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Updated: September 6, 2021 Focus on Startups & Entrepreneurship

Brewing new niches, beer makers and distilleries are targeting more specialized markets

Photo / Tim Greenway Playing off the sense of nostalgia found in favorite childhood candies, Jay Grey’s Odd by Nature Brewing, which opened mid-June in Cape Neddick, focuses on ice cream IPAs, candy beers, pastry stouts and beer cocktails. Grey, right, and head brewer Abe Henderson are pictured in the tasting room at the Cape Neddick brewery.

New Maine craft beverage makers are getting creative as they find new ways to stand out from the crowd.

Niche styles, gluten-free and even alcohol-free options are some of the new focuses adding more variety to Maine’s 150 craft breweries. While other brewers are adding alcohol to seltzer, cider and kombucha for an on-trend twist to typical craft beverage offerings.

Playing off the sense of nostalgia found in favorite childhood candies, Odd by Nature Brewing, which opened mid-June in Cape Neddick, focuses on ice cream IPAs, candy beers, pastry stouts and beer cocktails.

Owner Jay Grey, who in 2019 opened Ogunquit’s Food for Thought gastropub, which also has an element of nostalgia with comforting fusions like grilled cheese on a donut, wanted to create a brewery that ultimately made his customers smile.

He hired 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,’” says Grey, who worked with him over the winter on initial recipes.

The brewery offers eight beers on tap and monthly can releases. With table service for indoor/outdoor seating, they also offer food from Food for Thought.

Photo / Tim Greenway
Matt Haight, assistant brewer at Odd By Nature Brewing, pressurizes kegs in the fermentation room in Cape Neddick.

With over 1,200 visitors on a recent summer week, they’re proving a market for beers with a sweet take, like their green-hued pineapple tapache Berliner weisse, blended with sour sop nectar and green guava candy or their mango lassi-inspired beer.

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 that hales from Mass.’s popular Trillium Brewing Co., they’re focused on small-batch iterations that use local ingredients. They moved into former Brewery Extrava’s space, utilizing the equipment of the brewery that closed last year, and purchased their own canning line.

Opening a brewery during a pandemic is tough enough, but owner of Bath Ale Works Pepper Powers was used to frustrations and delays. He’d been searching for the perfect location for the brewery, which is a play on Bath Iron Works, for five years. With several different buildings falling through, he finally settled on the space on Bath Road in Wiscasset.

Powers, a longtime homebrewer, 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, like Zumwalt Porter, named after the newest U.S. Navy destroyer class being built by BIW.

People with gluten intolerance now have local craft beer options. Lucky Pigeon Brewing Co opened Maine’s first dedicated gluten-free brewery in the Pepperell Mill in Biddeford, near Banded Brewing, on Aug. 20.

Owners Beverly Pigeon, Nic Bramer and Lesley Bramer all play a role in running the brewery, while owner Kathleen Pigeon, who heads daily operations, was the inspiration. A homebrewer for over a decade, she began brewing gluten-free beer when she removed gluten from her diet.

Lucky Pigeon currently offers a lineup of four beer styles on draft and cans brewed by head brewer Scott Nebel, who previously worked at Maine Beer Company and Sebago, using millet, buckwheat and rice, instead of the traditional barley- or wheat-based malts, which both contain gluten.

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 nearly out of necessity as their popular homebrew 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.

Coming soon

Two new Washington County breweries hope to expand the Downeast imprint on the Maine Beer Trail. Horn Run Brewing opened in May in a historic building in downtown Eastport’s waterfront. And opening in October, 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 brewery, taproom, and, coming in November, a farm-to-table restaurant, according to owners Kathryn Toppan and Sean Lent.

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 Olive Roo, 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 are typically more bitter.

Photo / Tim Greenway
Christy Cain, who recently earned a diploma in brewing science, plans an October opening for her Olive Pit brewery in Lisbon, named after her pit bull Olive Roo.

“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.

Still others carving out a market

Another small central Maine town will soon see its own brewery. Sidereal Farm Brewery plans to open by early winter in Vassalboro.

The farmhouse style brewery, located on co-owner David D’Angelo’s farm, will focus on wild fermented beers, wine, cider and mead, also headed by yeast-expert Justin Amaral, who owns Maniacal Yeast, a yeast bank that houses about 3,600 strains of yeast and bacteria and works with over 1,000 breweries around the world, including about half of Maine’s brewers. The Bangor-based yeast bank will move onsite along with rotating food trucks that will source seasonal ingredients from the farm.

Hi-Fidelity 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.

In addition to beers, Maderal, who is partnering with Portland musician P.D. Wappler, said he’s 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.”

Sales of low- and even no-alcohol beer rose by 30% in the U.S. last year, according to Craft Brewing Business, an online trade journal. While Woodland Farms Brewery was the first in Maine to jump on the nonalcoholic beer bandwagon, with its Pointer nonalcoholic IPA, Maine will soon have its own exclusively nonalcoholic brewery.

KITna Brewing announced its launch last month. Founded by Will Fisher, cofounder and head of operations at Austin Street Brewery, and Rob Barrett, owner and president of Barrett 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 other alcoholic beverages, with a couple new ones 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 recently started canning, with a raw-ginger-and-lemon hard seltzer first in production, followed by three others, including a gin-and-tonic inspired seltzer, with more rotating flavors on tap.

Maine Booch Brewing opened its doors in July, 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 different flavors of the kombucha, a fermented tea, typically non-alcoholic, that he ferments a second time in bourbon barrels from Split Rock Distilling to increase the alcohol content.

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