Microbrewery isn’t a word much heard nowadays, despite the divide between big and small shaping perceptions of the beer world for decades — the suits at AB InBev and Molson Coors versus that scruffy-looking dude pouring growlers in the back of an old industrial park. The dynamic shifted when some small breweries started getting big. Not international-conglomerate big, but big enough that they definitely weren’t micro anymore. A new preferred description, craft, presented a looser, more flexible concept, suggesting some commendable mix of independence and creativity, regardless of size. Really, craft beer is defined by what it’s not: the generic-tasting stuff that continues to own most of the market. Still, plenty of breweries around Maine continue to operate on a thoroughly micro scale, making just a keg or two’s worth of beer at time. A few of the smallest of the small — based on production stats self-reported to the Maine Brewers’ Guild last year — have a lot in common, including a certain contentedness with not getting big.
Jenny and Cody Tibbetts’s old house is now a tattoo studio, and their old shed next door is a brewery, Tattooed Dad. Cody tattoos, while Jenny brews. “Doing small batches is comfortable for us,” Jenny says. “This business isn’t the full pie at this point in our lives, and keeping it on a smaller scale just gives us more flexibility.”
Cody and Jenny Tibbetts (left) own Tattooed Dad, one of the micro-est breweries in Maine.
They started the brewery six years ago, with Cody initially doing the brewing. But he’s also a full-time carpenter, and keeping up was tough, so Jenny learned the ropes and took over. On Saturdays, they host live music and community potlucks (“It’s a great way to make sure our kids get fed while we’re working,” Jenny says). They’re in a town with a population of just 600 and prefer it that way. “I probably know the first name of at least 80 percent of the people who walk through the door,” Jenny says. “For me, that’s what it’s mostly about, having a place where people can be together.”
For a tiny operation, Gordon’s Grog manages to offer a lot of variety — 12 taps, with some 30 beers rotating through. It also offers church services. The taproom started doubling as a chapel when pandemic restrictions limited gathering sizes and brewery owner Trevor Gordon and his fellow congregants needed to split into smaller groups. Since then, the idea has stuck, with services taking place a few times a month (outside of regular taproom hours). “In terms of quirks at breweries,” Gordon says, “hosting church is definitely an unusual one.”
Gordon works full-time at a tech company, and he puts in another 25 hours a week at the brewery, on the same property as his family’s home. Waking up at 4:30 on a Saturday to head over and make beer can feel like a slog sometimes, he admits, “but when I’m talking with folks and pouring beer, it doesn’t feel like work at all.”
Roy Curtis loves beer and mountain biking, and on Wednesdays he combines the two, hosting public rides from his brewery. Afterward, riders can circle back for free samples. Growler pours, though, are reserved for Frosty Bottom’s shareholders (or at least mostly so — Curtis budgets in some surplus every month). Curtis modeled his business on community-supported agriculture, after years of signing up for vegetable CSAs, bread CSAs, and cheese CSAs. This past year, shares cost $325 and entitled their holders to a gallon per month.
“I still kind of think of this as a hobby, and I’ve always said that if it ever starts feeling like work, I might have to stop doing it,” says Curtis, whose full-time job is with the state’s juvenile-corrections division. An Airbnb apartment above the brewery — Curtis calls it Room with a Brew — helps a lot with the bottom line. “I’ve been resisting the pressures of growth,” he says, “because doing small batches seems to work pretty nicely here.”
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