In a crowded market, there’s a tendency for new breweries to “go big,” to have eyes on big money and a seat at the table of a large-scale craft. So it’s refreshing to encounter a start-up brewery with an acute understanding of scale, one that uses its size to its advantage. Yes Brewing in Westbrook had five beers on draft when I visited, and not one kowtowed to trends. Each was unique and delicious.
From a jalapeno pale to a kettle-soured cherry Berliner Weiss — head brewer John Bigelow’s response when I asked whether it was a lactobacillus pitch or a lactic acid addition was “Fuck lactic acid.” — the beers displayed remarkable singularity and balance across the board. Over a flight, I chatted with Bigelow and owner Brady Frost.
How did you guys come together and launch the idea for Yes?
Brady: We had mutual friends. I was introduced to John when he was looking for potential investment in this project. He was homebrewing for like 17 years, telling pretty much anyone he met “I’m gonna do this thing.” It got real about a year and a half ago, my brother [Trevor] and I were into it. John had a bunch of pilots ready, the beer was really good, and we decided to get involved.
John and Brady of Yes Brewing get the hops for some of their beers from the Hop Yard at Hamblen Farm in Gorham.
Did you always have eyes on Westbrook?
John: Westbrook was always one of the fat spots. We know half of these people that come in by first name.
Brady: There was somewhat of a saturation level in Portland, there’s just so much going on at once. It’s not that I don’t think our beer would stand out — you know, we’re pretty weird — but it was cool to be just the second brewery in Westbrook.
John: Competition is one thing, but we’ve got synergy. You build a couple breweries, you build a couple more, and now you’ve got a reason for people to come around.
I have to ask, why the name? Why Yes Brewing?
Brady: It was kind of a joke, it was a placeholder. We were like “OK, we’re just gonna leave this here, then we’ll come up with something we like more.” Then we checked the federal trademarks and it wasn’t taken. And that’s one of the most common words in the English language, and it’s positive! We have kind of a '90s aesthetic, but we also have kind of a carefree, high-five type attitude; we’re all positive people. We’re just trying to avoid that stigma of craft beer pretension, you know?
You're on draft in a number of bars and restaurants around Portland, are you fostering more connections with draft accounts?
Brady: Well yeah, I do that, I suppose that’s my job, apart from drinking the beer. We’ve had some really good accounts. Great Lost Bear was first. They’re awesome, super supportive. Bayside Bowl has worked with us a lot. Brian Boru has been huge. Basically, we’re not trying to go over-the-top and force it too much, but if we can find some commonality between us and a business, I’m happy to work with them.
Do you have plans to expand distribution, maybe upgrade your scale?
Brady: Yeah, we’re saving that for now, definitely, upgrade the brew system, fermentors we’re gonna upgrade. There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit in there, but John’s making it work, he’s a MacGyver. We’ll definitely buy a canning line, coming in hot for sure. I’d say for the spring, we’re going to try to get some canning and bottling done.