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Brewing down east; the D.L. Geary Brewery brings traditional ale back to Maine.

Brewing Down East

The D.L. Geary Brewery brings traditional ale back to Maine.

When the first wave of British settlers arrived in the New World, they brought a long ale-brewing tradition with them. As a matter of fact, New England may owe its earnly settlement to ale, or lack thereof. Contemporary sources credit a shipboard ale-shortage with the Pilgrims' decision to settle at the point where they made their first landfall--on what became Massachusetts Bay.

A waning demand for ale in this century led to the demise of indigenous ale breweries.-Despite the national trend, New England remained a bastion of ale-drinkers, who turned to imported brands to assuage their thirsts.

With the onset of the microbrewing revolution, the ale-brewing tradition rose like a Phoenix. The D.L. Geary Brewery of Portland, ME, was the first of several breweries to return British-style ale to New England. Before opening his brewery, however, founder David Geary set about learning his trade by returning to the fount of the ale-brewing tradition, Great Britain.

Old World Tradition

It began when Geary met the laird of Traquair, scion of an ancient Scots brewing family. The laird, in Portland on business, was receptive to the idea of Geary working at his brewery in Peeblshire, Scotland. Geary was soon learning the brewer's craft as it was practiced three centuries ago, brewing in an earthen-floored room beneath Traquair castle, using oaken vessels and 17th-century brewer's tools.

Following Geary's stint at Traquair House, the laird arranged for him to work at a series of small breweries in the South of England. He introduced Geary to Peter Austin, a well-known brewery designer often viewed as the father of the British small brewery movement. "Peter Austin is a great brewer and a wonderful teacher," Geary says. "Not only did he show me how to brew, he taught me the record-keeping procedures that are all-important in operating a brewery."

After immersion in the brewer's art, Geary was eager to return to Maine and start a small brewery of his own. He invited Allan Pugsley, a protege of Peter Austin, to come back to the U.S. and help start a micro. Pugsley assented, beginning a working relationship that was to last almost four years. "I was extremely lucky to get to know Allan Pugsley," Geary says. "He deserves all the credit for bringing the Austin brewing system to the United States, and he also taught me most of what I know about brewing."

Ground was broken for the brewery in 1985, in a wooded industrial park on the outskirts of Portland. By 1986, D.L. Geary was producing beer commercially.

Stark Simplicity

In keeping with traditional Yankee virtues, the D.L. Geary brewery is extremely utilitarian. The brewhouse is a model of efficiency, with stainless steel brewing vessels standing in a cavernous, slab-sided warehouse. "We didn't have a lot of resources when we were putting this together," Geary recalls, "so we were very conscious that it had to be run as a business venture--efficiently and at a profit."

According to Geary, the plant's Austin-designed brewhouse is the eptiome of simplicity. "We started with a built-in advantage," he says, "because the brewery was built from Austin's proven design. This place is designed so that one person could to do the brew in nine hours, without even breathing hard."

Brewhouse Components

The brewhouse was fabricated by Non-Ferrous Fabrications, Winbourne, Dorset, England. At the time of construction, the brewhouse components included a hot liquor back, mash tun, brew kettle, hop percolator and five fermenting vessels. "When we started using the hop percolator it was pretty unique," Geary says, "being one of only four in the world." All piping is one-inch welded stainless with Tri-Clamp fittings, and all pumps are stainless sanitary types manufactured by Ladish.

The brewer also has a two-roller Bamford malt mill, a four-stage APV plate and frame heat-exchanger. The cellars at Geary consist of two 48-barrel jacketed bottling tanks, two 24-barrel conditioning tanks, an APV heat exchanger and a Chester-Jensen ice builder. "For our primary filtration we use a diatamaceous earth filter," Geary says, "with a secondary double-cartridge system. Our D.E. filter is a prototype designed by Brendan Dobbin, because it was hard to get a similarly sized filter at that time. It's a little ugly," he notes, "but it works perfectly."

The bottling line consists of a Unipak twist rinser, a Crown 20-valve filler and a World Tandem labeler. "We're getting by with the filler we've got," Geary says, "but it's actually a modified soft-drink filler. The rinser and filler need updating, and we're looking into that now.

"Bottling is never any fun," Geary observes, "but our current equipment makes it particularly stressful, dangerous and noisy. Once we put in more automation and get a modern filler that should improve."

Annual capacity was 6,000 barrels at the outset, but the addition of another 48-barrel conditioning tank, bright beer tank and 50-barrel fermenter has brought capacity up to its current 8,000 barrels.

If further expansion is required, 5,000-sq. ft. of interior space provide room for maneuver. "We have the flexibility to increase capacity," Geary reports. "If we tightened up space between the vessels, we could squeeze another couple of thousand barrels out of this facility. In addition," he notes, "Our lot is big enough to allow us to add to the building."

The design of the brewery promotes the most unglamorous aspect of the brewer's craft, meticulous sanitation. "The brewhouse is easy to clean," Geary remarks, "which makes it more likely that it will be cleaned.

"I've been in a lot of small breweries that had standing water," Geary continues, "but you won't see that here. We've got a built-in 50-ft. trench drain that eliminates the problem. The drain is not just a luxury," he states, "it's an absolute must."

