Allagash Brewing, Maine’s largest craft beer producer and one of its oldest, said it will build a new tasting room on 8 acres it is buying at a former horse-racing track in Scarborough.
The tasting room and a small brewing operation are slated to open in 2024 at The Downs, a multi-use development that replaced the racetrack. The current tasting room in Portland will remain open until the new space is ready. The main brewery also will remain in Portland.
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The expansion is a boon for the large new development and another sign that Maine’s craft brewing industry, which suffered under mandated closures of tasting rooms early in the COVID-19 pandemic, is recovering from those restrictions.
Craft brewers are a significant contributor to Maine’s economy, with $260.7 million in economic impact to the state in 2020 and employing nearly 2,400 people. There were 165 active licensed brewers in the state this year, some with multiple licenses or locations, up from 155 in 2020, according to a 2020 report by the Maine Brewers’ Guild and the University of Maine.
Allagash is seeing strong demand for tastings from visitors. On a typical holiday weekend, the brewery draws about 1,000 beer tasters. But its current tasting room is too small.
“We can comfortably accommodate about one-quarter of the number of people that want to come visit, so that was the main driver to expand to The Downs,” Rob Tod, founder of Allagash, said.
When the brewer started 27 years ago in the Riverside neighborhood of Portland, the tasting room trend didn’t exist, so Allagash didn’t design its location with that in mind. When tasting rooms became popular about eight years ago, things got tight in the 500-square-foot indoor space it had allotted for a tasting room, along with some outdoor space.
Tod said he expects to close on the Scarborough land purchase over the next couple months. He doesn’t have detailed plans for the tasting room’s size and features yet, but said the location will include walking trails, plenty of parking and a small brewing operation.
Allagash also will open a second tasting room at its Portland location in November called The Cellars at Allagash, he said.
Allagash employs 140 people in Portland and plans to rotate staff between there and Scarborough. It makes Belgian-style beers, which include fruits and different grains, as well as spontaneously fermented drinks. Tod expects to produce 121,000 barrels of beer this year, up from 118,000 last year.
Like other craft brewers, Allagash initially was hard hit by the COVID-19 restrictions. When the pandemic hit in 2020, more than 60 percent of its beer sales were to bars and restaurants. In March 2020, when tasting rooms and bars had to close, Tod said he lost “a massive amount of business overnight.”
What saved the business was an investment in a canning line a month before the pandemic began that allowed the company to switch gears virtually overnight. Allagash’s volume is up 20 percent since 2019.
The canning operation meant more types of Allagash beers were available for sale to the public. Previously, only one light beer was sold in a four-pack outside of restaurants and bars, where sales still have not recovered to pre-pandemic levels.
“That’s been one of the blessings, that we are selling almost twice the amount of beer in bottles and cans as before the pandemic,” he said.