2014-09-19 / Neighbors

Brewer sending suds back to Maine

Scarborough native helped launch a Rhode Island microbrewery 15 years ago
By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

Scarborough native Derek Luke co-founded Newport Storm Brewery in Newport, Rhode Island in 1999. This month the brewery’s beers were introduced to the Maine market. (Courtesy photo) Scarborough native Derek Luke co-founded Newport Storm Brewery in Newport, Rhode Island in 1999. This month the brewery’s beers were introduced to the Maine market. (Courtesy photo) As a college student, Derek Luke used to make beer in the chemistry labs at Colby College in Waterville for fun.

Now Luke, a Scarborough native, is making a living from it. In 1999, shortly after his graduation with a biochemistry degree from Colby, Luke and three of his college classmates started Newport Storm Brewery, Rhode Island’s first microbrewery.

Now 15 years after starting the brewery, Luke, the brewery’s brewmaster, is returning his beers to where it all began: Maine.

Luke first got interested in beer halfway through college while taking a year off from school to ski with the U.S. ski team. At the time he was dating a woman whose roommate was a brewer.

“I got interested in it on a scientific level and went back to Colby and began brewing beer my junior and senior year in the lab,” Luke said.

After helping out at the Oak Pond Brewing Company in Skowhegan in 1997 and 1998, Luke was hooked.

“The day after I graduated college, I spent four hours at home before I told my parents my plan and then headed south to Newport,” Luke said.

Luke said he and his business partners, who hail from Connecticut, Massachusetts and Washington, chose Rhode Island because they saw “unexplored” potential in the market.

“Our home states weren’t where we wanted to start, so we decided to rise to the challenge and bring the craft beer scene in an elevated way to Rhode Island,” he said.

Luke said between 1999 and 2012, Newport Storm Brewery was the only brewery in Rhode Island, but since 2012, close to 10 breweries have started up. Several more are in the works.

For the last three years, Luke said the brewery has produced 4,000 barrels of beer a year. Shipyard Brewery, in comparison, produced more than 160,000 barrels of beer in 2013.

“We are still growing. We just opened a new facility four years ago and our beers are becoming more shelf-stable,” Luke said.

Among the products available in Maine are Hurricane Amber Ale, Rhode Island Blueberry Ale, India Point Ale — named for a famous park in Providence, Rhode Island — and Oktoberfest Marzen Lager, a fall seasonal. The Hurricane Amber Ale, Luke said, is the only beer that hasn’t been altered since the company started brewing beers on June 20, 1999.

The beer is being distributed in Maine through a partnership with VacationLand Distributors, a Portlandbased company started in 2014.

“The Colby boys of Newport Storm are a great representation of a microbrewery dedicated to producing consistent and quality craft beer,” said Jim O’Brien, president of VacationLand, in a news release announcing the Newport Storm’s introduction to Maine. “Their company values are closely tied to our own.”

Luke said finding a distributor that shared a common vision with the brewery is important to him and his business partners. He had been approached by other distributors, but none seemed to fit like VacationLand.

Luke said he is optimistic about the beers’ introduction to Maine. The beer is already available throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Michigan.

“I am excited for the state to try our beer, which is really where it all started,” he said.

Luke said he is not worried about how his beers are going to fit in an already crowded craft brewery scene in Maine.

“When people walk in and see something new on the shelf, they say ‘I’m going to try that.’” That’s why I am feeling pretty excited about of brand in Maine,” he said.

Luke, whose parents still live in the house where he was raised, still has a lot of ties in the Scarborough area.

“When I go visit my family in Scarborough, I still see a lot of old neighbors and childhood friends. It is really neat to go to Scarborough Beach and run into someone I know,” Luke said. “It’s fun to see people excited about something I have spent a lot of time improving, perfecting.”

Although nothing has been finalized yet, Luke said he would like to set up a “beer dinner” to showcase his line of beers sometime this fall.

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