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Rising Tide's Nathan & Heather Sanborn [5 Questions]

Author // Jeff Wharton

As I recently mentioned, Devon and I took advantage of the Columbus Day weekend to head up to Portland, Maine and their booming craft beer scene. In the morning I hit Urban Farm Fermentory, but the afternoon was all about a rising tide within craft beer...and the brewery that named itself after this industry-wide phenomenon, Rising Tide Brewing. Headed up by the husband and wife team of Nathan and Heather Sanborn, they're helping to take Maine into the next wave of craft brewing. Nathan is a long-time homebrewer and Heather is a lawyer by trade. So the responsibilities of owning a brewery are well handled by these two as Nathan brews and Heather handles sales. Having opened on a 40 gallon brew system, they've increased their brew system by over ten times and they're still facing supply issues! Between a regular lineup of beers and regularly released limited brews, they keep this brewery growing and maintain the ethos of homebrewers at the same time. We got to hang out at the brewery for a while and then went to dinner at Portland's preeminent beer bar, Novare Res, with Heather and Nathan. Getting to know these folks was a pleasure. They make great beer and speak highly (and are friends) with so many people in the industry. They recently entered the Massachusetts market and, once you try their beer, you'll realize it's not wonder why they're doing so well in both Maine and Massachusetts. If you haven't tried their brews yet you'll want to go get some...or at least come out to Drink Craft Beer Fall to Winter Fest to try what they're all about! Now, let's hear it from their own mouths'.

Drink Craft Beer: How did you get into craft beer?

Nathan Sanborn: I was a home brewer for many years. When I was heading off to California in the fall of 1997 to be a ski bum, among the important things I packed into my little Toyota Tercel was my dad's brewing equipment. I did a ton of brewing for several years, approaching it with the same over-the-top sensibility as I tackle most things: I brewed a single batch of extract with specialty grains before moving to all-grain brewing by my second batch. I took a bit of a hiatus from brewing after my son was born in 2003, but after a couple of years was back at it and really began to harbor a dream of taking my hobby to the next level. I think most moderately serious home brewers have the same thought.

As I began to think more and more seriously about whether or not I could take the leap, I noted the growing number of nano-scale breweries that were popping up, including Maine Beer Company right here in Portland. The guys from Maine Beer were gracious enough to spend some time talking with me and answering questions and I ultimately decided to take the plunge with a 1 barrel system just to test the waters. Less than two years later we are brewing on a 15 bbl system and shipping beer out of state for the first time.

Heather Sanborn: I have to admit that I grew up in a family where red wine was what you drank with dinner. I didn't care for hoppy beers or English-style ales so I didn't order beer very often when we went out. I did drink lots and lots of Nathan's home brew though. By 2006 or 2007, we usually had three kinds of beer on draft at our house all the time. And lots of dinner parties with our friends so that we could drink them all!

DCB: What was the turning point (a beer or moment) that made you love craft beer?

NS: honestly don't think there is one—my dad was already drinking craft beer by the time I was paying much attention to beer at all. My entire beer-drinking life has revolved around craft beer. I never really gave it much conscious thought. My first beers were some of the early stalwarts of the Maine craft brewing scene including Shipyard, Geary's and Gritty's. Then I moved to California where we drank Sierra Nevada and Anchor. When I moved back home I discovered Allagash. My experience with craft beer has certainly grown and I've become more curious and aware over the years, but craft beer has always been in my blood.

HS: As Nathan started talking seriously about starting a brewery in 2008 or 2009, I embarked on a project to try every beer I could find and learn everything I could about the craft beer industry. I learned a lot about beer very quickly just by sampling everything I could and talking with Nathan about what I was tasting. But I think I really fell in love with craft beer during the Craft Brewers Conference in 2010. By that time, Nathan had already started Rising Tide and I was becoming more and more involved in the day to day operations of the business. At the conference, I met a whole bunch of other people who were passionate about beer and their enthusiasm was infectious. As I listened to Fritz Maytag and Ken Grossman reminiscing about the early days of craft beer during the keynote, I started to really dream about what our brewery could become and about passing it along to our son someday.

DCB: You walk into a magical beer shop with every beer currently available. You can put together one six-pack. What do you walk out with? Only one beer can be from your brewery.

NS: There's just too much quality and variety to pick just six! Some days my sixer would be dominated by IPAs, others it might be all Belgian style. Sours? Farmhouse? Porters? Some days I would shun any beer that I had ever had previously. Other days I'd go for some old favorites. But for fun I'll throw together one mixed six that might appeal to me this evening: Allagash Avance; Russian River Defenestration; Ninkasi Tricerahops; Uerige Doppelsticke; Guinea Riner; and round it out with a Prince Tuesday, the collaboration beer that we did with our friends at Maine Beer Company and Allagash Brewing.

HS: This is a really hard question - so dependent on my mood and what I'm eating and what the temperature is and what I drank the night before. My magical beer shop would have a magical beer shop owner who gives never-ending good recommendations for what I should get based on what the owner knows about me. I'm glad to say that these beer shops actually exist and I visit them frequently!

DCB: What would you be doing for a career if you weren’t in beer?

NS: If I wasn't in beer, I think I'd like to make a go as a fine art photographer. I spent a ton of time when I was younger behind a camera and hunched over trays of developer in my makeshift darkroom. I think there are a surprising number of similarities between art photography and craft brewing. The way I approach each flows from a love of all of the aspects of the craft—vision and creativity coupled with science and technique.

HS: I'd be a lawyer. I practiced law until this June. I'm very glad to be running my own small business now instead.

DCB: What do you drink when you’re not drinking craft beer (or beer at all)?

NS: Water, mostly. Or spirits. Bourbon, of course, or a Vesper. Or a nice spicy dark and stormy after a day of sailing. Oh, or coffee. Yeah, probably coffee.

HS: Coffee. At this point I pretty much only drink beer and coffee.

DCB: Thanks so much for your time, Heather and Nathan! Looking forward to seeing you both at Drink Craft Beer Fall to Winter Fest in November/December!