Earlier this month, more than 50 Maine breweries collaborated on a project called the Maine Beer Box, shipping a container of the state’s brews across the North Atlantic for an upcoming festival in Iceland.
“Box” may not be an adequate description of the vessel, which is actually a semi-trailer tricked out with draft lines from breweries like Allagash, Austin Street, and Marshall Wharf. It was the brainchild of Maine Brewer’s Guild executive director Sean Sullivan, who hatched the idea over beers at a reception in Portland for a delegation from the city of Reykjavik in 2015.
“It’s a way to help Maine brewers learn how to export their beers, find new markets, and promote our state in a lasting, experiential way,” says Sullivan. “How can our state stand out from the rest?”
Iceland and Maine have outward similarities: Both places are cold, and residents take pride in a kind of isolationism. But the beer scenes couldn’t be more different. Maine craft beer is thriving — the state’s 7.6 breweries per capita ranks 5th in the nation — while Iceland had a prohibition on “strong beer,” or anything over 2.25 percent, until 1989.
“It is very strange thinking about that,” says Johann Gudmundsson, head brewer at Iceland’s The Brothers Brewery. “Craft beer started here around 2010. We started in January 2016 and have been growing fast since then.”
Gudmundsson says his only current guidelines are to brew “beer that we like — there is no particular type at the moment.” An IPA and a Volcano Red Ale, named after a volcano that erupted in 1973 and made with locally picked seaweed and red chilis — are the two best-sellers.
“Maine has some of the best beers available, so this event is fantastic for the Icelandic beer scene.”
Maine brewers admit they don’t know much about Icelandic beer, which is part of the project’s allure.
“I had never thought about Iceland and their beer,” says Evan Evangelos, who owns Threshers Brewing Co. in Searsmont, Maine. “This will help get the word out that Maine brewers take their craft seriously and want to share it with the world.”
Iceland is the first stop in a five-year marketing effort to ship a box of Maine beer to a new country annually. The Iceland festival takes place June 24 in Reykjavik. A corresponding festival at which Icelandic beer will be poured is July 29 in Portland.