What do our Sebago Brewery tour guides all have in common? They were Sebago beer fans before they became Sebago beer experts.
Julie Taft has worked at Sebago Brewing since 2011, first as a server and then a hostess. Before that she was a regular at the brewpub in Gorham for six years. Mariann Caine volunteered to pour Sebago beer at many a brewfest before joining the Tasting Room staff greeting guests and managing merch. Wayne has been drinking Sebago beer for more than 15 years, and as a home brewer, he’s happy to get into the weeds about the brewing process. Chad Butts recently retired from the Air Force and has been a patron at the Gorham brewpub for years.
Now that the brewery has been open for more than a year, we wanted to get the band together to talk about how the brewery tour has evolved.
Are brewery tours still free?
Wayne: Yes! We want as many people to learn about the process as possible.
How do you sign up for a tour?
Mariann: You can walk into the Tasting Room and sign up at the host stand for tours at the top of every hour, or you can sign up online for tours from 3:00pm-5:00pm during the week and Saturday 1:00pm-5:00pm. On Saturdays, we start tours at 1:00pm because a group from the Maine Brewbus comes every Saturday at 11:00am. We don’t have public tours on Sunday.
How long does it take?
Julie: Anywhere from 25-45 minutes. It really depends on the group. It’s easy to have a tour on the longer side because there’s so much to tell, but we read the crowd. If they’re asking lots of questions, it tends to go a little bit longer. We encourage that!
Who usually comes in for tours?
Chad: We get a lot of people visiting Maine on vacation – and a lot who are on “brewcation,” here specifically to visit breweries. We also get a surprisingly high number of bachelors and bachelorettes on the weekend. Lots of locals come in too.
What kinds of questions do people ask?
Mariann: Everything from where do you get your hops to what do you do with the spent grain? People also like to know about the cans: who designs them and why so many breweries have switched to cans.
Wayne: I always ask if there are any brewers in the group, but most people aren’t that well-versed in the process of brewing beer and don’t realize how much yeast, hops and barley affects the specific flavor, aroma and color of different beers. A lot of folks are pleasantly surprised to learn how brewers build a recipe to create the kind of beer they want to achieve.
Chad: One part of the tour we have guests taste the malt, which helps lead the conversation about how different grains are used to make different recipes. We share so much information that we often don’t get too many questions about the process. Unless you get engineers — they ask tons of questions about the machinery.
What do you think is the best part of the tour?
Chad: I like seeing people’s reaction when we first step into the brewery. They’re almost always amazed at the scale of the space and the equipment. And the sheer volume, like how our 40-barrel system uses almost 2,000 pounds of grain.
Julie: People love the barrel-aging room. It looks cool and has an element of mystery. Sometimes even we don’t know what secret recipes the brewers are working on. And if they’re from Maine, they love seeing the local wine barrels (River Drive Cooperage in Buxton).
Mariann: The mezzanine is fun because it looks over the brew deck and you can see the brewers doing their thing. You can see the process clicking for people when they get a bird’s eye view of everything.
The mezzanine is also where we have a free tasting! The samples are always changing. We also share the sales sheets for different beers so they can see all the details, which is an education too. We get to explain what makes a double IPA a double, how the alcohol changes what the beer is called, that kind of thing.
Wayne: I really like the pilot system and talking about the small batch beers. People are surprised to learn we have 15 Sebago beers on tap.
Why should someone come on a brewery tour?
Wayne: I think we give a great history of the company, our journey over the last 21 years. On Saturdays you can get up close and personal with the equipment, including walking through “fermentation alley” because there’s no brewers at work. You don’t get to do that on most brewery tours.
Mariann: During the week the canning line is often running and people love to see that. More importantly, though, we try to make it a personalized tour, not a canned one, so to speak. We shape the tour to the group’s interest and level of knowledge.
Julie: It’s a conversation, it’s not about listening to me talk and talk. Our attitude is, let’s do this tour together.
What’s your favorite beer right now?
Chad: Grand Cru. I love the barrel room and the complexity of the beers that come out of there. You can’t get them everywhere else.
Mariann: Haze Forward. I’ve always liked the specialty beers.
Wayne: Haze Forward — although Frye’s Leap will always be my every day IPA.
Julie: I really like the Kolsch right now (On a Boat). I have to say that before I worked at Sebago Brewing I was never a big IPA drinker. And I couldn’t differentiate hops or the nuance of flavors. Now I can guess which hops were used! Since being here, my palette for beer has changed dramatically.