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March 31, 2017

Maine craft brewers to tap European market

Photo / Lori Valigra Eimskip's Jonathan Mayorquin, left, customer service documentation specialist, and Nathaniel Shehata, export documentation/customer service and liner services export specialist, in front of a 40-foot refrigerator crate, the same size that will be turned into the Maine Beer Box. The used container, costing $20,000 to $25,000, will be refabricated for an unspecified price by engineers Zajac LLC of Saco.
Photo / Lori Valigra Maine Brewers' Guild Executive Director Sean Sullivan stands at the dais amid some of the 50 Maine craft brewers who expect to send two half barrels (30 gallons) each in a special Maine Beer Box container via Eimskip to a beer festival in Reykjavik on June 24. The container will be filled with beer from Iceland craft brewers for its return to Maine and served at the MBG's Summer Session beer festival July 29 at Thompson's Point in Portland.

The Maine Beer Box, an exchange between craft brewers in Portland and Reykjavik, shouldn’t be confused with boxed wine.

The “box” is a 40-foot Eimskip shipping container being refabricated by engineers Zajac LLC of Saco with taps directly in the side of the container, where they can be poured directly into glasses for thirsty drinkers at beer festivals on both sides of the Atlantic this summer.

“It’s going to put Maine craft beer on the map for beer lovers internationally and position Maine as the entrance for Mainers shipping to Europe and Europeans shipping to Maine,” Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Maine Brewers’ Guild, told Mainebiz before a joint press conference with project partner Eimskip Thursday at the International Marine Terminal in Portland. “It will make Maine craft beer a model for other Maine businesses.”

Maine craft beer had a statewide economic impact of $228 million in 2016 and employed 2,177, including multiplier effects from related businesses, a recent study on the industry by the University of Maine School of Economics and the Maine Brewers’ Guild found. 

The first shipment of beer by about 50 of Maine’s close to 90 craft brewers will head to Iceland for a beer festival in Reykjavik on June 24. The Maine Beer Box will return with Iceland craft beers to be served July 29 at the Maine Brewers’ Guild Summer Season beer festival at Thompson’s Point in Portland. Sullivan said future shipments from Maine brewers will go to other European countries, but would not specify which would be next.

Same travel time, more customers

“This is about using cost-based geography,” said Andrew Haines, Eimskip’s director of sales. “Europe has 300 million people, while the Northeast United States has about 50 million. Dublin, Ireland, is as close to Maine as New York City [in travel time]. That’s where the idea [for the beer box] came from.”

David Carlson, founder of Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. in Belfast, Maine, and co-creator of the Maine Beer Box, was among the couple dozen brewers at the press conference. Each brewer is allowed to ship two, one-half barrels, which is about 30 gallons of beer, he said.

“I plan to ship Pemaquid Oyster Stout,” he told Mainebiz, adding that he had tasted a notorious Iceland beer brewed by Stedji that has whale parts in it.

Eimskip will donate the refrigerator container and assume the shipping cost and Maine Brewers’ Guild will help host the Reykjavik event.

Carlson, whose daughters had him don a cap bearing an Icelandic flag before attending Thursday’s event, said it will cost him about $600 to participate in the project, $300 for the beer and another $300 for Iceland’s value-added tax.

“But it’s worth it,” he said, as he’ll get notice overseas for his beer.

Eli Cayer, owner of Portland’s Urban Farm Fermentory, agreed. He told Mainebiz he plans to send over a Kombucha-beer mix.

“My position is to shake it up,” he said of selling something different to Iceland’s beer drinkers. Cayer, who experiments with all types of flavors from his Portland Bayside neighborhood location, also plans to gather ingredients from Iceland and bring them back to Maine.

“Even with the product and tax costs, the experience and connections are worth it,” Cayer said.

Sullivan said Iceland is still growing its craft brewing industry, with nine breweries with about 13 brands of beer.

“They’ve only been free of prohibition on beer since 1989,” he added.

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