The remarkable decade-long resurgence of craft breweries in Maine has sparked a boom in grain agriculture statewide. But, until now, the state’s brewers were unable to make a completely Maine-grown beer. Instead, they had to ship grain out of the state—and into Canada—for malting, an essential step in beer making. That’s changing, thanks to Blue Ox Malthouse, Maine’s first commercial malthouse, which is enabling brewers to create fully Maine-made beers.
Located in Lisbon Falls, Blue Ox Malthouse received support from Maine’s Coastal Enterprises Inc. (CEI), which specializes in rural business development and financing, in the form of a loan and participation by CEI Investment Notes, Inc. The CDFI provided a line of credit, financing for start-up equipment, and business counseling and support from CEI’s Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems program.
Today, the malthouse is poised to become the premier supplier of conventional and organic malt from Maine-grown grains. And, for Maine brewers and grain farmers, it connects the 5,000 acres—roughly to 14 million pounds or 7,000 tons—of malting barley grown in Maine to the $35 million market opportunity of Maine-based breweries.
“From my first visit with CEI Small Business Development Center when I was a budding entrepreneur to our successful loan application, CEI has been an integral support system for growing our company—and it still is,” explains Joel Alex, owner and founder of Blue Ox Malthouse.
As it grows, Blue Ox Malthouse expects to have a considerable impact on the craft brewing houses in Maine and to bring five new living wage jobs to its community in the next two years.
Art Stevens, CEI loan and investment officer, says, “The Blue Ox Malthouse project is a great example of how an emerging generation of thoughtful entrepreneurs are returning to the land, developing value added niche offerings, and creating positive social and economic impact in the course of doing business.”
(Date of loan: 2015. Date of story publication: 2016)