BELFAST, Maine — To most people, seaweed and beer are two tastes that don’t immediately belong together.
But David Carlson — owner of Three Tides and Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. in Belfast, who already makes beer with such ingredients as coffee, oysters and blue agave nectar — is not most people. He and several other Mainers who are passionate about seaweed met about six weeks ago and concocted a plan to create a special brew salted with sugar kelp.
“I’m really excited. I know this beer is going to be good,” the brewer said Wednesday, the day he added the dried kelp to the mixture that eventually will become Sea Belt Scotch Ale. “We’re not trying to make something that tastes gross. At the end of the day, we want to sell it. The most important thing is it’s not a gimmick.”
The new beer will be, he hopes, the delicious result of a cooperative process that brought the brewery together with Maine Sea Grant, the new aquaculture business Maine Fresh Sea Farms, and other seaweed enthusiasts who want the humble marine plant to get a little more love.
Peter Arnold of the Damariscotta River-based Maine Fresh Sea Farms said that he and partners Peter Fischer and Seth Barker want the business to become a four-season seaweed farm.
Fischer, who sells mussels to Carlson, told the beer maker about the nutrient-rich, hardy kelp that he grew this winter on ropes in the water at the new aquaculture endeavor. Maine Sea Grant, which recently figured out how to make seaweed spores on demand, provided the partners with seaweed seeds.
The farm started growing sugar kelp, a cold-water seaweed, six months ago.
“I told [Fischer] I want first crack at the seaweed beer,” Carlson recalled. “It’s something that’s been on our radar for years, because we have the natural resource in Maine.”
“It’s in the superfood category,” Arnold said, adding that seaweed comprises 15 percent of the diet of some Asian nations. “It has everything we need.”
It also should be fairly low-maintenance, he said.
“Sugar kelp needs sunlight and seawater,” he said. “Unlike terrestrial farms, we don’t need to fertilize or till the soil. The ocean does everything.”
The partners, who also plan to grow other types of seaweed, such as dulse, wakame and graseleria, on long lines dangling in the water, hope to get more people in Maine and other states excited about seaweed. For instance, a restaurant in Damariscotta is using the sugar kelp, which has a mild, sugary taste, in chowder.
A rare, though not unheard-of, use for seaweed is beer. A Scottish brewery makes Kelpie Seaweed Ale with bladderwrack seaweed, and other breweries around the world make it from time to time, too.
“I want to make it a regular thing,” Carlson said. “To my knowledge, we’re the first in Maine.”
The beer will be contain 8 percent alcohol by volume, and it will be dark, strong and complex. Each 200-gallon batch will contain six pounds of dried kelp.
“It really is an animal all to itself,” Carlson said. “We’re forecasting we’re going to get a salty taste.”
Sarah Redmond of Maine Sea Grant said that she got to throw some seaweed in the hopper on Wednesday.
“It was really fun,” she said. “All over the world, people are realizing the benefit of seaweed for food. It’s an opportunity for Maine to become seaweed producers, and come up with new products and ideas. That’s why the Marshall Wharf beer is so exciting.”
She said that Maine has a long history and tradition of harvesting wild seaweed for food, garden mulch and even, in the past, home insulation.
“Seaweeds are an amazing resource,” she said. “They connect people with the oceans and food.”
The beer will make its big debut around mid-July, Carlson said. It will be available at the Three Tides bar and Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. store, located next to each other on the waterfront in Belfast and also be canned for distribution in other locales. One of those places will be the Maine Seaweed Festival, held Saturday, Aug. 30, at the oceanfront at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland.
Festival creator Hillary Krapf of Portland said she is thrilled to help others learn more about seaweed, and is looking forward to sampling Maine Sea Belt beer.
“I wanted to bring this knowledge and awareness to our state, because we have this beautiful resource,” she said. “It’s our best kept secret — until now.”