Former homebrewer Dan Kleban founded Maine Beer Company (MBC) with his brother, David, in 2009. To keep costs low, the Klebans started with a one-barrel system in the Riverton neighborhood of Portland, Me., across from Allagash Brewing Company, and kept their day jobs. On nights and weekends, they brewed and bottled.
At first, they only produced one beer, an aromatic pale ale called Peeper. They had to fill their one fermenter in six batches. “Everything was incredibly inefficient and time consuming back then,” Dan says with a laugh. “We did everything by hand, even the capping of the bottles. But we believed in everything we were doing.”
So did Maine drinkers. The brewery quickly built a reputation for fresh, focused, hop-forward beers. In 2013, the brothers moved out of Portland into a facility twice its size in Freeport. The brewery recently added a two-story, 30,000-square-foot building to its space, and production is up: MBC produced 19,000 barrels in 2018, and projects to hit 23,000 this year. It’s now available in 25 states.
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“We’ve made an effort to have our expansions be dictated by a pull from the market rather than a push into it,” Dan says. “Each step has been measured, deliberate. Before our latest growth project, we were brewing at threshold for two years.”
Dan’s impact is enormous. In 2011, he helped form the board of directors of the Maine Brewers Guild and was its first president. During that time, the guild lobbied lawmakers to pass legislation allowing on-site sales, a revenue source now enjoyed by breweries across the country. He currently serves as vice chair on the board of directors of the Brewers Association.
MBC’s motto, printed on every bottle, is “Do What’s Right,” which means commitment to its employees and the environment. The taproom is solar powered, and the brewery is a proud member of 1% for the Planet, donating 1 percent of its annual sales to a network of eco-minded nonprofits. “It’s a way to show outwardly what we stand for as a company, which is to leave the world in a better place than we received it,” Dan says.
It inspires some of MBC’s more coveted brews, too. Lunch IPA is considered a “whale” among many craft beer drinkers, and was named for an actual finback tracked by Allied Whale, a local marine mammal laboratory and 1% of the Planet member. “After our donation we got a framed picture of Lunch the whale, saying we had adopted it,” Dan says. “The next beer we made was what became Lunch the IPA. It was our homage.”
So what is Dan doing when he’s not running a socially and environmentally conscious brewery? Here, he dives into our Lucky Sevens set of questions to rhapsodize about the first pale ale he loved, his rebellious approach to desert-island drinking, and how one beer can be the best and worst in his fridge.
1. What’s your desert-island beer?
I think the obvious answer here is to go with something light and refreshing. But assuming I am stuck here, I’ll go the opposite direction and stash away a ton of big barleywines like J.W. Lees Harvest Ale.
2. What’s the beer that made you fall in love with beer?
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It was my first love and will always have a special place in my heart. It set the benchmark for pale ales in the U.S.
3. FMK three beer types: IPA, pilsner, sour.
I took a few liberties with this question. I would DATE any well-balanced double IPA — Pliny comes to mind here. They are exciting, bold, but not something you need every day. Marry, got to live with this one for the rest of my life, so it can’t be something trendy or just a fad; I am thinking something like a nice clean pale ale — it has all the hop character of a double IPA but less bitterness. And kill, any beer that smells like a cheap Christmas candle. They have just got to go!
4. You’re on death row. What’s your last-supper beer?
Peeper. It’s the beer that got Maine Beer Company started, and you couldn’t ask for a more perfect last beer.
5. You can only drink one beer for the rest of your life. What is it?
6. What’s the best and worst beer in your fridge right now?
Worst, an old bottle of Lunch I forgot about because it was hidden in the back. No excuse here, poor little fella! As it says on our labels: “Drink this beer fresh”! Best, a fresh bottle of Lunch that is front and center.
7. If you could no longer drink beer, what would be your beverage of choice?
Too easy: Bourbon!