Three Tides biergarten in Belfast is not for everyone. It’s not where you’d take your fussy aunt for a perfect martini (although the affable Seth Whited could almost certainly make her happy at Three Tides’ indoor bar), or anyone who can’t understand why old bus station benches and upended logs make for fine outdoor furniture.

This is Belfast, after all, the quirkiest community on the midcoast, where wearing plaid means flannel, not madras; the largest store in town is the 40-year-old food co-op; and locals are proud to be labeled “moonbats.”

To access the biergarten from Three Tides’ small parking lot, you walk up a set of wooden stairs or a gangplank-like wooden ramp to a landing and down a few stairs on the other side, passing one of the restaurant’s most distinctive features: a large mound of oyster shells held in place by a short wire fence — Three Tides’ own shell midden. Straight ahead is the bar, made of concrete embedded with shells and chunks of sea glass.

There are no bar seats. You order your beer from a chalkboard menu and take it to those bus station benches, stand at a tall barrel “table” or to one of three booths on a slightly raised deck overlooking the Passagassawakeag River, just above where it empties into Belfast Bay.

In one corner of the biergarten, a rusty metal hulk that looks like it was once a factory furnace is now a fire pit — a ragged pile of pine logs ready to burn waits nearby.  A bocce ball court hugs a fence fashioned from random scrap wood, and overhead, lights on strings wear vintage lampshades.

Three Tides and the adjacent Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. are both owned by David and Sarah Carlson, who opened the bar first in 2003, and followed four years later with the brewery. For a small operation, Marshall Wharf brews an astonishingly large range of beers, and about a dozen are offered on tap at Three Tides at any given time.

Some are easy-drinking beers such as Tug Pale Ale and Pinchy, a red ale; others, such as Deep Purple Rauchier, a highly unusual smoked ale, and Illegal Ale-Ien, a cross between a kolsch-style and wheat beer, are more for serious beer geeks.

To accompany them, the biergarten menu is small and simple: Grilled sausages served with Morse’s pickles and mustard; the raw Pemaquid oysters whose shells end up in the midden.

If you want more of a choice, head upstairs to the cozy indoor space with stools along the curving, a cast concrete bar and booth seating, or the outdoor deck, which, unlike the biergarten, is shielded from the elements by a sail awning. There, the offerings include salads, Swedish meatballs, quesadillas and steamed mussels.

Less than a two-hour drive from Portland, Belfast makes for a different kind of Maine day trip. Wander through the funky galleries and stroll the soon-to-be-completed Harbor Walk, which goes right past Three Tides and Marshall Wharf.

If you’re a beer fan, consider it a pilgrimage to one of the state’s most prolific brewers of beer and one of the most iconoclastic places to drink it.

Susan Axelrod can be reached at 791-6310 or at:

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