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Updated: November 7, 2023

Raising a glass to gluten-free beer: Crowdfunded niche brewer set to open in Portland

Man in a brewery on steps Photo / Renee Cordes Tom Ruff is the founder of Portland's Orange Bike Brewing Co., which is scheduled to have its grand opening on Nov. 18.
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Portland's Orange Bike Brewing Co. is gearing up for a grand opening on Saturday, Nov. 18, with nine gluten-free beers and a four-person team led by founder Tom Ruff.

The former medical-industry recruiter is setting out to create an inclusive space at his Portland tasting room.

“For me, it’s important that all feel welcome,” Ruff told Mainebiz, as wooden benches were being built and beers were already brewing at the site in the city's East Bayside neighborhood.

The tasting room, at 31 Diamond St., close to several other craft brewers and Bite Into Maine, is being partly financed through a crowdfunding campaign on a platform called Mainvest.

“Historically, opportunities to invest in private businesses have been reserved primarily for high net-worth individuals and families,” Ruff said.

He changed his fundraising strategy after being forced to turn away a $15,000 investment more than a year ago from a friend. She didn’t meet the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's income and assets requirements for accredited investors. 

“At that moment, I resolved to look for ways to allow a more diverse group of investors to participate in Orange Bike’s potential success,” Ruff said. 

Through crowdfunding, Ruff raised $124,000 from 129 investors in a Mainvest campaign that closed early. Mainvest bills itself as an "investment platform for Main Street."

Orange Bike Brewing, named for an orange RadWagon Cargo eBike that Ruff bought during the pandemic and has been on a roll ever since. The brewery aims to be purpose-driven, focused on the triple bottom line of social, environmental and financial good. 

The social part includes supporting the National Black Brewers Association through initiatives including "Black is Beautiful" to combat racial injustice. Five additional collaborations are in the works, according to Ruff.

$3 million investment 

Ruff said the total investment in Orange Bike Brewing is $3 million. Besides the $124,000 raised via Mainvest, the figure includes $1.4 million raised through a closed seed funding round with 40 investors plus debt funding from Androscoggin Bank.  

Without going into detail about the beers that will be offered, Ruff promises a wide array of beverage styles.

“The gluten-sensitive crowd and beer-lover crowd are loving our beer,” he said. “The biggest surprise for us, we are finding that a lot of folks who don’t typically like beer are enjoying our beers, which we are proud of.”

His plans include canning in the next three weeks, with local distribution starting shortly after that. 

Ruff’s own health issues led him to think about starting a gluten-free brewery in what remains a narrow niche nationwide.

“I had the idea to start Orange Bike Brewing on my 54th birthday, signed our 31 Diamond St. lease on my 55th birthday and plan to sell a lot of beer by my 57th birthday,” Ruff said.

The inclusive mission includes making the tasting room welcoming to older drinkers via special noise-reducing panels and employing older bartenders.

"We’ll start hosting events, hopefully here, with AARP [and] we’ll bring in some of the 60-plus Boomer Bartenders to be present working, and pouring beer as well," Ruff said.

Operations Manager Caroline Cutter supports the mission.

“Everyone’s a customer, but they’re guests, too,” she said. "That’s something I’ve taken away from every hospitality job I’ve had [including] the first one I ever had. My boss said, ‘Everyone is a guest. They’re not a customer, they’re a guest.'"

Editor's note: Article updated with additional details on fundraising.

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