U.S. Route 1 runs south from Fort Kent at the top of Aroostook County, along the East Coast to Key West, Florida. At that northernmost town is one of the state’s emerging breweries, aptly named First Mile Brewing Co.
This fledgling but rapidly growing brewery grew out of the enthusiasm of a home-brewing club and is slowly making its way beyond the restaurants and bars of The County to the rest of the state.
Brewmaster Ezra Duplissie-Cyr said the brewery has become well-recognized and highly regarded by beer aficionados throughout The County in both restaurants and stores. Part of what makes First Mile so popular is that it uses Maine- and especially Aroostook-produced ingredients, sourcing at least 50 percent of the ingredients from farmers in The County, including Maine Malt House and Aroostook hops.
And they are still looking for more local growers for special brews that include haskap berries, a variety of honeysuckle they currently get from a grower in New Canada, just south of Fort Kent. They also offer Big Tap Maple and Spruce Tip beers that also use local products.
First Mile is in an old grain warehouse; the conversion to a brewery feels right, especially with windows looking out on traffic, and a comfortably weathered wood interior decorated with antique advertising signs and other paraphernalia. Duplissie-Cyr said that while they are not yet equipped to offer food, they do have a restaurant license, so that will come in the future.
“At some point, we may order pizza from local shops and sell slices along with a beer,” he said.
For now, people can bring in their own food and order up a brew to accompany it. It’s a great place to join friends on a chill winter afternoon and enjoy the varieties of craft beers the brewery produces.
While the brewery originally relied on word of mouth, it is getting recognized farther south, in part as the result of a tap takeover at the Great Lost Bear in Portland, where they did a celebrity showing of beer to promote and advertise the beers as a way of feeling out the market.
“We sold out,” Duplissie-Cyr said.
There’s also another benefit for local folks. Sigrid Houlette of Misfit Farm in Westmanland regularly makes a run to First Mile to pick up the spent grains from the brewing process for the pigs she and her family raise on their farm, and Duplissie-Cyr said that will likely expand to other farmers as the brewery grows.
Like so many other businesses, First Mile was hit by COVID-19, which required them to pivot to keep sales stable. While the taproom was closed for a while, sales outside the brewery continued to expand. Although beer sales are still largely in The County, they are still available at Great Lost Bear, and at the Saddleback Inn in Rangeley, and 90 percent of their sales are now in cans at bars, grocery stores, and other locations as far south as Auburn.
Now the focus is on Bangor, but as the company moves forward, First Mile will likely make its way down Route 1, all the way to Portland and perhaps beyond. In the meantime, Route 1 or Interstate 95 will get you north to First Mile, or you can order online at https://www.firstmilebrewing.com/shop.
“We are struggling with growing pains, in getting the beer out farther across the state, but we are working on it,” Duplissie-Cyr said. “We want people to know that there are more beers up here than IPAs. But right now, if you want this great beer, you’ve got to come north.”
Jan Grieco is a retired college instructor and former reporter for The Forecaster. She lives in Perham, where she farms and lives off the land.