As the country’s 16th largest craft brewer—one that fills 144,000 barrels a day at peak production and distributes to 35 states—it’s hard to imagine a time when Shipyard Brewing Company’s co-owner Fred Forsley hawked brew out of the back of his Chevy Blazer.
As a prelude to his brewing career, Forsley kicked around from upstart to upstart: real estate development, health care, recycling—you name it. Even his college experience landed him at a few schools (as he tells it, it took a year and a half of partying at Arizona State University before his father made him pack his bags and come home to Maine). It was back in the summer resort town of Kennebunkport, Maine in 1992 that Forsley saw opportunity in a failing real estate development for an upstart brewery.
For guidance, Forsley hired veteran English brewer and consultant Alan Pugsley (who was at a brewery in Canada) to develop the recipes, design a brewing system and train the employees. Pugsley earned a name for himself in the industry as a successful brewer and owner of consulting business Pugsley Brewing Projects. As a consultant, he was integral in the design and opening of 32 breweries.
By the time Pugsley returned to Canada, Forsley’s new Kennebunkport Brewing Company and Federal Jack’s Restaurant & Brewpub were fully functioning and ripe for business. Forsley’s gut instinct was right; the brewery was a smash with the summer tourist trade, which was precisely the problem.
“We did our first beer when June hit and had a huge summer and all the sudden September hit and there was nobody in the restaurant,” says Forsley. “It really fell off.”
Enter the Chevy Blazer.
“In Maine you can self-distribute. I was sitting there paying a brewer and looking at this $200,000 investment saying ‘What am I going to do?’ I actually started to self-distribute, opening up accounts in Portland.”
It didn’t take long for those accounts to multiply. As business picked up, a friendly face arrived in Portland, Maine. Pugsley had relocated his consulting offices there and was looking for a brewery to use as a training field for his clients. The two reunited under a mutual agreement: Pugsley could use the Kennebunkport brewery to train his clients (people who were looking to open breweries and brewers learning to make beer), only if he took over the brewing operations. Two years later, business was booming for the pair, and it was time to expand.
“We brewed so much out of the seven-barrel system, we had to relocate to a new brewery,” Forsley explains. “In ’94 we opened up the brewery in Portland, which at that time was a 50-barrel system.” Together Forsley and Pugsley signed a contract, and with the new brewery, a new company was born: Shipyard Brewing.
Over the years Shipyard has seen its fair share of growth, like the smashing 16.8-percent jump in sales in 2007. The duo has also opened a few sister companies like Sea Dog Brewing Co. With a brewing system large enough to double its output, and a desire to further expand in New England and the “sunshine states” (as Forsley calls the southeast), as well as bolster growth in California, it’s safe to say Shipyard is sailing the craft market at three sheets to the wind.