Craig Dilger, Co-Founder and Brewmaster, Foulmouthed Brewing

Going Pro by | Jan 2018 | Issue #131

Craig Dilger and his wife, Julia, spent the better part of a decade honing the plans for Foulmouthed Brewing. They placed the things Dilger loves about homebrewing—the creativity, the variety, the limitless experimentation—at the core of their business plan. Foulmouthed, the brewpub the couple launched in June 2016 out of an old automotive garage in South Portland, Maine, hews closely to that vision, eschewing flagships and long-range production calendars for an eclectic and ever-evolving tap list. And while going pro involves a lot more squeegee-pushing and business management than his days racking carboys in a kitchen, the payoff comes in the opportunity to offer underappreciated styles in an IPA-heavy market. “People will come in specifically to get our German-style Black Ale. They’re happy we have a Brown on tap,” Dilger says, “even if malts aren’t that sexy anymore.”

1. Find a revelation
During college in Rochester, N.Y., Dilger’s exposure to beer consisted of Genesee Cream Ale. Things changed the night his buddies took him out to an English-style pub, and he had a glass of Harviestoun’s Old Engine Oil Ale. “It was a ‘holy fuck’ moment,” Dilger recalls. “It was just so completely different from anything I’d had in the category of beer. I’d never had a Stout beyond Guinness, so to go from drinking light Cream Ale to something as thick and rich as that—it was revelatory.”

2. Break things
After that initial brush with flavorful beer, Dilger and his friends dove into homebrewing. Their first batch—a spin on Charlie Papazian’s Goat Scrotum Porter—was shockingly drinkable. “It was a bit like making your own dining room table, and finding that the legs sit on the floor and it holds your food up,” Dilger says. From that first batch, which added juniper berries to Papazian’s classic recipe, Dilger was using traditional styles as jumping-off points for beers that are utterly nontraditional. “Breaking things and figuring out how to put them back together is just in my blood.”

3. Answer your own questions
Like many a homebrewer, Dilger wondered what it would be like to turn his hobby into a career. Dilger and his wife, Julia, kept returning to one little question: What if? They gamed out distribution scenarios, ran the numbers on different concepts, and weighed the freedom and tiny margins of an experimental nano against the regular grind of a full-scale production setup. Then, after 10 years of talking it over, they found a vacant garage and made their concept real.

4. Watch the clock
Southern Maine’s brewing scene has exploded over the past decade, and that growth allows a funky little brewpub like Foulmouthed to stand alongside Portland’s cult-favorite production houses, not to mention a heavyweight neighbor like Allagash Brewing. At the same time, Dilger says he’s felt some urgency to carve out a business at a scale that’s sustainable while there’s still growth to be had. “The industry is still growing really rapidly,” he says. “We knew that if we were going to do this, it had to be now. It felt like a bit of a time crunch.”

5. Keep things fresh
Dilger chose not to launch Foulmouthed as a production brewery because he didn’t want to be tied to brewing a few high-volume recipes. Foulmouthed has no flagship beers. Instead, the brewpub serves locally sourced, seasonal comfort food made from scratch alongside an ever-changing tap lineup. He tries to offer a half-dozen markedly different recipes at all times. “Experiencing something different is a big part of what’s drawing consumers to craft beer,” Dilger says. “Our customers understand we’ll always have something that fits what they looking for. It might not be exactly the same beer they fell in love with last time, but it’ll be something in that category.”

6. Slay boredom
Foulmouthed’s sours illustrate Dilger’s ability to drive variety within related flavors. He brews Meggy, a sour Saison with raw cherries, a Gose with yuzu kosho (an acidic and spicy Japanese condiment), and a traditional Berliner Weisse served with housemade syrups. All three recipes are kettle soured, adjunct-friendly, and share a similar lactic profile, but they draw from diverse brewing traditions and shoot off in wildly different directions, from fruity to spicy umami. “If we made the same six beers all the time,” Dilger reasons, “people would eventually get bored of them.”

7. Celebrate tradition, with a twist
Liquid Leftovers, Foulmouthed’s first mixed-fermentation wild ale, traces its lineage back to Dilger’s homebrewing days. Every year, he would welcome Thanksgiving with a Brown Ale, reserving one carboy of beer aging on cranberries to enjoy the next year. Dilger still makes an English-leaning Brown, Sir Squirrel, for late November. Last year, he set aside a portion to soak on cranberries in an oak Port barrel. The resulting beer is dry, funky, and caramelly, with an experimental spirit that’s at the core of Foulmouthed’s identity.

8. Switch off the cartoons
Cherries and raspberries have done wonderfully as a brewing adjunct. Blueberries, however, haven’t garnered the same street cred. “I’ve had a lot of blueberry beers that were cartoons, where someone took a beer that didn’t want or need fruit, and jammed it full of blueberries,” Dilger says. Blue Balls is Dilger’s attempt to elevate Maine’s famous fruit above cartoon status. By blending a Belgian Dark Strong Ale with moderate amounts of blueberries, he creates a dark, jammy, mildly acidic, and complex beverage. It’s not a fruity beer, but a beer made with fruit, and that distinction matters to Dilger.

9. Show some backbone
Dilger’s fluid (and creatively appealing) production schedule allows him to brew many more styles than just IPA. But that doesn’t mean Dilger neglects his hopheads. Triforce IPA, one of Foulmouthed’s most frequently reappearing recipes, combines Pilsner, Vienna, and Marris Otter malt with Summer, Crystal, and Amarillo hops to push back against hop saturization. “There’s been this shift in IPAs, where everything has gotten to be all about the hops,” Dilger says. While the hops impart “all the floral citrusy stuff,” you can still taste the malt in Triforce. “That balance is something that’s lost a lot of the time.”