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November 3, 2023

Sudden death of Franciscan monk forces Bucksport brewhouse to permanently close

person in brown robe and apron in room with tanks Courtesy / Franciscans of Bucksport Brother Donald Paul Martel is seen here at the Friars’ Brewhouse in Bucksport. He passed away suddenly this week.

The sudden death this week of Brother Donald Paul Martel, one of three monks at a Franciscan monastery in Bucksport, has led to the closure of the town's only craft beer-maker, Friars’ Brewhouse Taproom.

Friars’ Brewhouse opened in April 2018 at 84 Main St., overlooking the Penobscot River, and had been an attraction in the downtown ever since.

Martel was a baker who also had a longtime passion for creating beer, according to the brewhouse website.

On Wednesday, Brother Kenneth Leo reported to Bucksport police that Martel was missing. Later in the afternoon, a police sergeant came to the friary kitchen to deliver the news that Martel had been found dead inside his car, near a boat launch at Jacob Buck Pond. That's about 7 miles from the downtown but less than a mile from the Monastery of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, at 55 Orcutt Mountain Road, the home of both monks and Brother Stephen Leen.

No further details about the death have been provided.

The monastery houses a small ministry that relies on income from the taproom, which was featured in national and regional publications such as Wine Enthusiast and Down East.

storefront with signs and flowers
Courtesy / Franciscans of Bucksport
Friars’ Brewhouse Taproom in downtown Bucksport permanently closed this week.

On Thursday, the taproom posted a sign on the front door that said “permanently closed.”

“The stark reality is that ... now that the taproom is closed our income has ended with it,” Leo and Leen posted on Facebook. 

They added, “We really could use your assistance. If anyone could commit to making a monthly contribution in any amount to help support Brother Kenneth and Brother Stephen it would be greatly appreciated.”

A different kind of vocation

The brothers started brewing beer in 2013 to complement a bakery they owned, on Central Street in Bangor, for 19 years.

They closed the bakery in 2018 when they opened the brewhouse in Bucksport.

The brewhouse featured craft brews made at the monastery and also had a menu that included cheese boards, homemade soups, sandwiches, lobster rolls, appetizers and desserts. 

Before entering religious life, Martel was married, fathered three daughters and worked as a corporate chef for a well-known hotel chain, according to information posted on Yelp.

Yelp reviewers in the past two months had high praise for the Buckport establishment.

“Our dubbel was excellent,” said one, praising a Belgian-style beer. “We ordered pate, the cottage pie and the tourtiere since the brewer and chef, Brother Donald, is French-trained. The food did not disappoint. The portions were generous and we both particularly loved the cottage pie. The piped mashed potatoes were creamy and delicious, the gravy was heavenly.”

Another said, “This is the place to eat whenever you are within 50 miles of Bucksport. Food is delectable. Prepared and served by the most gracious of hosts. Beer is locally brewed and fantastic!”

On Thursday, a Facebook commenter wrote: “As a regular customer at Friars Bakehouse on Central Street in Bangor, I so remember (and loved) Brother Donald's sass and personality, in addition to his superb food. Many other University of Maine System employees frequently ran across the street for lunch, cookies, jokes, etc. ... and of course we loved to watch as a new and unsuspecting customer was told to put their cell phone away!! He will be missed.”

A fundraiser is underway for the monastery. Click here to  learn more.

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