When driving on the freeway from Boston Logan airport, north to the state of Maine, it is hard to avoid the influence of old England.

The iconic green-and-white road signs direct motorists to places along the North East coast such as Scarborough, Ipswich, Salisbury and Oxford.

And while England's indelible mark remains here, this part of the world is in turn having a major influence over our own beer and pub culture.

We are heading to Portland, a small city famous for lobster, paper, the high density of lawyers, ships and now beer and specifically Shipyard brewery.

Its beginnings are almost accidental. Fred Forsley was a real-estate broker trying to work out what to do with a property in Kennebunk (a postcard town where a rather well-known family by the name of Bush likes to holiday). He somehow ended up getting involved in a brewpub business with Alan Pugsley from Ringwood in Hampshire.

It took off and a standalone brewery was opened by the waterfront in Portland. Shipyard became the fastest-growing microbrewery in the country and one
of the pioneers of the American craft beer scene.

Nearly a quarter of a century on, Fred remains Shipyard's captain as it steers the course to its next stage of development. He has been both an integral part of, and a witness to, the well-documented changes in American beer.

"We went through two major explosions and then there were a couple of collapses," he says.

"But these last five years have truly been a different thing because the generation that is getting into brewing now has never not known microbrewed beers.

"It is new evolution because they have grown up with it. Before it was difficult to find good brewers but today there are a lot of them in America."

One of whom is Bruce Elam. The former home brewer started cleaning out the fermentation tanks at Shipyard but in true American Dream style he rose through the ranks and is now the expert brewery guide and commentator.

As he takes us around the former foundry he describes innovations such as the "hop tea", which is added to the fermenter to create extra aromas in
certain beers. Later, we go through Shipyard's extensive range. It features the likes of the punchy Monkey Fist IPA, the revered seasonal Pumpkinhead and American Pale Ale, which UK-based drinkers will be most familiar with thanks to Shipyard's partnership with our hosts on this trip, Marston's.

As we tour the lively pubs and bars (most with at least 20 beer taps as standard) in Portland and later Boston,we also sink Shipyard stouts, and beers with a variety of flavours including blueberry and apricot.

Alan explains: "Craft beer accounts for between six to eight per cent of the worldwide market [it's closer to 12 per cent in the US], so it isn't the biggest piece of the pie. But it is the tastiest slice."

And therein lies one of the challenges for Shipyard and craft brewers in general, be they American or British.

The beer that initially set Shipyard sailing was Export, brewed for Canadian tourists but popular beyond that market.

Nowadays it is considered a little passé by some. In fact, one or two bars in Portland consider Shipyard too big to stock and instead focus on the still growing number of small craft breweries in the area (there are 52 in Maine). It's a problem shared by other craft brewers with a similar heritage.

Fred adds: "We are lucky in that we have some winning brands but there is the thing where everybody wants what's new, so you have to constantly create more and more unique beers.

"There's a lot of cycling of beers that you will never do more than once. It used to happen in brewpubs and now it is happening in sale and distribution."

The brewpubs, such as Federal Jack's back in Kennebunk, remain an important base for experimentation, with beers that prove successful going into wider production. They can also be opened up to provide Shipyard customers and fans with a place to go to conjure up their own beers.

Special relationship

Fred and his team are now looking beyond Maine and already distribute in all bar a handful of states as well as exporting to several countries. The deal with Marston's is unique though. It stretches back to the beginning when Shipyard starting brewing Ringwood's Old Thumper (it still does). Fred says it was "a dream come true" when Marston's (which took over Ringwood) said it wanted to reciprocate with American Pale Ale in the UK.

To expand the business further Fred anticipates brewing in other parts of the States, potentially alongside other brewers.

Getting the beer into pubs and bars is tricky because brewers have to sell through a distributor rather than direct. When we visit, several distributors from Texas are in town to find out more about the beers.

"We want to be a national brand but also a brand that can collaborate with other brewers around the US," says Fred. "We are exporting. The logistics are getting better."

One thing he will have is the support of the City of Portland. Shipyard was the first business to move in on a derelict chunk of land that the city wanted to develop. It now employs 110 people (not counting the pubs) and has played a major part in improving the restaurant and nightlife scene that attracts tourists and permanent residents from bigger cities looking for a quieter way of life.

This is not lost on Greg Mitchell, director of Portland's Economic Development Department. "We needed some catalyst projects to start the redevelopment and Fred was on the front and the back," he explains. "That kind of company, selling its beers outside of Maine with Portland on the bottle, is great advertising. Now the market has expanded internationally, it is a chance to raise Portland's profile."

It's refreshing to hear local officials talking about the positive impact of beer and pubs, which is not always the case at home. Growth, competition with other brewers and the constant need to innovate are challenges familiar in both New England and in our own pubs and bars.

Fred adds: "I was in a room recently with some people thanking the old guys for pioneering the scene. I looked around and I realised they were talking about me. We don't feel that old."

And, as Inapub's transatlantic adventure draws to a close, you get the distinct impression that Shipyard's has just begun.