewing 10 years ago in college on a much smaller scale, basically as a way to get cheaper beer. “I fell in love with the process of it all, and it really became a passion of mine. I did it throughout college, and I’ve always wanted to own a bar brewery area,” he said.
Despite the smashing success of the opening weeks, Wildes said their vision for a brewery in Brunswick hasn’t been without criticism. Questions like whether Maine – which has over 90 breweries – can really support another one have been thrown their way.
Wildes said they have no fear that they’ll be a success, as brewing has entered a different era from the former “build big, brew big” models.
“It’s just like the coffee shop model of 30 years ago,” he said. Criticism of coffee shops then was similar, with many people wondering whether an area really needed more than one coffee shop.
The massive early customer numbers, and the huge attendance of the grand opening, certainly assuage any ideas that another brewery isn’t needed in Maine. Hundreds of people packed into the tasting room to toast Flight Deck at their ribbon cutting, including U.S. Sen. Angus King.
“Who would have ever thought there would be an economic development boom for beer in Maine?” King said to the crowd. He praised the growing industry that is becoming self-sufficient, with Maine farmers growing ingredients used by many breweries.
King said a bar he recently visited in Washington was carrying six Maine beers out of the eight they had on tap.
Flight Deck Brewing is located at 11 Atlantic Ave., Brunswick Landing. Hours are noon to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit flightdeckbrewing.com.