Aside from its lobster, perhaps the best-known commercial item that comes out of Maine is the boots made by L.L. Bean, the family-owned clothing and outdoor recreation equipment company based just north of Portland. Easily recognizable and famously durable, the boots are like ambassadors of the state.
A state with a long history of manufacturing, Maine has also become a beer powerhouse, thanks to early pioneers such as Portland’s Allagash Brewing Company and more modern entrants who have embraced the haze craze and brought people from all parts of the state, from the mountains to the coastline.
Sean Sullivan, the executive director of the Main Brewers’ Guild, says that beer has helped change the nature of the way people see the state. What was once paper factories and tourism centered on bed and breakfasts lined with ornate wallpaper is now a thriving food scene with adventure and outdoor tourism and a renewed focus on the made-here, can-do spirit that has long embodied the Pine Tree State.
So, it only makes sense that L.L. Bean, in launching a line of “small-batch Bean Boots” would partner with brewers from around the state to tie the two industries together and promote local products.
Breweries have long collaborated with each other, but in recent years, there’s been a rise in the number of collaboration projects between breweries and other consumer goods—from shirts and jackets, to shows, skateboards, and all manner of food items. So a large local company partnering with several small ones for a common goal is in step with the way the industry is headed.
“This is a win-win partnership because of the shared creativity,” says Sullivan. “It’s a great opportunity to work with a great brand with an international brand presence and use it to promote Maine craft beer. For L.L. Bean, it’s an opportunity, as a long-standing company, to find inspiration in our small brewers.”
L.L. Bean approached the guild earlier this year, says Eric Smith, an L.L. Bean company spokesman, and asked for proposals for beers that would match this limited-edition boot run, each with a focus on celebrating Maine.
The Bean Boot is officially known as the Maine Hunting Shoe, and from almost the beginning, it has looked the same: leather uppers, rubber soles, tan and brown, instantly recognizable for the past 106 years. In a lot of ways, it was not unlike American beer for so long—a lot of sameness. So last year, the company asked its designers and boot makers to put twists on the classic, limited-edition small-batch boots that allowed for free creativity—not completely dissimilar to American beer today.
Smith notes the original name for the boot reflected the primary outdoor activity at the time and that the company has changed along with its customers and their needs over time. Partnering with breweries makes sense today because after hikes or bike rides or around the campfire, where L.L. Bean products are being worn and used, there’s often a growler or pint of local beer around.
“We definitely see the connection,” Smith says.
Each of the beers has an outdoor element to it, through foraging or using native ingredients. The beers are: Wonderland Acadian Pale Ale, brewed by Fogtown Brewing Company (Ellsworth), an herbal ale infused with sweet fern and bog myrtle; Drift American Ale, brewed by Rising Tide Brewing Company (Portland), a tart ale brewed with local sumac; The Way Life Should Be IPA, brewed by Orono Brewing Company (Orono), a triple dry-hopped IPA with all Maine-grown grain; Knife’s Edge IPA, brewed by Threshers Brewing Co. (Searsmont), a malty IPA with a woody profile; and 100 Mile Wilderness Stout, brewed by Mast Landing Brewing Company (Westbrook), designed to mimic trail mix.
The beers are available at the individual breweries. Boots are available online.
“There are a lot of similarities between L.L. Bean and our brewers,” Sullivan says. “They serve as an inspiration on how you can grow and remain authentic.”