Interview with Coastal New England Rising Star Brewer Nathan Sanborn of Rising Tide Brewing Company – Portland, ME
Antoinette Bruno: How many square feet do you have here?
Nathan Sanborn: We have 5,000 square feet here at rising tide.
AB: How long have you been in business?
NS: We’ve been in business about three years coming up in October .
AB: So when you started out three years ago, how many barrels did you produce your first year?
NS: My first full year of production, I produced 149 barrels of beer.
AB: Okay and what are you at today?
NS: This year we’re planning to brew about 1500 barrels.
AB: Wow, you’ve grown a lot
NS: Yup, quite a bit
AB: So tell me, how did you get into the brewing business?
NS: I got into the brewing business the same way many small craft brewers got into the brewing business, I drank a lot of beer and I brewed a lot of beer at home and decided that I just wanted to give it a try and see if people would like my beer.
AB: How long did you brew at home before you decided to open up your own brewery?
NS: I was a home brewer for about 12 years before I decided to open.
AB: What was your day job?
NS: I had a number of day jobs, being a ski bum was one. I was a ski bum when I first started brewing out in California and, let’s see what else I’ve done, I’ve worked on a sailboat, I’ve done graphic design, I’ve done book design, I’ve worked as a letterpress printer, and in web development. And I was a stay-at-home dad for a while.
AB: So what made you decide to start brewing?
NS: I think it was my love of beer is what made me decide to open a brewery originally—that and I was brewing a lot of beer at home and had a lot of people asking me when I was going to start selling my beer. And I think if you hear that enough times as a home brewer, you think maybe there’s something to that and we’ll give it a try. I was in a place in my life where I was able to make that move. We just dove in, head first.
AB: So, when you decided, finally after 12 years of home brewing to make beer, what did you do first? What did you do to make it happen?
NS: I wrote a business plan and started a nano-brewer on a very small scale, so yeah the first step was to make sure that it was worth us putting our investment into the business to get it going. The business plan, at first, was really primarily for myself and my wife to assess and decide whether to go with it.
AB: Did you start in this facility or did you start in a different facility?
NS: We started in a much smaller facility, 1,500 square feet over near Allagash, here in Portland—very small facility. I started on a one-barrel system and very rapidly outgrew that system, but it took a little bit of time to put together everything that was required for the first level of expansion.
AB: So what did you have to do for the first level of expansion?
NS: We had to write a real business plan and shop it to a bank so that we could get the funding that we needed to make the move.
AB: Did you get the funding?
NS: We did.
AB: That’s unusual.
NS: Yeah, I’ve heard that. It was important to my wife and I to try and maintain full ownership of the business and we were able to do that with some bank financing and also some financing from the city of Portland economic development council.
AB: Oh wow, that’s exciting, what did it take to get that?
NS: It took a good banker to help us with that because our banker was the one who put that idea to us originally. He said, you know there may in fact be funding through the city and you should go talk to them. He worked with the planner at the economic development council to put together a package that worked for everybody. We were able to fund the whole thing that way.
AB: Do you know other brewers that managed to get funding like that?
NS: I don’t, actually. I don’t know how most of the other local breweries have done their financing. It’s not a question that I typically ask of my fellow brewers. I don’t typically pry into their financial side of their business and that’s just, that’s a personal thing, I mean.
AB: I’ve spoken to other people who are trying to get started, to understand how somebody else did it, that’s why we ask that question...
NS: Oh! Yeah, that’s fine. We’re always happy to answer those questions when people ask, but again, I’ve asked fellow brewers for a lot of support and help with various things along the way.
AB: How about the equipment?
NS: The glycol chiller that we’re running right now was Rob Todd’s original glycol chiller from Allagash brewing. It’s got 20 years of hard work at Allagash and now it’s chugging along for us here. So, we get a lot of help from our other brewers from understanding equipment and process, as a home brewer there’s a lot to learn.
AB: Did you do any staging?
NS: I didn’t do any sort of internship or anything of that nature and looking back at it now that was probably foolish. We were able to muddle through and figure things out the hard way. When people ask me now if that’s something they should do, I say absolutely. One of the things that would have made it a lot easier for me was to go work as a commercial brewer before I made the move to do it myself.
AB: So let’s talk about what kind of beer you brew.
NS: Sure, love to talk about beer. As far as what type of beer we brew, typically we brew American-style ales. We sort of draw from traditions around the world and just kind of bring them together, which is typical of an American ale anyway. What’s American ale? That’s kind of an open question, but we brew some pale ales a couple different ways, an IPA and then we brew a copper ale which draws from the German tradition. We brew a wheat stout that’s brewed with a Bavarian yeast again, sort of drawing some inspiration from the German style and then really doing something that they would probably never dream of doing with those characters. So, the way we approach our brewing is to, sort of look around and see what other people are doing, what are some good things we can draw from and then synthesis into something new.