October 12, 2012

New batch of brewers filling Maine's glasses

The latest makers of craft beer are riding a second wave of growth with new flavors and an economic impact.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - Sean Ellsworth popped into Rising Tide Brewing Co.'s new space on Fox Street with a growler ready to be filled with the brewery's latest special release, Entrepot, a farmhouse ale featuring lots of oats and hints of citrus and pepper.

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Nathan Sanborn, owner of Rising Tide Brewing Co. in Portland, bottles a special brew of bourbon barrel-aged stout. The company recently moved into a new and larger space and expects to increase production from 149 barrels last year to around 800 this year.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Novare Res Bier Cafe in Portland has 25 rotating taps for pleasing the palates of craft beer lovers, whether it’s a farmhouse saison, a chocolate porter, an India pale ale or a stout.

Doug Jones/2008 Press Herald file

"It's got a nice spicy note," said Ellsworth, who comes in to get his 64-ounce container filled every couple of weeks.

Ellsworth also buys craft beer from Maine Beer Co., another small but fast-growing brewery in Portland, and he works at Allagash Brewing Co.

"This is pretty typical, that we would have somebody from another brewery stop in," said Heather Sanborn, who started Rising Tide two years ago with her husband, Nathan, making his dream of earning a living off his home brew a reality.

Rising Tide is one of several small breweries that are riding the second big wave of the craft beer movement in Maine.

The late 1980s and early 1990s brought Geary's, Gritty McDuff's and Shipyard, now the granddaddies of the industry in Maine even though they're still much smaller than "big beer."

The growth of the industry has paved the way for more competitors and more specialization. A second wave of "beer geeks" is brewing small batches at home or in tiny rented spaces, using unconventional ingredients to develop a diversity of flavors that could only be dreamed of two decades ago.

In 2009, Maine had about 20 licensed breweries, said Dan Kleban, president of the Maine Brewers Guild and co-owner of Maine Beer Co. Today, it has more than 30.

Most of the startups have been tiny, he said, falling into the nanobrewery category, a fluid term that generally covers businesses brewing fewer than 1,000 barrels a year.

"The whole second-generation thing, I think, is partly because a lot of those brewers grew up on that first generation, and so people's palates are now already open to something that's different than Bud, Miller, Coors and those sorts of things," said Tom Bull, brewmaster for Bull Jagger Brewing Co., who sold his first beer on Oct. 19 last year.

This second wave of brewers is being welcomed by the beer-drinking public. And it's fueling their growth.

CRAFT BEER ON A GROWTH SPURT

Figures from the Maine Department of Public Safety show that beer production in Maine reached 6.4 million gallons last year, up 30 percent over 2010 and 56 percent over 2009.

Rising Tide produced one barrel -- 31 gallons -- at a time until June, when the scrappy little brewery took a giant leap: It shot up to 15 barrels and moved from a 1,500-square-foot space in the Riverside Industrial Park to a 5,500-square-foot space in the city's East Bayside neighborhood. Last month, it began selling its beer in Massachusetts.

The brewery expects to increase its production from 149 barrels last year to around 800 this year, and potentially 1,200 next year.

"Life would be pretty boring if you just drank the same four beers all the time," said Heather Sanborn. "I think we all appreciate the amount of energy and enthusiasm there is in this industry right now, and the amount of amazing beer that's being created in Portland."

Nationwide, craft brewers sold an estimated 11.47 million barrels of beer in 2011, up 1.3 million barrels from 2010. But big beer is still king. Sales by producers of more than 6 million gallons a year reached almost 200 million barrels in 2010.

Craft beer commands just 6 percent of the overall market, which is why craft brewers view big beer, not each other, as their competitor.

According to the national Brewers Association, there were more breweries in the U.S. as of July 1 than in the past 125 years -- 2,126 breweries, up from a low of 89 in the late 1970s.

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