October will be a busy month for craft beverage fans in central Maine.

This month alone, two microbrew pubs and a distillery tasting room will open, and a second distillery tasting room hosted its first event.

In the slice of Maine stretching from Monhegan Island in Lincoln County north through Somerset County, more than two dozen businesses that ferment, brew or distill have taken root in the past two decades, and the list will grow.

“Five years ago, when I went in front of the Legislature and said if you care about Maine’s economy, you should care about the craft beverage industry, they laughed,” said Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Maine Brewers’ Guild.

But in 2016, the statewide economic impact of beer brewers was nearly $228 million. Brewers sold more than $150 million worth of beer that same year, employed more than 1,600 people and indirectly supported employment of 545 more people.

“Now that people have seen breweries can succeed outside of major metro areas, it’s inspired others to open a craft beverage business,” Sullivan said.

Bruce Olson, who owns Tree Spirits of Maine in Oakland, is president of the Maine Winery Guild and a member of the Maine Distiller’s Guild. By his count, Maine has about a dozen distilleries, 22 wineries that are members of the Winery Guild and 10 to 15 operations producing hard cider.

“If I was 40,” said Olson, 63, “this would be the funnest thing in the world. There’s tremendous growth in the industry.”

When Geoff Houghton opened the Liberal Cup in Hallowell in 2000, he had an open field in Kennebec County.

While a couple of other breweries had been established in the region, the craft brewing industry wasn’t well developed in Maine, and not many people were familiar with pubs, which Houghton considers a bridge between bars and restaurants.

“It was hard to get anyone to invest in me or give me a loan when I started,” he said. He was in business for a decade before he could secure financing.

“Now, the minute you mention you want to do this, people are willing to invest,” he said.

That investment and interest has been slow to come to the Kennebec Valley area, but it’s coming. Since 2014, more than a half-dozen craft beverage companies have opened their doors in the region.

In Newcastle, Matt Page and Topher Mallory, the partners behind Split Rock Distillery, the state’s only certified craft organic distillery, started their company with a simple question: What would it take to make bourbon?

“It takes a tremendous amount of time to navigate federal, state and local requirements,” Page said. “And capital and self-determination.”

Lynn Chadwick, at Doom Forest Distillery, started experimenting when she found she was allergic to nearly every drink she tried. The result is Chadwick’s Maple Craft Spirits.

Later this month, Chadwick will open a tasting room at the Pittston distillery to augment the tastings they put on at locations across Maine.

For Joe and Kristy Gould at Two Gramps Brewing, the planets aligned in the right way in Gardiner – interest, opportunity and location coincided. The result is what they call a “nanobrewery” (smaller than a microbrewery) and restaurant. The space, with its exposed brick and rumors that a speakeasy might have operated on site, was ideal, Kristy Gould said – it overlooks the pocket park between it and the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center. It jump-started an idea that Joe Gould had to return to the restaurant business after years away from it. He also had developed a love of craft brewing.

The result is Two Gramps Brewing, which opens Oct. 27.

Four days later, Cushnoc Brewing Co. will open its doors at 243 Water St., in Augusta.

Four partners – Tobias Parkhurst, Chris Geerlings, Casey Hynes and James Bass – banded together to bring Augusta its first microbrewery. Along with its selection of beers, the restaurant will serve wood-fired pizza and is expected to become a business that draws people downtown.

Sebago Lake Distillery opened the tasting room at its Gardiner distillery earlier this month.

Jessica Lowell can be contacted at 621-5632 or at:

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