GARDINER — The brewing tanks haven’t arrived yet and a second bathroom has yet to be installed, but the partners behind Bateau Brewing say their craft brewing tasting room overlooking the Kennebec River will be open this summer.

Earlier this week, Steve Casey, Matt Kendall and Steve Sommers sketched out their plan for the business, which is bringing a second brewer to downtown Gardiner later this year.

“This is the part where you get to take this ugly shell and turn it into something beautiful where people are going to want to come and hang out,” Matthew Kendall said, standing in the building shell where Bateau Brewing’s tasting room is starting to take shape. “It’s going to be incredible to watch it grow in the next two years.”

 

Bateau Brewing will be the latest craft brewery to open in Maine, a state that’s becoming widely known for producing craft beers and, in fact, is drawing tourists who come specifically to taste Maine’s offerings.

The industry is strong and growing. Earlier this year, the University of Maine released a report detailing the economic contributions of the craft brewing industry in Maine. It showed that Maine-made beer added more than $260 million to the state’s economy in 2017 and projects that the industry will continue to grow in the next several years.

Now it’s growing away from the Portland brewing hub, and into central Maine.

In the case of Bateau Brewing, its Gardiner location came about because of the partners and the availability of the space.

Steve Casey owns The Depot Pub on Maine Avenue in Gardiner. He completed an expansion there in 2018.

Right around that time, he had been considering starting a brewery. He found a building he liked not far from The Depot, but the owner wasn’t interested in selling. And he wondered whether the market would be too saturated by the time he could line up a new location.

At the same time, Kendall and Steve Sommers, who had been around the beer scene as long as there has been one, had been kicking around the idea of starting a brewery. Then a conversation between Casey and Kendall lit a fire under the plan.

“I am grateful to hook up with some other people, not doing it alone,” Casey said. “I already have a business going, so I felt like I could put in X amount of time and not do another 100 percent and try to keep the other thing going.”

Sommers said many brewing operations have turned into huge cash cows.

“We’re not looking to get that big,” he said, “but we’re looking to have fun.”

“We’d like to see some of those tourism dollars that come to Maine for being a beer destination come a little farther north,” Kendall said.

“I have talked to people who live out of town, and they are excited to come here,” Sommers said.

Kendall said the breweries that exist in the more rural parts of the state are those that are after the passion and not as much after the money.

“If you are opening a brewery today in Portland, it’s got to be dead on. The market is tough,” he said. “It’s a lot more competitive, and you need a lot more money to get it off the ground because it is so competitive.

“Out here, it’s a little easier, a lot more relaxed. And communities like Gardiner have been chomping at the bit for something new,” Kendall added. “They have been super-supportive about us getting this going. They have made it as easy as possible to get it going.”

Casey said his customers have heard about the brewery and they have said they are excited to try the beer.

“We’re hoping to start with five to seven beers,” Kendall said. “We plan on putting a dozen taps in and fill them in a reasonable amount of time. It’s a lot of effort to make beer and it’s also expensive, and you want to make sure you’re not throwing it away.”

They’ll have a variety of beers — including an India Pale Ale, red and brown ales, and a stout — and will offer some food. As a tasting room, it’s not a full restaurant and it will have more limited hours than a bar.

The partners have their own favorites, but they want to see what their customers like and be able to provide that.

As they move ahead, the partners said they have been conferring with colleagues in the business, including Geoff Houghton, at the Liberal Cup in Hallowell, and the partners behind Cushnoc Brewing in Augusta, as well as Maine Brewing, to help them identify and avoid pitfalls.

“When you do a project like this, it’s overwhelming, but it really gets you going,” Casey said. “It makes you be creative. It forces you to be creative.”

In addition to stocking the tasting room, the partners say they will offer howlers — half growlers —and eventually kegs, as well as cans. And when they are ready, they’ll do some limited self-distribution.

The name also has a Gardiner-area reference. “Bateau” is the name given to shallow draft flat-bottomed boats, the kind that Reuben Colburn, a major in the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War, provided to Col. Benedict Arnold in his bid to travel up the Kennebec River to capture Quebec. Colburn’s home is just across the Kennebec River in Pittston and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Bateau Brewing is moving into a space in the Dingley Block, five adjoining buildings that Gardiner Main Street bought from Camden National Bank for $1 in November 2016. Camden National Bank had acquired the real estate as part of the deal of acquire the Bank of Maine the year before.

At the end of December, three of the buildings, 141-153 Water St., were bought by 149 Water Street LLC, Roger Bintliff’s company. At that time, Bintliff said he planned to bring in a coffee shop and bistro, among other things.

The block of buildings dates to the mid- to late 1800s and has been known collectively as the Dingley Block, built by the Dingley brothers, who operated a hardware store there for about 50 years. In the decades since then, the block has been home to enterprises as varied as a steam laundry; a grocery; a bowling alley; a grist mill; a restaurant; a wood, iron and ship chandlery; and a taxi company.

 

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

 


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