Down East 2013 ©
Photograph by Jason P. Smith
Luke Livingston is barely over the drinking age, and yet his Baxter Brewing Company has swiftly carved out a niche in Maine’s beer marketplace from its brick home in Lewiston’s Bates Mill No. 1 Annex. The twenty-six-year-old Auburn native filled his first can on December 28 of last year and is already doubling capacity to handle the demand for his Pamola Xtra Pale Ale and Stowaway IPA. We stood with him in the brew room and talked about his remarkable rise in Maine’s twin cities.
How did you get into the beer business?
After college I sold ads for the Portland Phoenix and then was an admissions counselor at St. Joseph’s College in Standish, but for more than four years I’d also been working as a beer blogger, just as a hobby. And then in January 2009 my mom passed away from breast cancer at a relatively young age, 63, and I decided to stop what I was doing and work on a business plan. I’d learned about the industry and the canning movement through my blog, and I looked at the beer landscape in Maine and saw that the state didn’t have a true, bold, West Coast-style IPA. I also wanted to design an extra pale ale, something that is approachable if you’ve been drinking PBR and want to try something new. So those two kinds of beers, which are the ones we’re producing now, have been in the business plan since Day One.
Why did you choose Lewiston?
When I was working on my business plan, I always assumed I would put the brewery in Portland. I just never really thought about Lewiston. But my dad lives in Auburn, and he was kind of my champion and started talking to people around town and they started getting really excited about it. And that got passed to me, and it just started to make more and more sense. As a distribution hub, it made total sense, and yet there was no packaged brewery here.
How long did it take to go from business plan to beer?
I left my job in April 2009, we broke ground in June 2010, and our first commercial batch of beer was brewed on December 28.
How has the reception been from people in L-A?
It’s been incredible: We’re on tap at Fuel, which is the sort of a white-tablecloth restaurant in town, and we’re on tap at the Blue Goose, which is a little more downscale. And here at the brewery we get almost constant tour traffic, people who worked here or whose parents worked here and want to see what we’ve done with the place. People have been excited. It’s rare, unfortunately, for a local boy to come back.
Where did you get your equipment?
We tried to use as much recycled equipment as we can. Most of our large equipment came from a brewery in Oregon that was upgrading. Our conditioning tanks, where the beer sits for about two weeks, were dairy tanks on a farm in Wisconsin before they came here. We’re a thirty-barrel brewhouse, which means we can produce sixty kegs per batch, since each keg is half a barrel.
How much did it all cost?
I’ve spent about $1.4 million on everything, including the renovations to the mill. Probably about half a million of that is on the equipment alone.
How’d you raise that kind of money?
We’re financed by a combination of local private investments, a line of credit from People’s United Bank, and a low-interest loan from the city of Lewiston.
How much beer can you make at peak production?
Currently we can make two batches, or 120 kegs worth of beer, in a twelve-hour day. About 60 percent of our beer goes into cans, the rest into kegs. But we have two more fermenters and a conditioning tank arriving this month because we’re already well beyond capacity. At the canning line, we fill about thirty cans per minute. We hope to have shipped five thousand barrels to Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire by the end of 2011 — that’s equivalent to about seventy thousand cases of beer.
Besides not putting your beer into bottles, what’s unique about your brewing process?
We’re the only brewery in Maine that uses a colandria [a device used to boil the wort] in the kettle, which keeps the most vigorous boil going. That helps with the consistency and allows for more efficiency in using as much brew as possible.
Your cans- and kegs-only philosophy is unique in Maine. How has the cult of the can taken off?
I thought that there would be an uphill battle in getting people to accept the cans, and that hasn’t been the case. I’ve gotten a lot of personal thank-yous from sailors who can’t bring bottles out on their boats, and even from a rock climber who is glad to have a quality beer that she can put in her backpack and take up the cliff.