A bartender pours a beer at the Bissell Brothers Brewing Company’s tap room in Portland. Brewers have been slow to roll out “hazy” brews, an industry consultant told the New England Craft Brew Summit on Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer file

Maine craft beer makers have locked down the state’s market for suds – but need to react nimbly in order to maintain that position, a beverage expert warned Thursday at an industry conference in Portland.

“You own the backyard,” consultant Bump Williams told the New England Craft Brew Summit at the Holiday Inn by the Bay.

Maine brewers have adapted rapidly to changing consumer preferences, but those changes are only going to speed up and intensify, Williams said. At the same time, he predicted, large multinational brewers will step up their efforts to retain shares of a market that is increasingly fragmenting.

Williams said some of the most profitable tools Maine brewers have are their brewpubs and tasting rooms. The state’s beer makers have done a masterful job of getting people to stop by to taste the latest creation, he said.

“We don’t really see that anywhere else,” he said.

Still, he cautions, brewers should strike a delicate balance of playing hard to get.


“Exclusivity is key,” he said. “Once people can readily find it, they don’t want it.”

Williams also praised the brewers for introducing hard seltzers, which are riding a national wave of popularity and becoming an important product for the state’s brewers.

Such nimbleness has helped Maine brewers survive the pandemic relatively unscathed. Breweries and brewpubs have continued to open since the pandemic hit in March 2020 and many have outlasted the economic devastation of those early months.

Officials at the brewery summit said 27 new brewpubs have opened in Maine since 2020, while only 10 have closed. Brewpub owners are hoping a repeat of last year’s tourism boom will give the industry another jolt this year, sending tourists to breweries around the state.

A total of 143 craft breweries were operating in Maine in 2021, according to data from the Brewers Association, a national trade group. The state ranked No. 2 in the number of breweries per capita, and Maine’s beer production – totaling 364,000 barrels in 2021 – ranked No. 3 per capita.

Williams said the outlook for beer making is not entirely rosy. Nationwide, he said the industry has an excess capacity of 72 million barrels and that opens the door for international competitors to contract with brewers to use that extra capacity for foreign brands.


Williams also said that there’s likely to be a further shakeout in the industry as brewers compete for shelf space in stores. He also said there’s going to be a trend away from six-packs to high-end single-serve beers in larger, 19.2-ounce containers. Brewers ready to adapt the larger cans will be better positioned to make sales and secure shelf space, particularly in convenience stores, he said.

One way to ride out the wave of change, Williams said, is to have breweries partner with distilleries, wineries, and even soft drink companies – a trend that has just started, he said. The partnerships could give the companies a stronger position and more stability.

“These strange partnerships are evolving for a reason,” he said.

That message resonated with summit attendee Pete Harris, who works for Liquid Riot, a brewery, distillery, and pub on Commercial Street in Portland.

He said brewers should be a little more sensitive to changing public tastes as they plan out their strategies. For instance, Williams said, brewers have been slow to roll out “hazy” brews, which are the result of putting IPAs through a secondary fermentation process and producing a “cloudier” beer that has stronger flavors and aromas.

“Brewers don’t like them, but people will wait in line for them,” he said.

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