Michael Rankin, left, CEO of Definitive Brewing, brought in Dylan Webber as director of brewing operations. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Michael Rankin has big plans for Definitive Brewing, which will open around Memorial Day in Portland’s Riverside neighborhood.

Rankin, the CEO of Definitive, rounded up a group of 11 investors and leased a building on Industrial Way, across the street from Allagash and next door to Foundation, Austin Street and Battery Steele breweries. Definitive brought in Dylan Webber – a former top brewer at Maine Beer Co. and Mast Landing – to be a co-founder and the director of brewing operations. And Definitive is diving into the market with a 15-barrel brewhouse and four 30-barrel fermenters, which is enough to make more than 1,000 gallons a week.

But Maine already has more than 110 breweries. Is there room for a big new brewery?

“I feel like it’s a calculated risk,” Rankin said. “We put together a strong group of people to make this thing work.”

They have their work cut out for them. Brewers are starting to talk about the Maine market being saturated. At the New England Craft Brew Summit two years ago, brewers talked about how to make good beer and maintain quality. At last week’s summit at Portland’s Holiday Inn by the Bay, there were sessions on brand building led by marketers, lawyers talking about insurance issues and brewers talking about how to sell beer outside their local market.

GROW, OR PROTECT YOUR TURF?

Selling beer is becoming a challenge. Despite more than 20 breweries opening in 2017, data provided by the federal government show Maine produced 0.2 percent less beer in 2017 than in 2016. The state has not released data on how much beer individual breweries produced, but the trend has been that big players like Shipyard and Baxter are losing market share while upstarts grow at a frenetic pace.

A hat with Definitive’s logo sits near the fermentors at the company’s Industrial Way brewhouse, which can produce over 1,000 gallons a week.

Will Fisher, co-owner of Portland’s Austin Street, attended the beer summit to learn more about aspects of running a brewery that haven’t been covered before. He said his brewery has enjoyed steady, constant growth for four years and he doesn’t see that changing.

“I think the question is what happens when everybody wants to grow,” Fisher said. “That will be the true test. … I think we’ve been conservative, but we’re seeing consistent growth. If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”

David Carlson, owner of Belfast’s Marshall Wharf, offered a counterpoint to the focus on growth at the summit. He has built a quirky reputation by making stouts with oysters in the beer and a Scotch ale made with seaweed. Marshall Wharf also was an early leader in making hop-forward ales and IPAs.

The company uses essentially the same seven-barrel brewing system it’s had since Carlson bought it 11 years ago. They aren’t talking about expanding. They want to protect their home turf.

“My niche is serving my local community,” Carlson said. “We have draft and retail accounts. We have up to 16 beers on tap at our restaurant and we want to maintain that.”

Rankin has loftier goals.

As a certified public accountant, he understands financial risks. He also says he understands how to find a niche. That’s why Definitive hired a production employee from Tree House in Massachusetts to be a brewer here.

CEO Michael Rankin, right, shown with brewer and co-owner Dylan Webber, says Definitive will have two patios and host food trucks. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

MORE DEMAND, MORE BREWERIES

Definitive will open with a few hoppy offerings because that’s what the market demands, but Rankin is excited about the company’s kolsch. He talks eagerly about how Webber, the director of brewing, went to Cologne, Germany, to learn how to make a proper kolsch, a beer similar to a pilsner.

The brewery will have two patios, one out front and one out back, and a food truck on site every hour the brewery is open to the public. And Rankin says he expects the tasting room experience will be among the best in the state.

Sure, it’s a risk opening a brewery. But he likes his chances.

“We’re not at market saturation,” Rankin said. “We may be getting close to the number of breweries that can exist and be successful, but the market is demanding more and more craft beer and taking less from the big beer producers. Our goal is to learn from the other breweries before us that have been successful, and make a product that puts us in the same conversation. Our goal is to be one of the best breweries in the state. We’re not looking to beat everybody else, we’re looking to join them.”

Hence the bold name choice.

James Patrick can be contacted at 791-6382 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: mesofunblog

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CLARIFICATION: This story was updated at 12:15 p.m. on April 5, 2018 to clarify that Definitive hired a production worker from Tree House. He will now be brewing.

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