Andy Geaghan doesn’t necessarily think beer has revitalized Bangor — it’s the people that make a community what it is, not what they drink — but he certainly thinks it has helped. In the week before his family’s brand-new brewery is set to be launched to the public, he has been doing a little reflecting on what inspired him and his family to start Geaghan Brothers Brewing Company, which will have its grand opening party all day Saturday, Dec, 3 at Geaghan’s Pub.
“I think Bangor is becoming a place that’s got its own beer culture. I think it’s happened relatively quickly, and I think now is the time that we can step up and say, ‘OK, Bangor, here’s your beer,’” said Geaghan, 28, manager of Geaghan’s Pub and self-proclaimed beer geek. “I hope, in the future, when my son is older, he can say, ‘That’s my Dad’s beer.’ I hope Bangor feels like they can own a piece of it. Beer isn’t about the alcohol. It’s about the people around it.”
Geaghan and head brew master Jason Courtney knew that this was the right time to start brewing. In the past year, Bangor’s had a lot of successful new businesses and events that have revolved around beer. They range from the home-brew hub of Central Street Farmhouse to the constantly changing selection and beer-centric vibe at Nocturnem Drafthaus, and from the wide array of craft beer available at both State Street Wine Cellar and Bangor Wine & Cheese Company to events like Bangor Greendrinks and the Maine Homebrewer’s Competition.
“It was just the right time,” said Geaghan. “Everything kind of fell into place.”
Geaghan has been a fan of craft beer ever since the early days of college, when, as he says, he gave up 30 racks of Milwaukee’s Best Ice in favor of smaller, better beer labels — he started home-brewing on his own shortly thereafter. Similarly, Geaghan’s Pub, the family business, beloved in Bangor for the past 36 years for its comfortable, family-friendly atmosphere and to-die-for Irish Nachos, had long pondered the feasibility of adding a brewing aspect to the establishment.
“My Dad (Larry Geaghan) and I were looking into a brewing operation at the pub for a long time. We just knew we needed the right person to be our brew master,” said Geaghan. “But fortunately, that’s where Jason came in.”
Courtney is an Orrington native, who prior to joining Geaghan Brothers had spent the past decade or so traveling the country, working as a consultant for craft breweries nationwide. In 2002, Courtney was named Brewmaster of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival, the biggest beer competition in the country. He also has won three gold medals, two bronzes and a silver at the GABF, as well as as a silver and bronze medal at the World Beer Cup, the most prestigious beer competition in the world. In the beer world, Courtney is a kind of Jedi Master.
Geaghan and Courtney met in 2010, and the pair realized that they grew up in the same town, went to the same schools and both are beer geeks. It seemed a match made in heaven.
“It was divine intervention,” said Courtney. “I wanted to settle down and be based in one place, with my own brewery, and as it turned out, Andy and I had a lot of the same thoughts and opinions on beer. It just fit.”
“To have a guy like Jason on board with us is incredible,” said Geaghan, who assists Courtney with the brewing process. “We’ve got the best guy making beer with us.”
It took a while for them to get the ball rolling — in the summer of 2010, Geaghan had just left his position as associate pastor at the East Orrington Congregational Church and was getting back into the family business as house manager at the pub. Plans needed to be drawn up, beer styles needed to be decided upon. Geaghan and Courtney knew they wanted to make American-style beers: bright, crisp, aromatic brews, using American hops and yeasts.
“A lot of the beers you see out there are English style, like the beers that Geary’s or Shipyard makes. But we wanted to do something more American, which is the beer we both love. That’s beer that you see at Sebago Brewing, or like Shipyard’s Chamberlain Ale, which is a pale ale,” said Courtney. “It’s crisp and clear, often with a really hoppy nose. It’s less malty and more bright. It’s really distinctive.”
The family decided that their brewing operation needed to be a lot bigger than they had originally anticipated, and ordered up four 155-gallon tanks in which to brew their first four beers, the names of which take on Bangor themes. They arrived the second week of October, and on Nov. 3, the brewing began, the first one being Smiling Irish Bastard, an American strong ale. That was followed by The Refueler, an unfiltered wheat beer; Penobscot Icebreaker, a winter spiced ale; and Bangor Brown, a brown ale. All beers have distinctive labels, designed by Peter Geaghan and Mike Mardosa, a graphic designer for the University of Maine.
The first four brews will make their public debut on Saturday, Dec. 3, with a big party at Geaghan’s Pub featuring Celtic music by Chuck Walsh and Emma Donelly. For now, the beer will be sold by the pint and out of growlers at the pub. The family isn’t opposed to the brewery growing outside of the pub, but for now, it’s staying in-house.
“We are who we are. We’ve been here since 1975, and the pub is our heart. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Geaghan said, referring to possible expansion plans. “There’s a lot of growth to be done. Bangor has a lot of room to expand. But I’m pretty confident that it can support a brewery like us.”
Until Saturday, beer lovers will have to console themselves by coming into Geaghan’s for a meal and staring longingly through the window at the brew room, where patrons can see Geaghan and Courtney busily brewing away.
“We have people coming into the pub just to look at the tanks. We want people to feel like they’re a part of it,” said Geaghan. “We get to make beer for Bangor. That’s a pretty sweet gig. It wouldn’t be as special, to me, if it was anywhere else.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the Chamberlain Pale Ale as made by Geary's. It is made by Shipard.