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FREEPORT — When Dan Kleban first planned Maine Beer Co.’s Freeport location in 2013, the tasting room was originally going to be half the size of what was eventually built.
It turned out that tasting room, which held about 40 people, wasn’t enough, said Anne Marisic, marketing and events manager.
“They had no idea what tasting room culture was going to be,” she said.
If the brewery's new tasting room is any indication, that culture means room for nearly 500 tasters in a bright, airy space that features a fountain with a bronze sculpture of a willow tree, a huge wood-fired pizza oven, 20 beers on tap and table shuffleboard upstairs on the mezzanine.
The craft brewery, founded by brothers Dan and David Kleban, opened its new 6,000-square-foot tasting room this week at its 525 U.S. Route 1 location. The space is in the old production area of the brewery. A 30,000-square-foot addition, which was finished last year, houses the brew works.
“We’ve gone from very little space that was cramped for 50 to being in something that’s comfortable for 500,’’ Marisic said Tuesday as she sat at one of the gleaming picnic tables in the two-story high tasting room.
One impressive feature is the bronze willow tree fountain, created by artist Mehrdad Tafreshi of Great Britain. Tafreshi made the tree in the U.K., then came to Maine to install it.
David Kleban had seen one of Tafreshi’s sculptures while traveling, and wanted a similar piece for the tasting room, Marisic said.
The room was meant to evoke the outdoors, with a stone bench around the fountain, picnic tables and lots of light coming in.
“We wanted to create a space that when people come in, they can hang out and enjoy,” she said. “If people feel comfortable, if they feel good coming in here, then it makes it a community space.”
The fact that the space mimics outdoor space is part of that.
“Being in Maine, our summers are beautiful and being outside is beautiful, but winter lasts a long time,” she said. “We wanted to give people the feel of being outside.”
The work on the new production space started in 2017 and was finished last year, giving the brewery the capacity to quadruple its output. Once that was completed, work on the tasting room started.
The contractor was Mike Welsher, of Welsher Fine Homes of Freeport; Capozza Tile and Floor Covering Center supplied the tile and installation, which includes the tasting room floors, bars, restrooms, and bronze willow tree fountain pool pebbles; Callahan & Lebleu, of South Portland, did stonework and landscaping; White Light Visual, of Massachusetts, did the signs and displays. The table and beer board are by Thos. Moser, of Auburn.
Marisic said she was impressed by those who helped develop the tasting room.
“Everyone had the same expectation of quality and performance” that Maine Beer Co. does, she said.
The entrance to the tasting room is now through the “black barn” on the side of the building — a black post-and-beam structure that stands out from the white of the original building and the large production plant.
Next to the new entrance is a patio, not visible under the snow, but once it's open, will have a rock wall for visitors to sit on, as well as tables. It will also have heat lamps for colder weather.
The walls of the tasting room prominently display the 1% for the Planet initiative, a national program that the brewery participates in, donating 1% of its gross annual sales to a variety of causes.
Also prominently displayed is the new Black Barn pilot beer program, in which a new beer is sold in the tasting room for customers to weigh in on.
The tasting room’s grand opening is Saturday.
The brewery produced 19,000 barrels last year, much of which is sold in Maine.
“We can't make any more beer,” Dan Kleban told Mainebiz in 2017, when he and David were Next honorees. “We're busting at the seams.”
The new production space means the brewery can produce as much as 50,000 barrels.
But Marisic said the company is taking it slow. In 2017, before the new production space was in use, the company produced 12,500.
“You won’t see that big a jump again,” Marisic said. “We want our growth to be meaningful.”
About 10% of the brewery’s beer is sold out of the tasting room, the other 90% is through its distribution network, with the bulk distributed in Maine.
The company also added a 30,000-square-foot storage and distribution site in Westbrook last year.
Besides the beer production aspect, the new space allows the company to grow in other ways, including the ability to hold more events, particularly those that involve 1% for the Planet partners. They pick one of the several charities they represent each month and hold an event supporting it.
Marisic said the tasting room, will beer-oriented, is family friendly — last month it hosted a signing in partnership with Sherman’s Bookstores for Camden’s children’s book author Chris Van Dusen in support of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, one of the brewery’s 1% partners.
The availability of pizza helps with the family aspect, too.
The brewery started having food trucks visit a couple years ago, then last year got its own pizza truck, run by Parker Auger.
The new tasting room makes the pizza official, with Auger at the helm.
Most of the dough comes from Zu Bakery, of Freeport, owned by Barak Olins. There is also gluten-free pizza dough.
The toppings are locally sourced and change with the seasons.
Maine Beer Co. has been a popular destination for out-of-staters with its Route 1 location, just off Exit 20 of Interstate 295 and a short hop from L.L.Bean.
Marisic said that’s picked up with recent national attention, including mentions in Bon Appetit magazine even before Portland [and its surrounding area} was named the 2018 Food City of the Year.
“It used to be, come October, Maine was ours, but the season is getting later and later and later,” she said.
Tuesday, of the dozen or so cars in the parking lot, there were license plates from Tennessee, South Dakota, Massachusetts and New Jersey.
But she said the brewery is still part of the local fabric, with regulars from the area, and also part of what’s offered in Freeport, from the retail core to Wolfe’s Neck State Park.
“It’s a vibrant community,” she said. “There are just a growing number of things to do and we’re one part of that.”