A single product

Taking a page from Anheuser-Busch's early marketing strategy, Geary has chosen to put the bulk of his efforts behind a single product. "With typical New England conservatism," Geary says, "we chose to brew just one full-time beer. Even on this scale, I think beer should be easily recognized by the consumer. Having just one product speeds that recognition," he says. "I don't think that's a concession or a sell-out, that's what you've got to do."

The brewery's flaship product is Geary's Pale Ale. "It's a beer for drinking," Geary says, "It's crisp, not sweet, and it's got some hop bite. It's got flavor, body and beauty--and you can drink it--that's the key to success."

Promotion for Geary's Pale has included some print advertising and a considerable investment in point-of-purchase materials. "We've done as well as we can with our limited resources," Geary says, "but it's frustrating when you realize you could build a brewery with what it costs for 30 seconds of Super Bowl advertising."

Despite limited marketing, sales volume has grown steadily, opening the door for product diversification. Geary is wary of over-extension, however. "We can brew any beer we want," he says, "but before we start in on something new, I want to be able to give it full attention and market support."

With the pale ale serving as a firm foundation, Geary recently tested the market for seasonals. His first effort in that direction was Hampshire Special Ale, brewed for the 1989 holiday season. "The Hampshire was styled after an English Extra Special Bitter," he says, "darker and sweeter than Geary's Ale, with a lot more alcohol. Our only problem was we didn't make enough to meet demand. We only made 25% of what we should have.

"We'll follow up with other seasonals," Geary says, "the reception for the Hampshire Ale guarantees that. The fact is, seasonals sell.

"Naturally enough," Gearynotes, "distributors don't want excess inventory. The secret of doing it successfully is not getting greedy, trying to push that very last case on a distributor."

Quality Control

Geary emphasizes the necessity for consistent quality. "After seeing European brewers make consistent beer in an earthen-floored brewery," he says. "I knew we could do it here. Some people might say that variation gives microbrewers a certain charm. I don't agree. Consistency is a must."

To that end, quality control is an integral part of the D.L. Geary operation. "We test our beer at every stage," Geary reports, "run pH tests throughout and have the hops, grain and water analyzed.

"A beer must have a flavor appropriate to the style," Geary continues. "An idiosyncratic beer might be a lot of fun to brew in your basement, when you are offering something to the public, it must be a consistent, quality product."

Allen Pugsley recently moved on to become brewmaster of another American micro (The Wild Goose Brewery of Cambridge, MD), and Geary now serves as head brewer. He is assisted on the business side by Karen Geary, and the staff now includes three assistant brewers; Steven Spear, David Kesel and Geoff Houghton.

Geary reports there's been no difficulty recruiting brewery help. "There's seems to be a perceived romance to this business," he says. "If we were to put an ad in the paper for brewery help tomorrow, we'd get more applications than we'd know what to do with, and half of them would be MBAs."

The popular affection for brewing leads Geary to believe there's more to the process than meets the eye. "There could be something in people's genetic memory that draws them to brewing," he speculates. "Take brewery tours as an example. You don't see people lining up to tour coat-hanger factories.

"It's very possible that brewing is really the oldest profession," Geary continues. "It makes sense. The best way to keep an ongoing supply of yeast has always been beer, and then you've always got yeast for your bread. "Fermentation has been around longer than people," Geary adds, "people just found a way to control the process and produce a beverage that tastes good."

Geary regretfully admits the dichotomy inherent in brewing. "Alcoholic beverages have always brought out the best and the worst in the human spirit," he points out. "That's as true today as it was 1,000 years ago.

"There is a duality to beer that makes it more than bread," Geary says, "reminding us of our responsibility for its careful use. If we neglect that responsibility, we'll be in trouble, and we'll deserve to be.

"There is a tremendous potential for abuse," Geary observes, "leading to serious social and health risks. For that reason, we must be careful. We are the stewards of God's yeast," he says, "and it is our duty to promote its moderate and beneficial use."

Looking Ahead

Geary is sanguine about the future of the microbrewing segment. "I think our niche is secure," he states, "because I don't view microbrewing as a fad or a trend. It is a viable niche, as long as microbrewers pay attention to the business end of it. Those brewers making consistently good beer, and doing it profitably, will be secure. There's always a market for good beer.

"People say it's a tiny niche," Geary continues, "but I think there's a lot of market share up for grabs. That means the major brewers will want to get in on it--it's only a matter of time. "Frankly," Geary says, "I look forward to the competition. The idea of hand-crafted beer coming out of a four-million-barrel brewery is incongruous," he observes, "but if anyone is capable of making a great beer, it's someone like Anheuser-Busch. The question is whether they want to scrabble for that little slice of the market."

Geary is optimistic for the future. "We are seeing a return to the great tradition of craft-brewing," he says. "There was a long period when it looked like the combination of Prohibition and post-war mass-merchandising had killed off good beer.

"Fortunately," Geary points out, "there's no way thousands of years of tradition could die over a few decades."

PHOTO : Founder and brewer David Geary stands beside the mash tun in his Portland, ME. brewery.

PHOTO : Geary (left) with part of his staff; Assistant brewers Steven Spear (center), and David

PHOTO : Kesel (right).
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Title Annotation:1990 Microbrewery Report
Author:Reid, Peter V.K.
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Date:May 14, 1990
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