ROCKLAND, Maine — A Rockland beermaker plans to start pumping out much more product this coming summer after significant expansion from his downtown hub.
Last month, Rock Harbor Brewing purchased a vacant building along Route 1 that will allow the business to scale up from its tiny four-barrel operation, tucked into a corner of the Main Street eatery, to a 15-barrel system. Dan Pease, the founder and owner of the brewery and pub, said he expects production to jump from about 165 barrels of beer per year to about 2,000 barrels.
“We’re not making enough beer to keep up right now,” Pease said Thursday standing at his bar.
In the busy summer months, traffic from tourists can cause some of the brewery’s nine staple beers to run low. Keeping up with demand in those months means less flexibility for pumping out new seasonal varieties. The limited brewing capacity also prevents Pease from sending his beer elsewhere — such as to bars in Portland or Bangor.
So, Pease looked around for a place to grow. He found a warehouse and showroom formerly occupied by Belfast’s Mathews Brothers. The kitchen and cabinetry displays inside were left behind. Pease plans to build a tasting room and move his new 15-barrel system into the large loading bay at the back of the building.
The brewing system will be built by Tigpro, a Portland-based stainless steel fabricator that works extensively with Maine brewers.
Pease is pushing for a June opening so he can start driving up his stock of beer to catch the summer tourism rush. The extra space also will allow the brewery to start a canning operation, which Pease said could prove to be a significant boost to the company’s year round production and sales.
The Rockland native started brewing as a student at the University of Maine, where he earned a business administration degree in 2006. He took the same path as many home brewers — starting with malt extract and 5-gallon bucket before scaling up to all-grain brews in larger batches.
After graduating, Pease held worked in internet and financial services jobs, but in the summer of 2011, a new opportunity presented itself when a Main Street eatery in his hometown closed its doors. He decided take a leap and open a pub.
“I had bartended one summer when I was 20. I figured — how hard could [running a restaurant] be?” Pease said. “Turns out, it’s really hard.”
After more than two years in business, Pease added the brewery in hopes it would bolster his year round business and draw in more locals during the winter months. In 2013, a brewery in Portland shuttered, and Pease jumped to purchase the equipment and set up in a compact corner of his Rockland eatery. He set it up right in the windows of his restaurant along Main Street, in hopes the shining steel and copper would draw people inside.
“It worked. We’ve seen a ton of growth in the restaurant since we made that move,” Pease said. “Rockland didn’t really have anything like this, it differentiated us. It’s been a great [brewing] system and really positive for Rock Harbor and, really, Rockland as a whole.”
Pease employs 15-20 people at the pub, depending on the season. He and one other employee run the current brewing operation. Pease expects to hire 10 more people to make beer within two years of completing the expansion.
Rock Harbor produces a range of styles from the easy-drinking Twin Screw Pale Ale and Breakwater Wheat to the hard-hitting, 9.5-percent-alcohol-by-volume Rogue Wave Double IPA. Pease said he’s partial to IPAs.
The most frequent question fielded by servers and bartenders in his restaurant is “what’s your most local beer?,” Pease said.
Until Rock Harbor opened, the answer was always Marshall Wharf in Belfast or Andrew’s Brewing Co. in Lincolnville — both in neighboring Waldo County.
Maine has seen a dramatic boom in its number of breweries over the past decade, but few brewers say they’re worried about hitting a ceiling, and many welcome the competition, even lending help and advice to brewers looking to start their own operations. Pease credited Bangor’s Geaghan’s Brewing Co. for helping him get off the ground in 2013.
“More people are trying beer — more styles are coming out all the time,” Pease said. “One great thing is that all this growth is forcing everyone to make their beer better.”
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.