The Wild Story Behind the First Blueberry Beer

From barrens to breweries, the Maine ale that started it all (and it might not be the one you think).

blueberry beer
Photo by Tara Rice
By Will Grunewald
From our November 2023 issue

For Sea Dog Brewing Co., 1995 was a significant year for a couple of reasons. One was that the company expanded beyond its original Camden location for the first time, opening an outpost in Bangor. The other was that it released its first batch of Blue Paw Wild Blueberry Ale. Within a decade, Blue Paw had become so ubiquitous in the beer aisle and on draft lists that a person could have been forgiven for assuming Sea Dog pioneered the style. But not so. Maine’s — and, by all accounts, the country’s — very first blueberry beer debuted in 1993, at Atlantic Brewing Company

Atlantic Brewing was, at the time, still known as Acadia Brewing Company and still housed in the Lompoc Cafe, a brewpub owned by husband and wife Doug Maffucci and Barbara Patten. One day that summer, a local blueberry farmer pulled up with a truckload of surplus from the harvest, hoping they might want to buy the berries for the restaurant, but they couldn’t imagine how to use all of them. When the farmer came back again, with a lower price, they figured what the heck. “I was a little kid then, but I’ve been told the story enough times that I feel like it happened to me,” says Alex Maffucci, Doug and Barbara’s nephew who’s now Atlantic Brewing’s president. 

The kitchen staff made blueberry pancakes, blueberry muffins, and blueberry pie. They heaped blueberries on summer salads. “They threw the berries into all this stuff, but they were barely making a dent,” Alex says. “So it was like, what are we going to do with all this fruit before it rots?” Then, the company’s brewer proposed putting those blueberries in beer.

They juiced the berries by tossing a couple of pints at a time into blenders. “It made a huge mess, and we said we’re never doing that again,” Alex says. But they poured the beer at a festival that year, and Angus King, then a gubernatorial candidate, wrote the family a letter afterward, praising their novel use of a traditional Maine agricultural product. They felt they didn’t have much choice but to brew it again (though they bought the berries already juiced the next time around, making far less mess).

Sea Dog wasn’t the only brewery to follow suit. Too many Maine breweries to count have, at some point, attempted a blueberry beer, from blueberry lagers to blueberry sours to blueberry stouts. Atlantic’s is a rich amber complexion, and its berry sweetness is present but mellow. Freshly poured, it gives off a sweet-floral scent, reminiscent of the whiff of a pail of just-picked blueberries. 

Today, that beer is Atlantic’s top seller. Not bad for something born almost entirely of happenstance. “Blueberries and lobster and now also beer are Maine’s three staples,” Alex says, “It’s kind of cool that we happened to hit two out of three.” 

April 2024, Down East Magazine

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