In a refrain throughout his rock musical, RENT, playwright Jonathan Larson asked, “how do you measure a year?” Day by day seems the most appropriate answer for 2020. For most of us this was a year of unprecedented change and challenge. Since March, our collective calendars have been riddled with devastating obstacles and unanswerable questions. There’s been a lot of fear, a lot of anger, and a lot of loss. As a brewery, made up of people not invulnerable to those effects, we have shared the tumult of 2020 with our neighbors, our nation, and our world. In many ways it would be easier not to look back on the past year, but then easy is not what Mainers do. It doesn’t seem right to dismiss a year because of its hardships. Our land and climate hardened us for just such things. As Mainers we make the best of situations. And so we will turn towards that steely resolve as we reflect upon an arduous yet spurring past year.
Here at Baxter our year began with a revolution, coming from a standout 9th Anniversary party in January right into a brand revolution that aimed to get back to our roots and honor our namesake by using its ridgeline in all of our can art going forward. Using Stowaway as our guiding light we knew we needed a cleaner more cohesive look so that we could be found by fans both that know us and those that want to get to know us. When we threw our rebrand launch party back in February, we could not have been more overjoyed at the positive response, particularly from the Lewiston/Auburn community whom we hold so dear. Even more pleasing was the reaction to our new core lineup. Couple More Miles, Staycationland, and Logger Road all have their unique origins, but together they pack the value that Baxter has always been known for. While we have stepped up our game in canning, quality, safety and production, some things will never change and the hard work that goes into each and every one of these brews is just one of them. We have a dream team of hard working, creative and passionate people who worked tirelessly throughout this past year and could not be more excited about the year ahead. They created a killer lineup and are roundly deserving of our gratitude for propelling our new direction.
Admittedly, we were riding high on a wave of excitement with our successful rebrand. As February turned into March, we set aim on our next, rousing endeavor; our partnership with the New England Free Jacks! We had already tail-ended 2019 with the debut of our partnership IPA and kickoff party in Boston. Work was underway to enjoy a full season of Rugby Union parties, promotions, and plenty of our lauded FreeJacks IPA. When fate intervened, like many, we remained optimistic in the early promises of the year. We all thought a few events and tastings would be missed, then swiftly made up. Perhaps it was hopefulness, but we didn’t imagine the misfortune that was about to unfold.
Even now, while writing this, it is hard to comprehend the human toll. As a local business, we look at the pandemic in terms of its economic stopping power, but as people, it’s true devastation has never left our minds. Without a second thought, we put our team members’ safety first. We shut down The Pub. We suspended account visits. We waited for, then followed, all CDC guidelines while looking for ways to successfully operate. It required a lot hard-nosed decisions, personnel who could pivot rapidly, and a roller coaster of layoff and rehires. Measures not exceptional, just necessary. We were fortunate to have distribution partners open to working with us on ways to help our frontline workers and comply with social distancing. We co-opted the return of several kegs to aid in the production of hand sanitizer, and received universal support when we introduced our curbside pickup and delivery features.
As mentioned, we are Mainers, and we did the best with what we had. Like so many others, we looked to find our footing on rocky ground. Some of these necessities even provided us with new ways to support our community – during our curbside pickup and delivery campaigns, we donated all online tips to the Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine. And we weren’t alone. Many of our fellow breweries found ways to give back during a harrowing time. If there was any silver lining to glean from the global health crisis, it was bearing witness to other’s acts of kindness.
This response, we know, wasn’t universal. Despite the lockdowns and quarantines, it was still impossible to live under a rock in 2020. This year we adopted the motto “Distinctly Maine.” It’s a term we believe embodies not just our beer, but our spirit, who we are and what we strive to be. We saw nothing that resembled this spirit in the social injustice that reminded us this year of the inequities that so many fellow Americans face. It’s a political issue that reaches far outside one bad calendar year, but we would be remiss not to note its significance and impact. We are a brewery; we make beer and prefer to leave politics out of it. When it comes to racial injustice, however, we cannot be silent in our opposition, and will continue to ally ourselves with those who feel the same.
Where does this leave us as we close out the year? As mentioned earlier, many of our team members were able to successfully pivot into alternative roles earlier back in the Spring. In many cases these turns unearthed talents and skills that were apt for moving our brand in new, positive ways, and so they remained permanent. Additionally, we were able to hire a new Director of Sales, Brian Devinney, who’s has helped us in the challenge to match last years sales – an impressive feat given the circumstances. For the time being, we have reopened The Pub and are continuing to serve dine-in and takeout service with strict adherence to CDC guidelines to ensure our guests and staff’s safety.
But we say “for the time being” because we don’t know what the future holds, and we feel our policy of putting people first has been successful, and not worth changing. Of course, that all depends on how you measure success, just as how you measure a year. Attitude plays a big part. We will never downplay the severity of 2020; it has been far too destructive for too many people. But we can choose to pick out the small things that have warmed our hearts. We’re still operational. We’re still fighting. And we have a lot to be thankful for this year.
Baxter Brewing wishes to extend our sincere gratitude to our business partners, distributors, vendors, the L/A community, the front line workers of Maine and all over the country, and without a doubt, our incredible fans and followers who showed us so much support throughout the whole year. Despite the times, we feel blessed!
Happy holidays to all, and most importantly, Happy New Year!
-The Team at Baxter Brewing Co.