Craft brewers from across New England and beyond gathered in Portland, Maine, for the third annual New England Craft Brew Summit, hosted by the Maine Brewers’ Guild, on March 29. Drawing more than 500 attendees, from more than 90 different breweries, this was the largest beer industry conference in the Northeast.
This year’s theme focused on The Big Market for Local Beer and explored how brewers can grow their businesses while staying true to brand and deeply rooted in the communities that launched their success. Natalie King, executive vice president of Maine-based Stonewall Kitchen, has experienced this challenge first-hand during her two decades with the company. She delivered the keynote address.
“My brother and his partner started Stonewall Kitchen selling jams at farmers’ markets and festivals, before they opened their first company store,” said King. “That store helped launch the company to what it is today, because people would come in, taste the food, and experience the brand, much like a craft beer tasting room. Today we still see 17 percent of customers making their first purchase in one of our tasting rooms.”
From expanding markets both nationally and internationally to increased competition, craft brewers are facing new opportunities and challenges as the industry matures. Maine now has breweries in every county and draws craft beer tourists from around the world.
“We’re committed to making Maine an international leader in the craft beer industry and a model for other states,” said Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Maine Brewers’ Guild. “Our 2018 Summit offered a broad array of experts and knowledge to our community, from technical brewing and business operations to customer service. These resources give brewers the tools to move their businesses and our industry forward with confidence.”
Senator Angus King, a legislator known for his support for Maine’s craft beer industry, joined brewers for the Summit and commented on the impact craft brewers are making across the state.
“The beer industry contributes to our overall sense of community,” said King. “You are rebuilding the sense of community one brew at a time.”
Presented by Bernstein Shur, the full-day conference featured talks and panel discussions on a wide range of topics, including brewery sustainability, quality testing and safety, and the use of locally grown grains. New for 2018, several panels focused on front of house and tasting room operations in a nod to the growing importance of tasting rooms for successful brewery businesses.