December 27, 2017

Maine Food Insider: First Mile Brewing owners living the dream in Fort Kent

First Mile Brewing
First Mile Brewing
First Mile Brewing in Fort Kent is the product of five guys who love craft beer and wanted to honor Fort Kent's place at the start of U.S. Route 1. Pictured are the brewery's growlers.

First Mile Brewing started out the way these kinds of things sometimes do. Five guys who love craft beer would get together to brew.

"The more we brewed the more we talked, and finally one day the five of us said 'Let's make it happen,'" said Dave Saucier, one of the owners of the craft brewery and tasting room, which opened Nov. 25.

The five — Saucier, Travis Jandreau, Travis Guy, Matt Deprey and Rodney Lahren — were members of a local brewing club that formed in Fort Kent about two years ago. "Just a bunch of guys who love craft beer getting together and brewing different stuff for fun," Saucier told Mainebiz this week.

First Mile Brewing, at 28 Market St., is in a building that's more than 110 years old, and was once used for grain storage.

"Which is kind of neat because other than water, the main ingredient in beer is barley," said Saucier. The walls of the tasting room and the bar are highlighted by wood from the old floor. The décor also includes an old grain scale and cash register, and old signs from another of the building's many lives as a grocery store more than 100 years ago.

Most of the equipment is homemade. "Our kettles we bought from a brewing company, but the stand and the controller were all built in house," he said. "We are using plastic conical storage tanks for fermenters, but our head brewer designed a homemade cooling temperature control system from scratch. Even our keg washer and filler is custom built by us."

The five still have their day jobs — Saucier said they prefer not to say what they do out of respect for their employers — so that meant busy weekends and nights getting the brewery and tasting room ready to open. "It was a lot of nights and weekends of work filling out forms and building equipment to make it happen," said Saucier. "But it has all been worth it."

Local flavor

The names of their beers underline that they are proud to be brewing in their Aroostook County hometown.

"Almost all our beers have some tie back to the community," Saucier said.

That includes Kappa Hill Kolsch, named for a hill in town that back in the 1960s and 70s was a place for locals to park and drink. New England-style IPA River Valley Haze references the haze that comes off the St. John river on cold mornings in the fall.

First Miles' DIPA (that's a double India pale ale) First Snow was brewed for the first time in one of the owners' basements during the first snowstorm of the year.

Yet-to-be-released Powder Hunter is designed for the powder hunting snowmobilers and skiers who flock to the area once the snow falls.

And there's Lonesome Pine Ale. Saucier describes it as "a dank, piney ale" and is named for the local ski hill, Lonesome Pine Trails.

The brewers have been busy since their November opening.

"We ran out of a lot of our merchandise to sell, and beer sales have been amazing," Saucier said. "Our growlers arrived the two days before Christmas and we filled around 200 in those first two days. A few customers told us that they bought some for family members, but couldn't keep themselves from drinking it, so they came in the next day to have them refilled."

Locally, their goal is to have a new beer on tap every week. "We have tons of recipes from the years of home brewing experience that we are anxious to share," he said.

He said so far they've only sold kegs to Lonesome Pine Ski Tow. "We can barely keep up supplying our tasting room right now, but we hope to grow out of our brew system and be able to supply local restaurants and bars in the area."

Maine Beer Trail, Northern Branch

Farther afield, Saucier said they are nailing down plans to get to three or four brew festivals this summer, including one in Fredericton, New Brunswick. They plan to join the Maine Brewers Guild shortly, and have First Mile Brewery added to the Maine Beer Trail. That would make it the only Aroostook County craft brewery tasting room of the 97 listed on the trail.

"Own plan is to grow organically," Saucier said. "We don't want to grow too fast, but still want to be able to keep up with demand. Eventually, once our system can support it, we would love to be able to sell kegs and cans in the southern half of the state."

The name of the brewery comes from the first the 2,369 miles of U.S. Route 1, from Fort Kent to Key West, Fla.

Saucier said the town's monument to Route 1 inspired the brewery's name.

"Fort Kent is just an amazing little community," he said. "The town's people are always so supportive of any new venture."

He said the five owners love visiting other breweries in the central and southern part of the state. "Now have a brewery and tasting room of our own in Fort Kent is just a dream come true."


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