SEDGWICK, Maine — Thanks to the patronage of more than 50 shareholders and donations from 155 backers, Sedgwick is set to become home to the state’s first community supported brewery.
It’s been 13 years since Al and Mia Strong moved to Maine with the dream of opening a brewery. Al Strong has been honing his brewing skills for more than 16 years. Now, with the completion of a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise $7,500, the Strong Brewing Company has the startup money it needs to open.
“This is the closest I’ve ever been,” Al Strong said Wednesday. “I had never even gotten as far as filling out all the forms before. … It feels like I might actually pull this off.”
The Strong Brewing Co. model works like this: Members pay between $87 and $340 up front for a “share” in the company. The money goes to help fund the startup costs and operation of the brewery. In return, shareholders get to fill 32- or 64-ounce jugs, or “growlers,” 24 or 48 times, depending on the value of the share.
The couple held free tastings at their home to show off Al’s brewing prowess and sign up shareholders. Despite getting about 10 buy-ins per event, they still needed more money to get the brewery off the ground. So last fall, they turned to the crowd-funding website, Kickstarter.
To put it nicely, the first time around was a learning experience.
The Strongs admit they didn’t have much of a marketing strategy the first time they attempted to raise money on Kickstarter. They were asking for $15,000 and set a 30-day deadline. They produced a pitch video for potential backers, featuring interviews with the Strongs and community members. It was six minutes long.
“We thought we could just put it out there and sit back and see what happened,” Al Strong said. “We didn’t do enough networking. We didn’t send out any emails. Our video was about six minutes long which I’ve since learned is just death on the Internet. People were turning off after about 30 seconds.”
Ultimately, the duo raised only about $2,000. Kickstarter doesn’t fund projects unless they meet their goal, so the Strongs got nothing.
“It was frustrating,” the brewer said. “We were watching all these other projects get funded, and we’re just sitting there.”
The couple pulled themselves together and went to the well again. The second time around, they set a lower goal — $7,500 in 60 days — and they enlisted help. Some friends put together a snappy new video — this time only 45 seconds long — and marketing materials. They took to Facebook and email with pitch letters, asking people for their support. They offered pint glasses, hats and T-shirts to backers.
“People are interested in slow food and building a locavore infrastructure,” Mia Strong said. “That’s what we’re about. That’s part of our overall mission: It’s not just to make beer and make money, but about improving the community.”
A community supported brewery is meant to become part of the fabric of the town. On the Blue Hill Peninsula, a hotbed for buy-local and small farm activism where the merits of shopping local are widely accepted, it’s not a hard sell.
By April 16, deadline day, the Strongs had raised more than $8,000. The same day, they learned they had received a $2,500 grant from Maine Farmland Trust. Between the fundraising, the grant and the shares sold, there was more than enough money to get Strong Brewing Co. started.
The company already has the necessary local licenses to open the brewery, and the federal application for a brewer’s notice, necessary to open a nano brewery, has been accepted by the U.S. Trade and Tax Bureau. Al Strong said they should receive all the necessary paperwork within a couple months.
“In that time, I’ll be putting together my brewery so we can hit the ground running,” he said.
An order for pumps, hoses, chillers and other brewery equipment is on its way from Massachusetts. When all is said and done, Al will brew 40-gallon batches from a small brewery built in the basement of his and Mia’s Sedgwick homestead.
And thanks in part to the buzz created by the Kickstarter campaign, Strong Brewing Company’s presence is expanding. All will provide the brew for the next Bangor Greendrinks event at the YMCA, and he’s hoping to serve at this summer’s KahBang Festival on the Bangor waterfront.
Chad Lothian, the Bangor Daily News’ resident beer expert, said he thinks the Strongs will do well. He attended one of the company’s tasting events, and said the excitement from attendees for a local brewery was palpable.
“I found them to be all very well done beers, but I was most excited about the Localmotive,” he said Thursday. “Al plans on sourcing all ingredients locally from Maine which is awesome and the beer is a California Common, a style that you don’t really see that often and it was really, really drinkable.”
At first, Strong’s beers — Localmotive, Soul Patch porter and a double IPA called Maineiac — will be available only in growlers. But Al Strong is confident in his product. He said that now that initial startup costs are in hand, growth is only a matter of time.
“I told my boss at work the other day, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not quitting my day job yet,’” he said. “I won’t make a living brewing 40 gallons at a time. But I think expansion is imminent.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.