March 16, 2017 by Cody
In 1983, David and Karen Geary opened the first post-prohibition era craft brewery in Maine, becoming one of only thirteen craft breweries in the country at the time. Over the years since their founding, D.L. Geary Brewing has released several lauded brews, including their London Porter and Hampshire Special Ale, resulting in the company becoming a veritable institution in the state. In the last few years however, with the explosion of local, fresh and innovative new breweries, Geary’s has fallen behind in terms of branding.
For decades, the few breweries we had in Maine, were a welcomed respite for those with curious palates, who wanted something more than just pale, flavorless, adjunct lagers. As more and more people began to convert to the gospel of craft brew though, those tastes that merely wanted something different, became more discerning. New breweries developed, with new ingredients and recipes that didn’t rely solely on the old world methods of brewing. New hops, fruits, bacterias, bourbon barrels; beer had become a religion, where the masses, more and more, wanted the highest in quality. Geary’s though, did not, and has not kept up with the demand.
For as long as I can remember drinking Geary’s beer, its always been the same variety. You have your HSA, Summer Ale, Winter Ale, London Porter, along with a handful of other stalwarts, and very little innovation. The latest mass marketed project by Geary’s has been Ixnay, the brewery’s foray into the gluten free realm. While I appreciate the brewery’s engagement with the gluten intolerant community, it’s not exactly the hippest trend happening in beer today.
Now I don’t think that every brewery needs to have a mandatory juicy New England style double IPA to distribute, but maintaining only the same mass produced quantities for the last 15-20 years, just hasn’t worked for Geary’s in their grand scheme. Innovation is key in this industry today, with up and comers intoxicating the community with exciting, bright, fragrant, native flavors destroying the once safe space of traditional ales. Even classic local evangelists like Sebago and Shipyard have understood the trends, and have expanded their catalog to compensate for the ever changing palates of the country.
I am, of course, bringing all of this up in a blog post because of the recent acquisition of the company by Freeport businessman Alan Lapoint. I don’t know David Geary or his family, but from what I’ve heard, the man was just ready to retire after being in the business for decades, which is totally understandable. Family owned businesses are sold all the time, so this should be no different, however, Geary’s was not in tip top shape when it was sold, and the new owner has never been in the beer business. Lapoint has stated he hopes to garner success by maintaining the brewery’s core base, while adding new IPA’s to the rotation, but his first action as owner has reportedly been to let go a couple of long time employees with no severance. Both the acquisition, and the firings have sent shock waves throughout Maine, and folks are understandably curious to see if Geary’s will be around in the near future.
Despite my critical analysis, I’ve always been a fan of several Geary’s beers, in fact, I think HSA is one of the most under appreciated beers in America. With that said, I am a realist, and the lack of success the brewery has had in recent years rests entirely on it’s own lack of imagination. What appeal is there for new beer drinkers? More and more people come to Maine from out of state to enjoy our sudsy offerings, but few of these beer tourists venture over to Geary’s. If Geary’s fails, it’ll amount to an utterly tragic, yet unsurprising turn of events. I, as a fan of the brewery, hope they can re-invigorate themselves under new leadership, I really do, because Maine’s first craft brewery doesn’t deserve to be dismissed and forgotten, it should be a guiding light for the burgeoning industry. Despite a rocky road ahead of them, I have high hopes Geary’s will rise again.