Fred Forsley hit on the idea for what would become Shipyard Brewing Co. in 1991 in a Florida brewpub. At the time, he was a real estate broker and trying to figure out what to do with a failed real estate deal in Kennebunk. The solution: a brewpub. Soon after, Federal Jack’s restaurant was created with Shipyard as the onsite brewery. Demand grew and soon a larger brewery in Portland was added. With its Sea Dog Brewing Co., Shipyard now has breweries and seven brewpubs in Maine and Florida and also makes Capt’n Eli’s soda. The company has more than 100 employees is on track to produce 2.2 million cases of beer and 235,000 cases of soda this year.

Q: Are you involved in brewing and creating more types of beer?

A: I’m really the business end of it. I know brewing, but I’m not the brewer in any sense. I was lucky enough to find (master brewer) Alan Pugsley and we’ve been together for more than 20 years.

Q: From the business perspective, is it complicated?

A: It looks like a simple business, but it can be complicated in the sense of getting a brand to grow and to get more than an initial sampling. From day one, the product was world-class and that made it easier to sell. At the end of the day, sales and marketing is a key ingredient, but it’s the quality of the product.

Q: How do you and your brewers come up with new flavors?

A: Luckily, we have a pilot system at the brewery (to test new flavors). Our brewers are very excited because it allows them to come up with new recipes, like Ginger BreadHead, which is going phenomenally well. You’ve got to stay creative and come up with products that are unique, but we also have the flagship Shipyard Export Ale that’s still going well. Now some of the extreme beers out there, we’ve reacted to that with things like the Monkey Fist IPA, which is more of a California IPA. We’re doing what the wine business did or what Ben & Jerry’s did with ice cream – there will be certain brands that stand the test of time. In the last couple of years, we’ve come out with a lot of new products, which is exciting, but it’s also expensive and takes a lot of energy.

Q: How do you determine if you’ve got a winning new flavor?

A: We do a lot of things at the brew pub, where you can get the consumers’ direct response. We’re also able to pass it through 10 different brewers here, so we get a lot of opinions. Everybody’s got a different taste. We came out with the Sea Dog Sunfish, and it’s going well, but a lot of people say, “It’s not my style.” It’s a grapefruit-peach concoction.

Q: In 2012, it was discovered that the Shipyard brewery was billed for only a fraction its actual sewage fees and ordered to pay $300,000. Is that issue over?

A: We resolved it, we settled and everybody moved on. It’s settled. (A city investigation determined that there was no wrongdoing on either the city’s or brewery’s part.)

Q: Where is your beer distributed?

A: We’re not in every state, but we’re in most places where people like to get microbrews – in Florida, in California. We’re really aggressive in New York and growing in New Jersey. The Eastern Seaboard is really important for us. I was down in Key West recently and we have our beer in the Green Parrot Bar, which is one of the e oldest bars in the U.S. That’s fun for me to see. Our product is growing through the country and we have relationships s with Marton’s in England – we have over 500 draft lines over there.

Q: What’s your growth strategy?

A: We’ve been doing strategic relationships to grow. Like with ScubaNation – it’s a (Florida-based) TV show that we’ve used to market our beers – and also with New England Boating (a magazine and TV show) in Boston. We’ll use unique ways to grow our brand.

We can’t afford major marketing, so we do a lot of guerrilla marketing. We would do something like sponsoring the Ragnar race from Miami to Key West in 24 hours and gave out 10 kegs of beer at the finish line. It’s a good way to get exposure to those types of people who are active and involved. We’re going to do more of that. And we’ve been a sponsor of Beach to Beacon since it began and we do a lot of cycling events. We do a lot with active sports for people to connect.

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