Before the holidays, I sat down with the owners of Island Dog Brewing, which is located at 125 John Roberts Road, in South Portland, Maine. We talked about all sorts of things related to their business. My focus was on how local breweries were getting through as the Pandemic rages on – but truth is, we ended up talking a lot more about their passion for brewing. Tim and Jim are two guys who really embody the spirit of Maine – from the humble way in which their business started, to the hard work they put in everyday, just the two of them to ensure we can share in their passion, and the low-key, friendly atmosphere in the tap room. They have 15 beers onsite, and change their line up monthly, brewing new recipes, seasonal beers, variations of regular beers, and experimental batches. They are releasing a new beer on February 19th – Maple Cream Imperial Stout. You’ve got to check them out next time you are in South Portland! For more information: http://www.islanddogbrewing.com
Things were looking bright for Tim Francis, and Jim Denz, owners of Island Dog Brewing in the early winter of 2020 with sales being up from the prior year. If growth trends were to continue to proceed as they had since they opened in 2017, 2020 was calculated to be Island Dog Brewing’s year. It was early March, and the owners were planning a whoopie pie and beer pairing for a winter event. The year prior they had a very successful cupcake and beer pairing and wanted to continue the winter tradition. They had been selling tickets online – and were sold out.
The week of March 9th 2020 is when the owners began to sense something huge was brewing. Jim explains, “That week, that is when things started to look bad. Cases were going up; I think that was the week the NBA had decided to stop games. The last weekend we were open was the weekend of March 13th and 14th. That Friday was the weird Friday. That was when people started buying everything in bulk. I remember I stopped at Sam’s Club on the way in, and their meat section was empty. At that point, everyone knew something was going on.”
The last weekend they were open in the winter, that Friday was ‘dead’, Saturday was slow, and Sunday, was nonexistent.
Tim was visiting his son out of state at the time, he recounts, “I was in a brewery and the Governor came on the tv and said they were shutting down the state at 9:00 pm that night.” Tim remembers driving home on I-90, which he had driven dozens of times before, but this time was different – barely anyone else was on the highway. An eerie sign on the way home to Maine, that everything had changed.
Jim first got into home brewing in the early 1990’s. His interest in brewing, stemmed from childhood memories of making homemade wine with his grandfather. “As an adult, I got some books on brewing, and I just kept making beer. I would brew one batch a month, and I did that for over 20 years.” He moved to Maine in 2006, and met his wife, Jody a couple of years later. Jim moved all his brewing supplies from New York, to his new home in Maine, and began brewing again. Over time, Jim became the one among his friends that would supply the home brew for parties. Friends would just come to expect it and raved about the taste.
Tim had worked with Jody in the past, and Jim and Jody randomly ran into Tim and his wife, Melanie at a beer festival. Jim explains, “Tim also made beer, and we both like movies, so we get along really well.” The couples became fast friends. They all enjoyed the brewing scene so much, one day Jody said to Jim, “Why don’t we just open our own brewery?”
At first thought, Jim was thinking, “There is no way this can actually happen.” However, when they started to look into it, the action plan seemed achievable. Jim began working on a business plan, and approached Tim about partnering up, and the team was created. It took about 2 years of planning, and their hard work payed off. They opened the Tap Room in 2017.
Tim and Jim split the responsibilities of running the business, aligning tasks with their strengths. Tim manages the sales and marketing side of the business, and Jim does all the brewing. In the summer, even with the Pandemic, Jim was brewing six to eight batches a month. Their brew system is five barrels, which is about 150 gallons of beer. Both Jim and Tim have fun running the (now) outdoor Tap Room. The Brewery was closed in March of 2020 , and opened back up in June 2020, with outdoor seating, and continues to go strong.
Island Dog Brewing works with Central Distributors, delivering to stores including Hannaford Supermarkets and two Market Basket locations. They started with six Hannaford stores and have since expanded to several other Hannaford store locations.
Their Tap Room is outside, and they are following all safety protocols. Their number one priority is to keep their customers safe. They currently have 15 beers on tap – and Jim enthusiastically talks about the new flavors he will be creating this winter, including a maple cream imperial stout being released in February.
Another way to enjoy the brews, is to order online through their store, most items can be delivered. In addition, the Brewery has curb-side pick-up as well.
Jim and Tim are so honored to be part of the brewing industry and are especially proud of how the Maine brewers have come together through the Pandemic. They explain, “Everyone is really supportive of one another. Nobody wants to see anyone fail or have an outbreak. We have online meetings on a regular basis, and if someone does something successful, they share what it was that worked. Shawn Sullivan, President of Maine Brewers Guild, has been great about connecting everyone with support. It helps keep your spirits up when everyone is working together.”
Though COVID has affected their business, you wouldn’t know that based on their demeanor throughout our interview. They are proud of the hard work they have put in, truly achieving the ‘American Dream.’ They are two guys, that quite frankly are just fun to be around, and they love beer, which is evident at the Brewery. Next time you are in the area, be sure to check out Island Dog Brewing, Tim and Jim will be manning the taps ready to chat about all things beer!