There comes a time in every young brewery’s life when there’s a choice to be made: stick with bottles, or switch to cans? Not every brewery that distributes its product makes the switch, but for those that do, it brings with it a whole new world of possibilities.
The folks at Geaghan Brothers Brewing Company had pondered such a switch for some time — and this year, they finally bit the bullet and bought their own canning system. As of last month, Geaghan’s beers including Smiling Irish Bastard Pale Ale and Presque Isle Blonde are available in cans in stores statewide, with more varieties set to be canned in the coming months, as the transition from bottle to can continues.
As if that wasn’t enough, however, Geaghan’s staff decided to embark on another big project at the same time they were readying their brand-new canning system — building a brand-new tasting room in one of the spaces adjacent to the actual brewery on Abbott Street in Brewer, which also opened last month.
“Why not just do it all at the same time?” said Lisa Sturgeon, marketing and communications manager for the brewery. “When it rains, it pours. It’s certainly been a crazy time at Geaghan’s this year, so far.”
Geaghan’s is not the first brewery to make the switch from bottles to cans. In the Bangor region alone, Orono Brewing Company, Mason’s Brewing Company and Marsh Island Brewing all can a number of their brews, utilizing mobile canning operations like Iron Heart Canning and Wild Goose Canning.
Geaghan’s is, however, the first Bangor area brewery to buy its own canning system. They’re part of a growing trend in craft brewing that is shifting away from bottles, towards cans.
“The beer is fresher longer, the dissolved oxygen levels are better on the cans versus the bottles, there’s no light penetration on cans,” said Andrew Geaghan, one of the co-owners of the brewery and its head brewer. “We just know it delivers a better product… People used to think of it as something you’d drink a light, domestic beer out of. But cans are way better these days. They’re much higher quality. Think of it as a mini-keg.”
Beyond canning, the new tasting room is a big leap forward for Geaghan’s, which previously had a tasting room housed right inside the actual brewery. The old tasting room was pretty basic — tap lines, a bar and chairs, a little space for live music — but the new one is a full-fledged bar. There are big windows looking out onto the brewery, exposed brick, warm wooden beams along the ceiling, lots of seating and a big bar made from Maine white pine. And, of course, lots of beer.
Just about every beer Geaghan’s makes is on tap at the tasting room, from perennial favorites like the aforementioned Smiling Irish Bastard and Presque Isle Blonde, to specialty brews like King’s Pine IPA and various installments in the Rotating Hops series.
There’s food too, from freshly-baked pretzels and Geaghan’s pub cheese, to house-made pickles and dilly beans. There’s also an ever-changing variety of decadent, delicious hand pies — flaky pie crust stuffed with Geaghan’s pub favorites, like pub cheese and buffalo chicken.
“This is the full beer experience. This is definitely a more specialized experience from what we do over at the restaurant,” Andrew Geaghan said. “We’re at the point where we want to be able to offer both kinds of things, because we have both kinds of customers.”
It’s hard to believe that Geaghan’s Brothers Brewing Company is not even six years old — the brewery launched in November of 2011, with a tiny system housed inside the flagship Bangor restaurant, and only sold beer at the restaurant. It was among the first craft breweries in the Bangor area, in fact, preceded by the Sea Dog Brewing Company, Black Bear Brewing and Penobscot Bay Brewery.
Today, Geaghan’s is the eighth largest brewery in the state, and is one of 11 breweries in the Bangor area. The brewery and tasting room take up two buildings in a large complex of buildings just off South Main Street in Brewer, and Geaghan’s beers can be found in grocery stores, gas stations and beer shops from Kittery to Fort Kent.
The restaurant — a mainstay of Bangor’s dining scene for the past 42 years — is still going strong, serving up burgers, sandwiches, steaks and house classics like Irish nachos and reserve wings. There are customers who have been coming to eat since day one, folks who are now in their 70s and older, with not just their own children but their grandchildren coming with them.
Have those stalwart customers come along on the craft beer ride with Geaghan’s? Andrew Geaghan said yes — or, at least, they’re proud of their hometown restaurant’s success.
“You know, it’s interesting — we have folks from the older generations that, when we started, didn’t know a thing about craft beer and were convinced they wouldn’t like it,” he said. “And then they try one just to support us, and then, eventually, they’ve come around to prefer it. I think a lot of people have gotten into craft beer that way. Maybe not every one of them. But that’s OK. We love them just the same.”
The Geaghan’s Brothers Brewing Company tap room is open from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and from noon to 8 p.m. Saturdays. For more information, like them on Facebook.