Maine Beer Box begins voyage to give local brews international exposure
Dozens of brewers gathered at the International Marine Terminal in Portland on Friday for the send-off of the Maine Beer Box – a shipping container full of Maine-made brews bound for a beer festival in Iceland. The custom-fabricated container has more than 70 taps. Staff photo by Ben McCanna A custom-made shipping container filled with Maine craft beer is heading to Iceland, on the first trip in a multi-year effort to expose the state’s brewing industry to international markets.
The project is a partnership between the Maine Brewers Guild and Eimskip, the Icelandic shipping company that has its U.S. headquarters in Portland. The guild plans to ship the container every year to a different port on Eimskip’s shipping routes. The aim is to market Maine’s craft beer industry overseas and encourage brewers to consider foreign exports as a way to grow their companies, Sean Sullivan, executive director of the brewers guild, said during a send-off event for the beer box at the International Marine Terminal in Portland on Friday.
“Beer is the core of our business, but it is the experience with our products and the people behind our products that endears customers to the Maine craft beer industry,” Sullivan said. The introduction of the beer box kicks off a busy weekend for beer drinkers in Maine, including the Beer Camp festival Saturday at Thompson’s Point in Portland sponsored by the Sierra Nevada brewing company. The 40-foot-long refrigerated container is outfitted with 78 branded taps from 40 Maine breweries.
The container is designed to store the beer at 36 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit and serve it directly out of the side. The guild described it as “the largest kegerator ever built.” “We’ve built a world-first, state-of-the-art piece of equipment using all Maine companies, and we’ll use it to promote Maine products,” Sullivan said.
The beer box idea was hatched about two years ago by Sullivan and David Carlson, owner of Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. in Belfast. The two coordinated with Icelandic brewers to set up an exchange – Maine beer will be served at the BjorFestival in Reykjavik on June 24, then will be filled with beers from Iceland for the guild’s Summer Session Beer Festival in Portland in late July.
Davey Blackmon, left, and Jared Maruhnic of Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. encase keg couplers in bubble wrap in the Maine Beer Box before its departure for Iceland on Friday. Staff photo by Ben McCanna The container has six custom stainless steel draft boxes with 13 taps each, built by Zajac in Saco.
SnapSpace Solutions, a container modification company in Brewer, completed work on the box. Beers from every corner of the state are featured in the inaugural shipment, and the taps are arranged by region, from southern York County out to Western Maine, the Bangor area and Down East. Breweries donated the beer sent to Reykjavik and had to pay for taxes and duties, Carlson said.
On average, breweries paid about £600 each to take part in the project, he said. GROWING POPULARITY Maine’s craft beer industry has grown tremendously in the last decade.
There are now at least 90 breweries in the state, with more opening this year. Craft breweries added £228 million to the Maine economy and employed 1,600 people last year, according to a recent report from the guild and the University of Maine. With that scale of growth in the industry, and stiff competition between brewers, finding new markets for Maine beer makes sense, Sullivan said.
The guild isn’t trying to flood a small country like Iceland with Maine beers, but wants to expose brewers to the possibility of exporting their product, he said. Many brewers might not realize that it can cost less to ship beer to Europe than to transport it overland to a big U.S. market like Atlanta, he said. “We are trying to blaze a trail for brewers to follow when they decide to expand,” Sullivan said. “We want to eliminate the mental barrier a brewer might have about exporting to foreign countries.”
There’s plenty of opportunity for Maine brewers that wish to crack international markets. In 2016, the U.S. exported £615 million of beer, shipments that were dominated by California (£111 million) and Missouri (£139 million), according to WISERtrade trade analysts. Maine had only £231,000 in beer exports that year.
The guild hasn’t unveiled future destinations for the beer box, but plans to send it to a different country each year and return to Maine with beers from brewers in that country. Larus Isfeld, managing director at Eimskip USA, said his company had invited more than 1,000 customers to the Reykjavik festival and expects at least 100 brewers and others from Maine to attend. The beer box exchanges would fuel economic development both in Maine and Iceland, he said.
Using shipping routes in the North Atlantic, Maine brewers have the opportunity to promote the Maine brand to a market of more than 300 million people, he said. “I’m sure I can turn around Europe in five years and have Maine beer in cities like Copenhagen, London, Amsterdam, Hamburg and Paris,” he said. Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:
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