BRATTLEBORO—Our foursome was a few holes into the round at the Purpoodock Club in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, when someone asked David Geary where the name “Purpoodock” came from.
“It’s from one of the Maine tribes,” he said. “It means: Where the wind is in your face — on every hole.’”
What? This isn’t a golf column? No worries. Although part of the purpose of the jaunt north was certainly to have a go-round on Geary’s home course, it was more to talk about beer and his pioneering role in establishing New England’s first microbrewery.
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Geary was a medical equipment salesman in the early 1980s, when he became something of a regular at Three Dollar Dewey’s in Portland, then being run by Alan Eames.
“Eames did everything wrong,” said Geary. “That is, everything that conventional wisdom said was wrong. There was no Budweiser, no Heineken, no television. There were benches at long tables covered with copies of The New York Times, classical music playing and people drinking Guinness and other virtually unknown imports.”
(Eames would later replicate the Three Dollar Dewey’s experience in Brattleboro — the forerunner to McNeill’s — and continue his beer adventures until his untimely death in 2007.)
“Back then, almost all the good beers were imports. We barely knew about the microbreweries out West — there were fewer than 15 in the country at the time — and we couldn’t get any of the beers anyway.
“But the beers Eames was serving — Gale’s Prize Old Ale, Traquair House Ale — were a revelation to me. Until I tasted it in beer, I thought ‘ester’ was a girl’s name.”
The men became friends, and at one point Eames said to Geary, “You need to get into the booze business.”
“Eventually I met Peter Maxwell Stuart of Traquair House and we, too, became friends. He stayed at my house on a visit from Scotland and told me, ‘If you ever need anything, I’ll start you on your journey.’”
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The journey began in earnest when Geary and his first wife, Karen, incorporated as the D.L. Geary Brewing Company in 1983. In 1984, Geary took off on a four-month journey to the highlands of Scotland and the south coast of England, doing hands-on unpaid internships at various breweries and studying at the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.
The plan for a brewery was taking shape, and a recipe for the first beer was being formulated. But first, Geary said, “It took us about a year and a half to put together a business plan, find a location, design packaging, and raise enough money.”
On December 10, 1986, Geary’s Pale Ale went on sale. “That was close enough to the end of the year that we thought we could celebrate our 25th anniversary in both 2011 and 2012.”
The beer was patterned on a traditional English brew, using yeast that Geary had obtained from the former Hull Brewery in Yorkshire. The yeast has outlived the brewery, now an office complex. Geary has propagated the yeast 4,000 times in a quarter century.
It wasn’t all clear sailing from the start.
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