FREEPORT, Maine — Marine Corps veteran Brad Nadeau was working for an insurance company when he had an “aha” moment while driving next to a brewery truck in Southern Maine.
His wife, Nancy, remembers the day her husband came home and told her he wanted to start a veteran-owned and -operated brewery.
“I was really excited, but I also told him, ‘There’s one minor thing: You have never brewed beer in your life,’ ” Nadeau laughed, recounting the conversation she and her husband had in the beginning, noting that he had an entire business plan laid out before ordering a home-brewing kit.
After countless YouTube videos and a year or so of brewing from the garage and having friends and family test Brad’s newfound passion for brewing, they were ready to officially take the leap.
“When you sacrifice your life for the military, it’s always in the back of your head that you want to find something else that is meaningful,” said Nadeau of her husband’s transition into brewing. “We love giving back to veterans and having a place that serves as a source of pride.”
Stars & Stripes Brewing Co. will celebrate its one-year anniversary on Veterans Day. Located just down the street from L.L. Bean in Freeport, the Nadeaus got their business off the ground thanks in part to a successful Kickstarter campaign, which helped them secure a bank loan by raising over $22,000.
In a state with a booming craft beer industry (there are 153 breweries here), the husband-and-wife team was delighted by the camaraderie among brewers. While they immediately felt supported, they also knew they needed to find a niche to help set them apart. Their mission to honor the military, especially veterans, has proved to be a purposeful one.
Ashley Barron, who works in the taproom as a bartender, recalls one man who came in and ordered a Hoperation Black IPA. With every pint sold, $1 is donated to 22Kill, an organization that raises awareness of the high rate of suicide among veterans. The patron was emotional as he thought of his friend who was a part of that growing statistic.
“Working at Stars & Stripes has been eye-opening for me,” said Barron, whose brother-in-law currently serves in the Army. “It’s such an honor to be a part of the team and meeting so many people who have fought for our country.”
Beyond the daily individual impact, Stars & Stripes regularly hosts fund-raisers and events to raise money and awareness for veteran organizations.
Over the summer, the community came together to support the Jarheads Motorcycle Club after the tragic New Hampshire crash that took the lives of seven Marine veterans. Customers donated silent auction items, food-truck vendors and bands donated their time and tips, Casco Bay Ford matched donations and again, a part of pint sales went toward the cause. In the end, more than $8,000 went to the Jarhead families.
“There is something to be said about an organization that gives back to the surrounding community, and we cannot be more grateful or more proud,” said Greg Johnson, executive director of The Summit Project, an organization that serves as a living memorial for Maine’s fallen service members by carrying stones on tribute hikes that have a soldier’s name engraved on them. “Brad is a Marine veteran who served his country, then came back home to continue serving his fellow service members and veterans right here is his own hometown. Nancy supports these efforts tenfold and has vested herself deeply into this mission as well.”
Stars & Stripes was able to help raise $3,000 for The Summit Project after hosting a corn hole tournament and brewing a special beer, “Summit Gold,” for the event.
“The taproom has really become a source of pride for veterans,” said Nancy. “Customers come back with different family members or friends, and you can see the sense of pride they have in showing them around. It gets them talking about their military experience with loved ones, and it’s a really powerful thing to observe.”
While there are many touching moments that happen between the brewery walls, it’s also not uncommon to walk in and see a person or two doing push-ups. If someone drinks a “Stout and Give Me 20” and does 20 proper push-ups, they get a sticker. You can imagine the ripple effect that may occur.
As parents themselves, the Nadeaus also wanted to make sure families felt comfortable bringing kids in. They have popcorn and freeze pops for the kids and a corner with games, coloring books, and a chalkboard.
A three-day celebration, planned for Veterans Day weekend, includes food trucks, live music, a new release from a collaboration with Flight Deck Brewing in Brunswick, and of course, a ceremonial cake-cutting for the Marine Corps birthday on Sunday.
For those wanting to try the beer, currently it’s only sold in the taproom. Patrons can also fill a growler or 22-ounce “bomber bottle” to take home. Distribution will be on the agenda in the future, but for now, the couple just wants to focus on perfecting their craft, and as Brad says, “being the ‘Cheers’ for vets” who need need a place to feel at home.