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Updated: May 29, 2023 On the record

On the Record: South Portland entrepreneur crafts soap from beer

Photo / Jim Neuger Elaine Kinney of White Pine Bath & Brew makes soap from craft beer at her home in South Portland.

Elaine Kinney worked in social services for seven years before starting a home-based business during the pandemic called White Pine Bath & Brew that makes soap out of craft beer. Mainebiz caught up with the South Portland-based entrepreneur to get the story behind the suds.

Mainebiz: What inspired you to make soap with beer?

Elaine Kinney: I moved to South Portland in early 2018 and began to explore the local small businesses including the many breweries in our area. The sense of passion and community was evident. These local business owners were pouring themselves into their dream jobs and it showed. I had begun learning to make beer soap from a friend shortly after this time; although, I wasn’t doing it as more than a hobby. By the time the pandemic started, I was coping with burnout from several years in social services. Picking up beer from the local breweries or grabbing snacks from the specialty market down the street were bright spots in my day. These businesses gave me the chance to get out of the house, shake off the cabin fever, and take a break from the burnout. In 2020, I decided to dive fully into entrepreneurship. I was inspired to create a new career for myself that would simultaneously promote the businesses around me. This is why I use beer exclusively from craft breweries within Maine.

MB: What ingredients are in beer that are good for skin?

EK: There are amino acids in hops and several vitamins in brewer’s yeast. Amino acids can soothe irritated skin. The biotin (vitamin B7) in brewer’s yeast is thought to benefit hair, skin and nails. The pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) in brewer’s yeast is associated with hydrating, soothing and repairing skin. The beer itself also contributes to a more luxurious lather.

MB: What steps are involved in making a batch of soap, and how long is the process?

EK: The first thing I do is boil the beer to remove the alcohol and carbonation. It is then used as a solvent for sodium hydroxide. The resulting solution is combined in a kettle with various fats such as shea butter, castor oil, etc. The process of turning a base (sodium hydroxide) and a fat into soap is called saponification. I use a hot process to accelerate saponification which means that I add heat to help the soap reach a safe pH. Saponification takes anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours depending on the batch. This is then poured into molds to harden. This can take two hours to two weeks depending on the recipe. The soap is then ready to be cut into bars and used.

MB: How many brewers have you worked with so far, and how do you approach them?

EK: I have used 16 different beers from eleven different breweries. I have received excess beer from four of these breweries and would like to eventually source all of my beer from microbrewery excess. I typically reach out to breweries in person or via email to explain my product and ability to help them reduce their own waste. By sourcing beer from short fills and past-date beer, I strive to increase the sustainability of all businesses involved. (A short fill is when the amount of beer in a can falls below the minimum amount required to be considered a full can.)

MB: Where do you sell your products and who are your customers?

EK: I primarily sell my products through my website and at market events. My customers tend to be Mainers who enjoy local craft beer, are interested in sustainability and veganism, and who prefer a few high-quality goods over large quantities of low-quality goods.

MB: Any plans to ever have a retail shop of your own?

EK: Yes, while I currently operate out of my home, my goal is to own a separate, dedicated space for White Pine Bath & Brew. I will have an office and production studio with an attached retail space to serve my clients.

MB: What’s next for the business?

EK: I am working to grow my customer base to the point where I can support my business expansion into a dedicated studio/retail space.

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