May 1, 2011

The Bottom Line: Quenching a nation's thirst

Shipyard Brewing grows with the craft beer industry to become one of the top 50 U.S. brewers overall.

By J. Hemmerdinger
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - A sweet, ripe aroma, like apple cider, permeates Shipyard Brewing Co.'s Newbury Street headquarters.

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Just-filled bottles of Old Thumper file past an employee at Shipyard Brewing in Portland. About 15 types of beer are made under the Shipyard brand.

Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Brewer Erick Christensen strips yeast from a fermenter at Shipyard Brewing in Portland. The company is looking to expand its Florida market to keep production stable year-round.

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"You are smelling the fermentation taking place. That's the apple character of the ringwood," explained Shipyard's trade brewer Bruce Elam, referring to the unique strand of British yeast Shipyard uses to make English-style ale in America.

Shipyard has made beer in Maine using ringwood yeast for roughly 20 years. The company's owners say the quality of their product, as well as the growing popularity of so-called craft beers, helped Shipyard grow into one of the nation's largest breweries.

"It's all about drinkability, consistency and a balance between the water, malted barley and hops," said British-born Master Brewer Alan Pugsley, a co-owner who developed Shipyard's recipes.

"The new American brews are the crafts," said his business partner, President Fred Forsley, referring to beers made by craft brewers -- who produce 6 million barrels of beer or less yearly.

Shipyard, Maine's largest brewery, makes roughly 98,000 barrels every year. A barrel holds 31 gallons.

The company's roots stretch to 1992, when Forsley and Pugsley opened Federal Jack's Restaurant and Brew Pub in Kennebunk, where they brewed their ale. At first, the partners made roughly 1,500 barrels yearly, and much of it was consumed by restaurant patrons.

The launch of the brew pub coincided with the birth of America's craft beer industry. One of Maine's first craft brewers was D.L. Geary Brewing Co. in Portland, where Pugsley once worked.

In 1994, Forsley and Pugsley moved their brewery to 86 Newbury St. in Portland, the company's current headquarters. The 155,000-square-foot building formerly housed a manufacturer of heavy marine equipment, Crosby Laughlin Foundry.

Shipyard's brewing process takes roughly eight days, and begins with British malted barley -- soaked and dried pea-sized cereal grains. The barley is cracked in a mill, producing a grist, which is combined with heated, filtered water. Shipyard's brewers cook the mixture, called mash, at 148 degrees Fahrenheit for 90 minutes.

The resulting liquid, called "sweet wort," is boiled in a kettle for one hour with hops before fermenting for three days in one of Shipyard's open fermentation vessels. During the process, yeast eats sugars, creating alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Elam called the yeast the "superstar" of the production process, and said the brewer's top job is "to give the yeast the best dining experience." That means brewers must frequently check the ale's temperature and gravity -- a measure of sugar content.

After fermenting, Shipyard's ale is cooled to 40 degrees, conditioned for four days, filtered and carbonated. Automated packaging machines fill bottles and kegs for shipping.

Shipyard has some 65 staff and makes about 15 types of beer under the Shipyard brand, including seasonal best-sellers like Summer Ale and Pumpkinhead Ale.

In 2008, Shipyard launched a new series of "big beers" -- those with more than 8 percent alcohol by volume. Double Old Thumper ale, for example, has 11.2 percent alcohol by volume.

Supermarkets, specialty beer stores and restaurants in 35 states carry Shipyard, and top markets include Maine and New Hampshire.

Forsley said Shipyard competes with companies that make all types of liquor. His goal is convincing drinkers of wine, hard liquor and other beers to convert to crafts.

Shipyard has acquired other brands, including Sea Dog Brewing Co. and Casco Bay Brewing Co., and makes non-alcoholic Capt'n Eli's Soda.

Forsley and Pugsley own brew pubs in Maine, the Shipyard Emporium pub near Orlando, Fla., Federal Jacks in Kennebunk and The Inn on Peaks Island.

The company has agreements with HMSHost Corp., which operates Shipyard-branded "Brewports," including one at the Portland International Jetport. (A pub at the Providence, R.I., airport is slated to open by Memorial Day.)

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Trade brewer Bruce Elam leads a tour of the Shipyard Brewing Co. in Portland. Shipyard made about 1,500 barrels of beer in 1991; it now makes about 98,000 barrels a year.


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