Maine has a rich history of microbreweries dating back decades and stretching the entire length of the state. But the latest brewery opening in Kittery in the next few months will not be serving up pale ales and porters, instead it is positioning itself to become a global leader in another beverage, the Japanese staple of sake.
Housed in a nondescript warehouse off of the Route One Bypass in Maine’s southernmost town, the build-out is nearly complete and the final pieces of equipment are rolling into Blue Current Brewery. I had the chance to meet with founder and master brewer Dan Ford this week for an inside look at the facility and to find out why sake and why Kittery of all places.
Ford is no amateur looking to take a home brew hobby and turn it into a potential business, he is a rare expert in the sake community. He holds both the Advanced Sake Professional (ASP) and Certified Sake Professional (CSP) certifications by the non-profit Sake Education Council of Tokyo, Japan and is one of fewer than 130 certified ASP sake “sommeliers” in the world.
When I walked inside the facility I was expecting a couple of small fermenting tanks and perhaps a rice press, but this is no ordinary operation. The largest rice steamer I have ever seen at least six feet tall is a custom built piece of equipment that was designed and manufactured with the assistance of the Advanced Composite Center at the University of Maine. I counted no fewer than six massive one thousand liter fermenting tanks in the climate controlled production room and several smaller tanks to be used to infuse nitrogen into the sake after fermentation. There was a rice press as well, but it was big enough to crush my Prius in so I was glad I left it parked outside. The equipment already housed in the facility was clearly meant for a major sake operation with hopes of becoming a big time player in the market.
I asked Dan why sake, thinking that it was a bit of an unknown commodity with mostly a cult following here in America. He stated that there are thousands of beer breweries throughout the country now, that the market is almost saturated or will be soon, sake offers an emerging beverage market that has gone virtually untapped in America. Ford was also quick to point out the benefits of sake versus traditional alcohol; sake has no tannins or sulfates that bring on a hangover, plus, sake is gluten-free, vegan, and soy-free. That’s right, no hangover, and I can tell you from my sake experiences in Japan and domestically that Dan is right in that regard.
So the market for sake is emerging, but why would Maine be an ideal location to open one of the largest sake breweries in the country? Dan asked me to recall my travels to Japan; the climate, the terrain, the natural spring water; the climate of Maine is very similar to that of Japan. He has developed a supply network for premium rice and other ingredients and plans to use the purest of Maine spring water to make his cold American sake. He has also developed equipment, which he wouldn’t let me photograph, that is one-of-a-kind that he says will make the difference between good sake and world-class sake.
Having funded the entire facility through personal savings and donations from friends and family, Ford is very close to reaching his goal of bringing Blue Current Brewery online and shipping his sake across the country and around the world, but he needs your help. Dan has just days remaining in his Kickstarter Campaign to raise $33,000 to purchase a bottling machine to speed up the process of getting his product from production to the market place. As of today he is almost halfway to his goal, which needs to be reached by October 11th. So if the idea of sake being brewed in Maine interests you and you want to get in on the ground floor, please consider donating to Dan’s campaign.
If everything goes as plan, and the Kickstarter effort is successful, Dan expects to have brewery tours and bottles for sale before the end of the year.
If you would like more information on Blue Current Brewery you can find them on the web, Facebook, and Twitter. We will check back in with Dan when the brewery opens later this year with a full report on this Japanese tradition being made in Maine.