Beneath the Beer
Kai Smith creates beer coasters from Maine’s natural resources, for Maine breweries and beyond.
One day, Kai Smith was reading about beer coasters. He had a small collection of unique finds, but he never gave the product much thought before. Beer coasters, known as beer mats in England, have a relatively basic makeup (paperboard and tissue paper), and they haven’t evolved much since their creation in the late 1880s. After learning how they’re made, Smith thought: “This could be done here in Maine.”
Smith felt that, with many Maine companies placing a large focus on sustainability and local brand identity, creating a coaster from the state’s natural resources was completely viable. With the help of the University of Maine Process Development Center in Orono and Maine Technology Institute, Smith developed a prototype using wood pulp and spent grain from local breweries, and he founded Maine Coasters and Bio-Boards. Smith is in the pre-commercial trial phase, and a number of breweries, including Allagash Brewing Company, Maine Beer Company, Rising Tide Brewing, and Shipyard Brewing Company, have been given prototypes for market research. In 2018 Anheuser-Busch approached him for prototypes. “I’m looking for a successful trial this spring that will allow me to get a large number of coasters into the marketplace,” he says. Roughly 90 percent of Smith’s efforts have been focused on product development, but in a few years his coasters could be beneath your beer. But how can you tell? Easy, Smith says. “You can see and smell the spent grain in our coasters.”