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July 10, 2018

Maine's craft brewers brace for busy season

Photo / Tim Greenway
Photo / Tim Greenway
Heather and Nathan Sanborn, co-owners of Rising Tide Brewing, in the brew house in Portland.

Maine craft breweries are working up a thirst as they enter their busiest season of the year – even if business is plateauing overall.

The state's breweries last year pumped out 115% more beer in July than they made in February, the slowest month of the year, according to data provided by the state and reported by the Portland Press Herald. And the period from July 4 to Labor Day typically drives profits for most beer-makers.

At Rising Tide Brewing Co., in Portland, the surge in suds is even larger. Last year, Rising Tide produced 243% more beer in July than in February, according to co-owner Nathan Sanborn.

"We'll see quadruple the number of people or more coming through here in that period," he told the Sun Journal. "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."

Numbers like these make Maine breweries "kind of an outlier," said Bart Watson, an economist for the National Brewers Association. Breweries across the country are more active in the summer, he said, but the national production increase in July averages only about 16%.

Maine's soaring summer demand may be partly due to the tourist trade, but that doesn't account for all of it, according to Fred Forsley, co-owner of Portland-based Shipyard Brewing.

Forsley 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," he 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 doesn't appear to be increasing in total. Data show Maine's brewers made 2.1% less beer in 2017 than in 2016. The number dropped 2% in 2016.

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