Alisson’s is the kind of place you’re just as likely to find a salty local fisherman as you are a tourist in from Quebec. The bar and restaurant in Kennebunkport’s Dock Square has long been a watering hole for locals and a go-to for visitors seeking authentic fare and atmosphere. It’s the kind of balance you don’t find in many coastal Maine towns.
Unsurprisingly, the beer selection has traditionally rested on stuff you can purchase by the 30-rack, but under Ashley Padget, that's changed. The bar has been in her family since 1973, but a few years ago (with the help of current kitchen manager Mike Morneault), Padget discovered the diverse Maine beer scene. For her, the conversion of the taps into a more craft-centric, non-yellow-water-with-booze lineup made sense. Federal Jack’s, the birthplace of Shipyard, is just across the river. But Fed’s doesn’t do guest taps, and there isn’t really anywhere else in town to find a diversity of Maine beer. Now Alisson’s has just reopened after a brief period of renovation with a new state-of-the-art draft system and more rotating taps than ever before. Padget and I sat down to talk about the process of transition, and whether those fisherman dig IPA.
The Phoenix: You’ve undergone a lot of changes over the last couple years, not the least of which is this new renovation. What have you updated with this most recent work?
Ashley Padget: We’ve replaced the bar. It was a bar that was built twelve years ago, handmade by a local guy, but 12 years in a busy bar took a toll. It was time, and we wanted to make it more conducive to serving craft beer. We’ve got a brand new draft system with more taps than we’ve ever had.
The Phoenix: What was the impetus for you to start serving more craft beer, and Maine beer specifically?
Padget: It really started with Mike Morneault and I falling in love with craft beer. He started going to Barreled Souls a lot, then I started coming along, we’d hit different breweries. But there wasn’t really any place close by to go. We both have small children so it’s not like on a Friday night I’m headed up to Portland or anything. Slowly over time, we started getting more into it, and the more we tasted and got involved the more we wanted it here. When we added those six taps that brought us up to eight rotating taps that were all Maine craft. Now we’ll be up to 22 taps, and 16 of them will rotate. We’ve cultivated relationships with distributors. That’s been the coolest part, honestly, being welcomed so much into this community. People are so willing to help out and answer questions, it’s been very cool.
The Phoenix: How has the transition been received, both by tourists and by some of the regulars?
Padget: Honestly, it hasn’t been difficult. It’s just offering it up and people are willing to try it. IPAs are far and away our best sellers, even to the extent that they’ve taken over Bud Light and all of those old go-tos. It’s a huge market. And it is about selling it, obviously. But I’ve seen the conversion into craft beer taste happen more with our staff than anybody else, people who were set in their ways are now getting more into new things.
The Phoenix: You’ve also been doing “house beers” that you create in collaboration with local breweries, how does that process work?
Padget: It originally grew out of a friendship with Barreled Souls. When we first approached Matt Mills of Barreled Souls with the idea of doing some sort of house beer they couldn’t have been nicer about it. We brewed the beer with them, they were open to our ideas. We just put our 45th anniversary beer into barrels with them, so that’ll be ready in October and then we’ll add some adjunct flavors to it.
The Phoenix: You’ve managed to rebrand yourself without changing your identity. What advice would you have for other bars in small towns that want to dip their toe into craft beer and expand their offerings?
Padget: We started small, with one rotating tap until we got a little bit more comfortable with craft beer. Then we went up to six rotating taps, then eight. The most important thing is to look beyond the profit side of it and have a passion for what you’re doing. I mean, I LOVE looking for craft beer and trying craft beer, and that is what makes it fun and exciting. And when you are excited about it, customers get excited about it. Over the course of two years, this reputation about us has been built and we’ve definitely started to see a return on the initial investment.
Alisson's Restaurant | 11 Dock Sq, Kennebunkport | Daily 11 am-midnight | www.alissons.com