The Brewpub Is Making a Comeback in Maine

The Brewpub Is Making a Comeback in Maine

By Kate McCarty
From our November 2023 difficulty

Chef David Rinaldi’s kitchen makes dishes like goat birria tacos, beer-battered haddock with honey-miso-butter glaze, and delicate little agnolotti pasta stuffed with carrot puree — inventive fare that would appear proper at residence in a cosy little restaurant with impossible-to-score reservations. However Rinaldi cooks someplace else totally: the sprawling Bissell Brothers taproom that seats as much as 200 folks, on the Thompson’s Level growth in Portland. A decade in the past, when Bissell Brothers was simply beginning out, the brewery relied on meals vehicles to feed company. Currently, although, the Portland location has appeared as a lot a restaurant as a taproom. The Bissell Brothers outpost in Milo underwent an identical culinary transformation, as have numerous different taprooms throughout Maine. All of it feels quite acquainted — just like the previous brewpub mannequin is making a comeback.

Maine’s first brewpub, Gritty McDuff’s, opened in Portland in 1988. It was the second craft brewery within the state, after Geary’s, and the primary the place guests might sit down and put again a pint or two. On the time, Maine regulation prohibited promoting drinks with out additionally working a kitchen, dealing with startup breweries with two choices: quickly ramp up manufacturing and distribution or determine the best way to run a restaurant and brewery on the similar time. Federal Jack’s, in Kennebunkport, and Sea Canine, in Camden, got here on the scene as brewpubs within the ’90s, and Sebago Brewing wasn’t far behind.

However then brewpubs fell out of fashion, largely owing to a few legislative modifications: in 2009, the state began permitting breweries to promote growlers of beer direct to prospects, and in 2012, began permitting breweries to promote particular person pours of their taprooms. Immediately, it was doable to make a go of it by doing a little gentle distribution and promoting beer on-site.

For some brewers, it was some extent of pleasure to focus solely on making good beer, with out the distraction of overseeing a kitchen program or the stress of shortly scaling up. Locations like Maine Beer Firm, Bissell Brothers, and Oxbow had been hyper-focused on perfecting their America pales ales, hazy IPAs, and Belgian-style farmhouse ales. Prior to now a number of years, although, they — and lots of others — have added meals service to their repertoires. In brief, they’re performing so much like brewpubs.

Again in 2011, Rising Tide Brewing co-owner Heather Sanborn performed a lead position in lobbying the legislature to allow the sale of taproom pours sans meals service, however she has extra lately come to see the advantage of having her personal kitchen. “We had a fantastic run with meals vehicles,” she says. “Nevertheless it wasn’t one thing that we might management or assure was going to be a optimistic visitor expertise each time.”

Bissell Brothers co-owner Peter Bissell thinks prospects’ expectations have developed. “There’s a stress to proceed to reinvent your self,” he says. “Taco truck in 2015? That’s fireplace. However now folks count on just a little extra. They don’t need to go exterior and order tacos within the rain.”

Then there’s the truth that hundreds extra breweries exist throughout the nation than even a decade in the past, whereas bars solely have so many faucet traces and shops solely a lot shelf house. Maine Brewers’ Guild government director Shea Cusick says the reemergent brewpub mannequin represents “probably the most promise for financial development” inside the trade. Plus, she provides, for breweries in rural elements of the state, there merely aren’t many eating places round, nor are there legions of meals vehicles close by.

All in all, brewers’ causes for dabbling as restaurateurs might fluctuate nowadays, however the upshot for patrons is fairly clear. On a latest go to to the Bissell Brothers taproom in Portland, I opted for the birria tacos, and the spicy consommé that accompanied the cheese-filled shells was completely tempered by a shiny, hoppy blonde ale. Synergy is normally simply hole company jargon to my ears, however right here, I preferred its taste.

Down East magazine, December 2023

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