Malt of the Earth: Portland's Rising Tide Brewery seeks niche in microbrew market

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PORTLAND — Far from the ocean, in a modest warehouse on Industrial Way, there is a new tide rising, one that Nathan Sanborn hopes will eventually envelop the entire state and beyond.

Sanborn, a 35-year-old former freelance graphic designer, is trying to establish one of Maine’s newest microbreweries, a one-man operation called Rising Tide Brewing Co.

Sanborn has been a home brewer for nearly 15 years, beginning as a 21-year-old, self-proclaimed ski bum in California. But in April, he signed a lease for a warehouse space in Portland, making his home hobby a commercial enterprise.

“The set-up isn’t that much different from your home-brew set,” Sanborn said of his roughly 1,500-square foot space with three kettles and two fermenters. “There’s some adjustment, but it wasn’t a huge adjustment.”

While owning his own commercial brewery has always been in the back of his mind, Sanborn said it moved to the forefront last summer, when he finally decided the time was right to give it a shot.

The Portland resident released his first beer under the Rising Tide label in September with Ishmael, an American copper ale.

Sanborn said Ishmael is a light brown elixir with a clean malt focus and a deliberately light alcohol content.

While many brown ales contain 7 percent alcohol by volume, Ishmael weighs in at 4.9 percent. It is sold in 22-ounce bottles, Sanborn said, so people can enjoy more than one without becoming too intoxicated.

“Seven percent (alcohol content) is kind of a turn-off for some people,” he said.

Sanborn said he would eventually like to operate full brewery akin to nearby breweries like Maine Beer Co. and Allagash. But he is first testing an already abundant microbrew market to see if his creations can gain a foothold.

“This is a entree for me,” he said, “to see if I can make this work and if people are interested in what I brew.”

Sanborn said owning and operating his own brewery has been “98 percent awesome.” The remaining 2 percent, which can only be described not awesome, has been dealing with permitting and regulations, he said.

“It’s much more tiring than I expected,” he said. “Much more of a grind.”

While his brewery is on the Maine Brewers’ Guild‘s Beer Trail, Sanborn said Rising Tide doesn’t offer formal tours or samples, and does not have an in-house retail space to sell its beer.

For the next six months to a year, Sanborn said he will continue to brew and sell his beers on a small scale.

With his current equipment, Sanborn can brew in roughly 33-gallon batches, which he bottles, caps and labels by hand.

So far, there have been 14 batches of Ishmael, Sanborn said, which are being distributed to about 60 locations, including RSVP, the Great Lost Bear and at specialty markets like the Rosemont Market & Bakery and the Bow Street Market in Freeport.

Each 22-ounce bottle retails for about $6, he said.

“Right now, this beer is pretty much flying out the door,” said Sanborn, who described his early success as a “honeymoon period.”

“I’m getting great feedback,” he added.

Rising Tide will be soon hanging up the autumn ale to make way for a winter beer. Starting next week, Sanborn said he will try his hand at a wheat-based stout, using Bavarian weizen yeast.

It’s a beer that Sanborn hopes will carve out another niche in the local beer market.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” he said of stout. “For me, it’s about brewing the beer I want to brew.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

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Nathan Sanborn, 35, stands among the kettles and fermenters at Rising Tide Brewing Co., located on Industrial Way in Portland.

Nathan Sanborn, 35, stands in front of Rising Tide Brewing Co. on Industrial Way in Portland.

Cases of Ishmael American Copper Ale at Portland’s Rising Tide Brewing Co. awaiting delivery.

Nathan Sanborn, 35, refills a container of chocolate malt at Rising Tide Brewing Co., located on Industrial Way in Portland.

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