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

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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

Maine ranks fifth in breweries per capita, behind only Vermont, which is first, Oregon, Montana and Colorado.

"The Maine beer scene is on fire right now," said Tod Mott of South Berwick, former head brewer at Portsmouth Brewery and creator of Kate the Great, a Russian imperial stout that beer geeks wait in line for hours to sample.

Partly for that reason, and partly because he wants to set out on his own before age slows him down, Mott hopes to open his own brewery and tasting room in southern Maine by early spring. He has his eye on a spot in Kittery, where he plans to start small and stay small, brewing no more than 500 to 750 barrels in the first year.

Brewers say the increased interest in craft beer in Maine is, at least partially, a byproduct of the local foods movement, and it's probably why the industry appears to be growing a little faster here than in other parts of the country.

But mostly, brewers point to America's changing palate and its growing foodie culture.

Most baby boomers remember when ordering a beer in a bar was a simple thing. In the 1970s, you could grab a Bud or a Miller from one of the taps -- and you could count the number of taps on one hand.

Today's beer drinkers are different. Their idea of a good beer bar is Portland's Novare Res Bier Cafe, which has 25 rotating taps. They can have a farmhouse saison, a chocolate porter, an India pale ale or a stout.

Many know who brewed the beer they're drinking, and where the hops were grown, and that the rye malt came from one of the only artisanal malt houses in the country.

"It's like they're redefining American brewing," said Ken Collings of Freeport Brewing Co., who recently relaunched his own brand out of a tiny rented space at Spring Point Marina in South Portland after being out of the business for a couple of years.

Oxbow Brewing Co. in Newcastle, which celebrated its first anniversary in August, specializes in traditional Belgian-style farmhouse beers with a contemporary American twist.

Tim Adams and Geoff Masland launched the home-style brewery in a renovated barn, and its beer became so popular so fast that after six months, the owners brought a Philadelphia brewer, Mike Fava, on board. They bought new tanks that doubled their capacity last spring, they've expanded their retail hours to meet demand, and they're building a new tap room.

Masland said the first year "greatly exceeded our expectations." He said Maine is the ideal place to open a brewery because the market still feels less crowded and more manageable than others.

Bull, of Bull Jagger, started home brewing in the early 1990s, around the time the first generation of craft brewers began to take hold in Maine. Bull worked for a couple of those brewers and dreamed of having his own brewery some day. Then he found his niche.

"We're the only dedicated lager brewery in the state of Maine," said Bull. "We do all lagers. It's a little different fermentation process than ales, which is what just about everybody else does."

Bull, who has kept his other job as a theatrical stage hand, is happy that he made the jump into the craft beer business when he did.

"It's one of the only industries in the country that grew steadily through the recession," he said.

AN ENGINE FOR JOB CREATION

The new breweries are doing more than slaking beer lovers' thirst -- they're creating jobs.

The Maine Brewers' Guild did an informal survey last year that showed its members employ more than 1,200 people, not counting the industry's ripple effect.

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