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BRUNSWICK, Maine — For Chris Lively, starting a craft brewery is not only a natural next step in a lifetime surrounded by beer, it’s the continuation of a family heritage in the brewing industry that goes back for generations.
Lively, 39, is the proprietor of Ebenezer’s Pub in Lovell, which he and his wife opened in 2004, and Lion’s Pride in Brunswick, which they opened in an unassuming strip mall along Route 1 in 2009. Both bars have received the title of best beer bar in the world numerous times from beer-geek websites such as BeerAdvocate.com and RateBeer.com. In fact, Men’s Journal just named Ebenezer’s the best beer bar in America.
Later this fall, Lively will become proprietor of Maine’s newest brewery — Lively Brewing Co., which will be attached to Lion’s Pride in Brunswick.
“We knew we wanted to do a brewery. It’s been a dream of ours for a long time,” Lively said on a recent morning as he stood next to his plastic-wrapped, soon-to-be-utilized mash tun and brew kettle, which are visible through plate glass windows from the Lion’s Pride dining area.
“My great grandfather was a brewmaster of his own brewery down in San Antonio, Texas, so it’s in our blood,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why we do the trade that we do. If you go to Ebenezer’s, there’s a picture of my grandmother working in my family’s pub. That’s what we’ve been doing for eight generations, so it was a natural next step; something that just felt right.”
Lively plans to retire the Lion’s Pride name and adopt the Lively Brewing Co. name for the whole brewpub operation.
Getting the brewery started will cost about quarter of a million dollars, Lively said. It’s a project he and his wife are funding on their own, after years of saving.
“We’ve done this with no bank loans. This is all out of our own pocket,” he said. “I believe in doing things grassroots and that’s how we did it. We don’t owe anyone anything.”
Lively Brewing is one of at least 10 breweries in some stage of opening in Maine, according to Dee Dee Germain, who handles marketing and communications for the Maine Brewers Guild.
New breweries are always welcome at the table, she said.
“Chris knows a lot about beer, and he has a lot of connections in the beer world,” Germain said. “If he can bring some of that knowledge to the table, they can create some great beers up there.”
Germain also noted that Brunswick is a bit of a gap in the brewing industry, as it’s sandwiched between all the breweries in southern Maine and the plethora of breweries in the midcoast area, but is absent one of its own.
“It’ll be great to have a brewery up there,” Germain said.
There are currently 33 breweries in the state, which produced 7.9 million gallons of beer in 2012, a 90 percent increase from the 2009 production total.
The brewery will be able to brew 15 barrels at a time. Annual production figures are tough to estimate, Lively said. He expects to be brewing constantly at the beginning to build up an inventory. After that, he said, most breweries this size will brew twice a week, which might increase in the summertime when beer is in high demand.
He’ll add probably three to four people to get the brewery rolling, including a yet-to-be-named head brewer.
Lively said he has a “handshake deal” with a brewer with extensive experience and a few breweries on his resume that would make beer fans drool. A contract is currently being worked up, and Lively hopes the deal will be inked by mid September to allow for brewing operations to begin in early October.
“To be a brew pub to open up with that kind of brewer, good things could happen,” Lively said. “He’s some serious business.”
“We’re going to be able to offer world class beers extremely fresh,” said Lively while standing among his new fermenters. “These beers are going to be perfect and beautiful and gorgeous; beers you’re going to absolutely want to drink more of.”
Lively’s expectations are so high for the beer his brewery will churn out that it’s hard to tell if he’s kidding when he says things like, “if it’s not delicious, we’ll be watering the lawn with it.”
High expectations are necessary, though, he said.
“The bar has changed — it’s gotten a lot higher,” he said, adding that breweries like Allagash are producing world-class beers. “If you’re going to brew beer and you’re going to be successful, your beers have to be perfect. You can’t be brewing … stuff that tastes like crap. It has to be right on. Today, with the Internet and the way media travels, you better be good right off the bat.”
Lively expects to eventually be able to distribute his beers out of state, first in the form of kegs to select pubs, and then in bottle format. The when, however, is uncertain and depends on whether he can meet the demand in his own backyard.
“I have two outlets to sell my beer at — here and Ebenezer’s — it’s going to be hard to keep up with that demand with the system I have now,” he said.
If demand for his beer maxes out the brewery’s initial capacity, Lively said expansion is possible. In fact, the pub’s current neighbor, Maine Woolens, is looking to get out of its lease, he said, which would offer a perfect opportunity to expand next door.
While Lion’s Pride and Ebenezer’s have been successful at educating Mainers on the wide world of craft beer that comes out of their taps, Lively looks forward to doing the same thing now with his own brewery’s wares. While some breweries are focusing on big flavors and the funky ingredients — whatever’s the next big thing — Lively said he wants to bring his brewing back to basics. Lively Brewing will perfect some classic styles, such as a Vienna lager, as well as largely forgotten styles, such as Kentucky Common Beer, which was the most popular beer in Kentucky prior to Prohibition, but is rarely brewed commercially today.
“We were really able to bring new flavors to people through Ebenezer’s. This is going to allow us to do that again,” said Lively, who is a chef by training. “You’ll be able to taste things in our beers that will change your palette forever.”
Others from the beer world also expect good things from Lively.
“Chris is a big personality and knows good beer from a chef’s and world perspective,” said Joe Tucker, executive director of RateBeer. “Expect quality, nothing timid and probably beers that play well at the table.”
Lively may have received a glowing reputation from the beer world for his two beer bars in Maine, but chasing that celebrity spotlight is not the reason he’s starting his brewery, he said. His motivations are more grounding.
“I don’t want to say I’m burned out on that kind of spotlight, but its all about getting back to your roots and having a challenge ahead of you and starting a new adventure,” he said. “We look to kick some butt and not go bankrupt in the first couple months.”