The Innovation Foundation

They're the hot young things in Portland's ever-evolving craft scene


Launched in 2014 on Industrial Way – Portland’s famous ‘beer incubator’ street opposite Allagash – Foundation Brewing is the youngest of the breweries in this month’s Beer52 box, and arguably represents the most positive and exciting aspects of the scene’s explosive growth over the past few years. It’s the project of two couples, Tina and John Bonney and Christie and Joel Mahaffey, each of whom bring a unique and complementary set of skills to the table. Eclectic and inventive, with a dedication to quality and the science of brewing, Foundation’s taproom menu is a wonderful anarchic jumble of styles, each of which are – mercifully – absolutely spot-on.

John, then a medic, and Joel, a designer, met through their mutual love of home brewing in nearby Bangor. Having talked each other into starting a business, it didn’t take a lot of work to rope in their equally passionate partners, Tina, a management consultant and Christie, and engineer and biologist.

Joel’s passion is clearly in the beer, which provides an ample outlet for his creativity and love of problem-solving. An avid student of reverse engineering, Joel loves setting himself a challenge and solving it in a way nobody has thought of before.

“For example, we might say ‘hey, we want to make a session IPA, but we want to do it under 4%’,” says Joel. “We’ve only done that once, and the beer was as dry as hell. So, how’s that going to play in a beer like a NEIPA, where the hops are such a dominant part of the profile? It’s a technical challenge, because in those styles of beer you’re usually relying on the residual sugar to balance and give you that sweetness. That’s the kind of shit that gets me out of bed in the morning.”

As the brewery has grown and its range expanded, its initial commitment to scrupulous quality control has become even more important. Consequently, its lab is large and well-equipped, with a staff headed by Christie (how many other small craft breweries have a dedicated head of quality control, who is also a partner in the business?)

As well as taking a central role in recipe creation John and Tina keep the whole thing running with truly impressive skill and dedication. The site and Foundation’s capacity has expanded significantly since 2014, with the addition of several large new fermentation vessels, a super cool taproom and in-house packaging, and much of the legwork was carried out by the core team themselves.

Of all the breweries in this month’s box, it’s probably fair to say Foundation represents classic third-wave American craft; extremely professional, not tied to any particular national tradition except its own, and constantly looking to improve on what’s gone before.

“We focus on the beer first and foremost,” says Joel. “As you can tell from our tap list, we’re very diverse. That’s simply because the thought of brewing and drinking the same style of beer over and over again just doesn’t appeal to me.”

John adds: “When people ask what kind of beers we do well, I kind of have to answer ‘what do you want’? It makes us a lot harder to put us in a box, which has its own challenges, but having said that, the beer we’re known for is a big DIPA. So people will come along for that, but then they see the board and then end up drinking a bunch of different stuff; a lager, or funky wild beer that’s taken three years to make, or a pastry stout. All our beers (pastry stout nothwithstanding) tend to be on the drier, crisper side.”

Having taken the tour and sampled some of the amazing beers on offer here, the four announce they’ve arranged childcare and are taking me out on the town. Fortunately, I’ve skipped lunch and am treated to an orgy of seafood, and a local’s trek around some of downtown’s coolest bars. When I wake up the next morning, there’s already and email waiting in my inbox, with suggestions for at least 20 other places I should try during my stay. I’m suddenly very glad I decided to extend my trip by a couple of days.

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