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Updated: May 15, 2023

Beer biz buzz: A roundup of Maine craft-industry news

Photo / Tim Greenway Shea Cusick, the new executive director of the Maine Brewers’ Guild, is the former sales manager of Nonesuch River Brewing in Scarborough.

New Maine Brewers’ Guild boss aims to craft a more diverse industry

Shea Cusick, who started as executive director of the Maine Brewers’ Guild on May 1, aims to bring greater diversity to an industry she said feels like “home.”

“Having a female executive director of the guild is a good start,” she told Mainebiz at the end of her tenure as sales manager at Nonesuch River Brewing in Scarborough.

“I’d like to bring other women and people of color into the industry as well,” she added. “It’s a thing that everyone is focusing on across the country, and Maine is no different.”

Cusick, who grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and moved to Maine from Massachusetts in 2010, succeeds Sean Sullivan as leader of the trade association.

Cusick is the Maine Brewers’ Guild’s second-ever executive director and first woman at the helm of the nonprofit trade group. The industry is a key sector for Maine, with 166 licensed breweries and 100 brands as of early 2022, according to the most recent statistics available.

Before joining Nonesuch in September 2019, Cusick worked part time at Grippy Tannins, a wine shop and tasting lounge in Portland’s East End, and has also worked as a craft beer guide.

Cusick, a long-time beer fan with family members who worked in the industry when she was growing up, also spent 10 years helping develop the beer and wine section at the Trader Joe’s grocery store in Portland.

“I also dabbled a little bit in home brewing — very unsuccessfully,” before finding her niche, she said.

Asked what prompted her to make a move now, Cusick said, “I love my team at Nonesuch, and I love the job that I’ve got, but as I became more involved with the board of directors of the guild and were trying to find a replacement for Sean Sullivan and weren’t necessarily finding the right fit, the more I thought, ‘Maybe I should do this.’”

Grateful for the vote of confidence from fellow board members she considers peers and mentors, Cusick added, “I look forward to the opportunity.”

Fellow Maine Brewers’ Guild board member Heather Sanborn, owner and director of business operations at Portland-based Rising Tide Brewing Co., said when Cusick threw her hat into the ring to become the guild’s next executive director, “I was thrilled at the prospect of having such a talented woman step into Sean’s big shoes.”

Sanborn also lauded Cusick as “smart, charismatic and approachable” while expressing optimism that the industry will become more inclusive.

“Maine’s beer scene is, I think, particularly welcoming toward women in the industry — more so than in other states,” Sanborn said. “But when we hire for production jobs, there is often a dearth of female applicants. As our industry matures and transitions from a period of breakneck growth prior to COVID to a new normal of post-COVID operations, I think many breweries will be looking to make their jobs as appealing as possible to attract a diverse array of candidates. Having Shea at the helm of our trade organization is likely to help facilitate that.”

Belleflower basks in national spotlight

Belleflower Brewing, a 14-employee craft brewer in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood that makes small batches using local ingredients, is getting a lot of national attention.

Photo / Courtesy of Belleflower Brewing
Belleflower Brewing’s Scrugsy beer is named after a dog owned by the mother of Katie Bonadies when she was a little girl.

Hop Culture digital magazine features Belleflower’s hazy IPA Scrugsy — named for a one-eyed dog — among “the top beers we drank in April” and on its list of this spring’s 37 best beers.

“Honestly, everything stunned us,” Hop Culture researchers said of all the IPAs from Belleflower, which was founded by Zach and Melissa Page and Katie and Nick Bonadies in 2021.

Calling Scrugsy “vibrant and fresh,” the magazine said the beer “hits you like a neon sign in a sea of billboards. All your taste buds turn on, blinking and flashing as if you’ve won a brand-new car on a game show.”

Photo / Courtesy of Belleflower Brewing
Heart Trail was launched by Belleflower Brewing this spring.

The spotlight comes as Belleflower launches a new beer called Heart Trail that Nick Bonadies said the team has “fallen in love with.”

“We are very humbled to be a part of such an amazing list of craft beers and breweries,” he said.

While the name Belleflower is a nod to his family’s farm and a beloved apple tree that fell many years ago, Scrugsy “was a mutt and was Katie’s mom’s dog when she was a little girl,” he said.

Rupee Beer is on a roll

Rupee Beer, an Indian-style lager developed by two brothers who grew up in Portland, continues to expand its reach.

“We’re now in 12 states and are launching in weeks to come across Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Georgia and the Carolinas,” said Van Sharma, who teamed up with brother Sumit Sharma to launch the brand in October 2021.

File Photo / Jim Neuger
Sumit Sharma, left, and his brother, Van Sharma, right, are the founders of Rupee Beer. Both were honored on the Mainebiz 40 under 40 list in 2022.

The siblings, both of whom were honored on last year’s Mainebiz 40 Under 40 list, launched Rupee Beer with input from Shipyard Brewing Co. co-founder Alan Pugsley, once called the “Johnny Appleseed of brewing” by the Portland Food Map.

Still working with Puglsey, Rupee Beer is gearing up to launch two new products developed in partnership with the British-born craft-beer pioneer. The first will be launched just before summer.

“I can’t say what it is yet but it’s a great nod to India, and something Indians love,” Van Sharma said. “The second one will come out later in the summer. We worked with Alan on both [products], from holding tastings and working out what worked best for taste profiles.”

Noting that Rupee is growing, and needed two new beers in its brand offering, he added, “We’re very excited to launch them in coming weeks and introduce them into the market. Stay tuned!”

Rupee Beer is brewed in Massachusetts. In terms of retail distribution, the brand is now at Costco, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Total Wine & More and expanding is chain-store reach to Virginia and New Jersey.

Like Belleflower Brewing of Portland, Rupee was recently named one of the best beers to drink this spring by Hop Culture magazine.

Rising Tide ‘staffed up for summer’

Rising Tide Brewing Co., a Portland brewery that improvised during the pandemic with heated “bubble tents” to serve customers outdoors in winter, is already set with staffing for this summer.

Photo / Courtesy of Rising Tide Brewing Co.
Heather Sanborn of Rising Tide Brewing expects to have a team of 40 employees this summer.

Currently at 32 employees, the brewer will be at around 40 this summer, according to Heather Sanborn, owner and director of business operations at the business she runs with her husband, Nathan Sanborn.

“Nearly all of our summer staff will be folks returning to us from last summer — mostly teachers and college students — so we’re actually all staffed up for summer at this point,” Heather Sanborn said. Continued counter-service is also in the cards.

“With COVID fully (hopefully) in the rearview,” she said, “we’re sticking with the counter-service model we’ve used before COVID and over the winter, rather than providing table service.”

Two Maine brewers among US ‘top 50’

Two Maine brewers made a list of the top 50 U.S. craft brewers in 2022 released by the Boulder, Colo-based Brewers Association in April.

Rankings, based on beer sales volume, were led by D. G. Yuengling and Son Inc., of Pottsville, Pa.

From Maine, Allagash Brewing Co. was ranked No. 20 while Shipyard Brewing Co. was No. 46.

Allagash and Shipyard, both based in Portland, are No. 1 and 2, respectively, in the Mainebiz 2023 Book of Lists, published in December. Allagash is led by founder Rob Tod, while Shipyard is led by founder and CEO Fred Forsley.

“We’re happy to be growing and healthy,” said Allagash spokesman Brett Willis.

Maine brewers and craft-related businesses: Please send your news to Mainebiz Senior Writer Renee Cordes,, for the next edition of "Beer biz buzz."

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