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August 13, 2021

Another round: Newest Maine breweries are trying to stand out from the crowd

Courtesy / Odd by Nature Odd by Nature Brewing, in Cape Neddick, partnered with Portland-based Definitive Brewing Co. to produce this beer with the tart taste of Sour Patch Kids candy.

With the count now up to 150 breweries in Maine, new craft beer makers are seeking to differentiate themselves from the pack in creative ways, with a focus on niche styles and offering more than just beer.

Playing off a sense of nostalgia for favorite childhood treats, Odd by Nature Brewing, which opened recently in Cape Neddick, focuses on ice cream IPAs, candy beers and pastry stouts. The brewpub also offers beer cocktails.

Owner Jay Grey, who also owns Ogunquit’s Food for Thought gastropub, came up with the brewery’s concept and then tapped Abe Henderson-Brown, former head bartender at Leavitt Theatre, to be the brewer. Henderson was at first hesitant since he didn’t have any previous brewing experience.

“I just told him ‘Hey, it’s like making really big cocktails,’” said Grey, who worked with him over the winter on initial recipes.

The brewery offers eight beers on tap and will begin offering monthly can releases next week. With table service for indoor and outdoor seating, Odd by Nature also offers food from Food for Thought.

After getting 1,200 visitors in a July week, the brewery is proving there's a market among beer lovers with a sweet tooth. Offerings include a mango lassi-inspired beer and a green-hued pineapple tapache Berliner weisse, blended with sour sop nectar and green guava candy.

The craft beverage hub of Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood continues to grow. This spring Belleflower Brewing Co. joined the pack.

With an owner-brewer team from Trillium Brewing Co. in Massachusetts, Belleflower is focused on small-batch brews using Maine ingredients. The business moved into former Brewery Extrava’s space, utilizing the equipment of that brewery, which closed last year. Belleflower has also purchased its own canning line.

Opening a brewery during a pandemic is tough enough, but Pepper Powers, owner of Bath Ale Works, was used to frustrations and delays. For five years he’d been trying to find the perfect location for the brewery, whose name is a pun on Bath Iron Works. After several possible locations fell through, he finally settled on space on Bath Road in Wiscasset.

Powers, a longtime home brewer, moved to his summer home in Maine to pursue the brewery from Maryland, where he worked at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. BAW focuses on classic English-style ales whose names lean into their BIW inspiration. They include Zumwalt Porter, named after the newest U.S. Navy destroyer class being built by BIW.

Off-the-beaten-path breweries continue to grow in number. Gordon’s Grog opened in April in the small central Maine town of St. Albans. The long-time homebrewing family opened the tasting room out of necessity, as their popular home brew tastings they’d shared with the community outgrew their house.

The brewery’s most popular beers are Red Wagon, a red ale, Look Me in the IPA, Bog Water Stout and Extraordinary Bitter.

Two new Washington County breweries hope to expand the Downeast’s imprint on the Maine Beer Trail.

Horn Run Brewing opened in May in a historic building in downtown Eastport’s waterfront. And opening in the fall, Bad Little Brewing also found a home in a historic building in Machias.

The 1868 Clark Perry House, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, will house the Bad Little taproom, and eventually a farm-to-table restaurant.

Something for everyone

Soon people with gluten intolerance will have their own local craft beer options. Lucky Pigeon Brewing Co. will open Maine’s first exclusively gluten-free brewery in the Pepperell Mill in Biddeford, near Banded Brewing Co.

Head brewer Scott Nebel, who previously worked at Maine Beer Co. and Sebago Brewing, plans on offering a variety of beer styles using millet, buckwheat and rice, instead of the traditional barley or wheat-base malts, which both contain gluten.

Owners Kathleen Pigeon, Bev Pigeon, Nic Bramer and Lesley Bramer worked on the brewery build-out over the spring. They just canned their first beer this week — a blonde ale called Eclectus — and will announce an opening date soon, according to social media posts.

Another woman-owned brewery, Olive Pit, will open soon in Lisbon and focus on catering to a broad but perhaps overlooked palate. Owner Christy Cain purchased a Main Street building in April after recently getting her diploma in brewing science, and plans to open the brewery, named after her pit bull, in early October.

“My focus is on providing a full spectrum of beers — something for everyone, with a lean towards less hoppy beers, an under-represented preference in Maine,” said Cain, who added that the nature of her beer styles will tend to appeal to women, “as we have more bitter taste buds,” and hoppy beers tend toward bitter.

“In trying to fill the niche of what's missing in Maine, it is going to naturally appeal to a large cross- section of women who are making the switch from wine to beer but who don't care for hoppy styles,” she said. “My goal is to become a community hub where people can come hang out, enjoy the beer and perhaps grab a bite from a visiting food truck.”

She’ll source one of beer’s key ingredients, malt, from Blue Ox Malthouse, located just down the road in Lisbon Falls, and hops from Woodside Hop House in Brunswick.

Hi-Fidelity Beer will join the East Bayside crew by late September, according to brewer and co-owner Dante Maderal, formerly of Atlantic Brewing. The new brewery will capitalize on a growing trend toward beers with less alcohol and will offer low- to moderate-alcohol beers in a variety of classic styles.

Courtesy / Hi-Fidelity
Construction is underway at Hi-Fidelity, a new craft brewery slated to open by late September at 200 Anderson St., Portland, in the East Bayside neighborhood.

In addition to beers, Maderal, who is partnering with Portland musician P.D. Wappler, said he's also focused on “cultivating a comfortable space with a focus on live music and original artists. We are excited to be opening in such a cool neighborhood alongside other breweries and art galleries like Zero Station.”

Low- and even no-alcohol beer sales rose more than 30% in the U.S. last year, according to Craft Brewing Business. Woodland Farms Brewery was the first in Maine to jump on the nonalcoholic beer bandwagon, with its Pointer non-alcoholic IPA. Maine will also soon have its own exclusively nonalcoholic brewery.

KITna Brewing announced its launch earlier this month. Founded by Will Fisher, cofounder and head of operations at Austin Street Brewery and Rob Barrett, owner and president of Barret Made Architecture + Construction, the brewery will be located in Portland’s West Bayside neighborhood.

The partners are planning for a national direct-mail distribution, since NA beers don’t have the shipping restrictions of their alcoholic cousins, along with availability in local stores and restaurants by the end of the year. A small on-site tasting room may also be in the works for 2022.

More than suds

Some Maine craft brewers have been broadening their horizons beyond beer.

Breweries have begun dabbling in hard seltzer, with a couple of startups going all-in on hard seltzer, cider and kombucha.

Apres, a craft seltzer and cider focused brewery and taproom, opened in Portland’s East Bayside in July. There are currently hard and soft seltzer offerings, while the hard cider continues to age. With a focus on fresh and local, Apres started canning last week, with a raw-ginger-and-lemon hard seltzer first in production.

Maine Booch Brewing opened its doors earlier this month, brewing up organic hard kombucha. The brewery and cash-only tasting room is located in the former Van Lloyd’s Bistro building in downtown Damariscotta.

Owner Chauncey Erskine, who also manages Mexicali Blues in Freeport, serves up three flavors of  kombucha, a fermented, typically nonalcoholic tea. Erskine ferments his brew a second time in bourbon barrels from Split Rock Distilling in order to increase the alcohol content.

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