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March 14, 2019

A look back: A brew pub that was 20 years before its time

Imagine this: Two women get together to open a pub serving craft beer at what is one day going to be one of the hottest addresses on Portland's East End.

Only problem is, it's 1995, and their brew pub site at 31 India St. is in a dilapidated neighborhood — a far cry from the destination it has become, with pricey condos and corporate headquarters. While Shipyard Brewing got its start just a block away the year before, craft beer's real craze is still two decades away. And at the time, having two women running a brewing space was enough of a novelty that it warranted a story in the June 1995 issue of Mainebiz.

"Why should the beer business be just for the guys?" the proprietors, K.T. Snyder and Patricia Lawton, were quoted as asking.

Hedgehog Brew Pub may have been ahead of its time, but it faced a challenge to its business model — Portland's brewing regulations at the time, which stipulated that a pub owner could not brew beer on site. They found a workaround. According to Josh Christie's "Maine Beer: Brewing in Vacationland," Lawton and her husband Robert Lawton opened Oak Pond, a Skowhegan brewery, in part to supply the brew pub in Portland. Oak Pond shipped its first keg in July 1996, a year after the Hedgehog opened.

Alas, the Hedgehog was apparently too far ahead of its time, and went under. The Lawtons, in turn, sold Oak Pond in 2003, according to Christie's book. Oak Pond is still brewing today, but the Hedgehog at 31 India St. is just a memory.

Fun Fact: In August 1995, a Mainebiz display ad featured, among other properties, an "exceptional 3-bedroom contemporary" in the North Deering neighborhood of Portland. Asking price: $103,000.

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