Rising Tide Brewing was a beehive of activity. Though there were no customers on a recent visit, three workers were busily organizing the tasting room in Portland. The canning line was pumping out ale, while two workers kept it running smoothly.

They were getting ready for The Season.

July is the busiest production month. According to data provided by the state, Maine breweries last year pumped out 115 percent more beer in July than they made in February, the slowest month of the year.

Profits at most breweries are driven by the period from July Fourth to Labor Day.

Nobody experiences the rush more acutely than Rising Tide, which made 243 percent more beer in July than in February last year. The production boom is a must in order to meet demand, co-owner Nathan Sanborn said.

“We’ll see quadruple the number of people or more coming through here in that period,” he said. “And related to that, there’s all the (restaurant) accounts up and down the coast, many of which close during the winter, that are very active in the summer.”


Bart Watson, an economist for the national Brewers Association, says breweries are more active in the summer. But the national production increase in July is only about 16 percent, Watson said.

“Production with that much seasonality would indeed make Maine a bit of an outlier,” Watson said.

The big push to make more beer in the summer comes in large part because of tourists. But locals also play a key role in the surge.

Fred Forsley, co-owner of Shipyard Brewing in Portland, said his Old Port tasting room will see a large bump in foot traffic from tourists, but people across the state have more leisure time in summer.

“A lot of locals have cookouts and family events,” Forsley said. “There are staycations, things like that. Everything gets concentrated in 60 days.”

While business is booming in the summer, and new breweries crop up every month, beer production is not getting larger. Data show Maine’s brewers produced 2.1 percent less beer in 2017 than they made in 2016. The number dropped by 2 percent in 2016.


Some breweries have cashed in on that seasonal influx of sales by brewing lower-alcohol beers that consumers will drink more of. Shipyard Summer Ale is a popular example of the type, Sebago’s Simmer Down is well-known among consumers, and Rising Tide’s Maine Island Trail Ale is a runaway hit. MITA, as it’s known, accounts for about 25 percent of the brewery’s annual production even though it’s only brewed for about six months a year.

MITA was an accidental success. Sanborn said he originally brewed a 900-gallon batch thinking it was going to be a one-off that the brewery would never make again. It sold out in about 24 hours.

“We shipped the beer to our distributor on a Monday or a Tuesday, and I got a phone call Wednesday asking when the next drop was coming,” Sanborn said. “We had never experienced that before.”

Andrew Coronado wraps a pallet of Rising Tide’s Maine Island Trail Ale, or MITA, for distribution. The popular summer ale was an accidental success. Originally planned as a one-off, it now accounts for about 25 percent of the company’s annual production.

Now MITA is a staple of the summertime beer market. With more breweries and production down slightly, the market is now flooded with options. Greg Norton, co-owner of retailer The Bier Cellar, which has stores in Portland and Gorham, said the Maine beer market has matured by leaps and bounds in his six years of business. He rattled off names of sought-after local beers that consumers are able to readily find now from companies that didn’t exist six years ago.

“There’s more around. The tasting rooms get busier, and the more sought-after beers retreat somewhat and continue to be harder to get, but overall the quality and availability of local beer is astronomical,” Norton said. “There’s so much available right now at high-quality levels. It’s astounding.”

All the summer sales come with a downside: winter. Breweries try to keep all their staffs through the dark months of winter because they have skills and talents that will be needed again. Brewers will do barrel-aging – which takes up time and space – to make use of the slow season, but they also focus on maintenance and cleaning that might not happen in summer.


Forsley called the winter months “not profitable.” Sanborn said Rising Tide has learned to plan for the lean months.

“The first few years we were in business, we thought we were going out of business in January every year. Then we realized that’s just the way it is,” Sanborn said.

“There’s little tourism and people are just weary from a long, busy year, I think, and they’re not going out as much in the middle of the winter. People just hunker down, pull a blanket up, drink a bourbon and they don’t leave home.”

Forsley, who co-founded Shipyard in 1992, has had more time than most brewers to figure out how to handle the seasonal changes. Shipyard’s Pumpkinhead has been a hit for the company and has extended the busy season into the fall.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have a hit with Pumpkinhead,” Forsley said.

Shipyard has another advantage over other breweries: It owns production facilities and has strong marketing in other areas of the country. Which means Shipyard can turn to another tried-and-true Maine method for beating winter: It goes to Florida.

James Patrick can be contacted at 791-6382 or at:


Twitter: mesofunblog

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