Nick Bonadies, in blue at the door, an owner of Belleflower Brewing, talks with patrons waiting to get tables Friday, the first day the tasting room was open. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Here we are again, in that Maine purgatory between winter and spring. This year, the arrival of warm weather seems to matter even more, with hopes of shedding a plague and – among other things – returning to bars and beer gardens, relaxing among friends and strangers.

The opening of Belleflower Brewing in East Bayside at the end of March promises a fruitful summer and better days ahead (though these are unpredictable times). Many anticipated a craft beer apocalypse nationwide at this time last year. In April 2020, nearly half of breweries responding to a Brewers Association survey estimated they wouldn’t last another three months due to the COVID crisis. But in fact, the number of brewery closings in 2020 were on par with 2019 (about 300 nationwide). This is not to say that craft breweries have been doing well — the association anticipates a sharp rise in closings this year as a result of the pandemic. And smaller breweries that rely heavily on tasting-room sales are particularly at risk. But to this point, the industry has been surprisingly resilient. We see evidence of that in Portland, where Brewery Extrava, which closed in October, has been the only casualty, though the owners said the pandemic was among many factors that led to the decision to sell, including “partners interests diverging.”

Like a spring crocus, Belleflower has sprung up in the space vacated by Brewery Extrava at 66 Cove St. Belleflower is a family business, owned by Melissa and Zach Page and Katie and Nick Bonadies (and named after the Bonadies’ extended-family farm). Zach and Nick met when working together at Boston’s Trillium Brewing, one of the giants of our hazy IPA and pastry stout era. (To hear more about their story and approach to beer, check out their interview on a recent Graining In podcast with Noah Bissell and Matt Robinson of Bissell Brothers.)

On Belleflower’s opening day, the weather didn’t match the happy buzz in the air. Foggy and blustery, it felt colder than the temperature. A typical fake Maine spring day in late March. Fortunately, it was the first day that breweries were allowed to host visitors inside tasting rooms, at limited capacity. Inside, groups were spaced out at long tables, their chatter blending in with a 1980s pop soundtrack that included UB40, Belinda Carlisle and Dire Straits. A tent set up in the adjacent parking lot nearly doubled the space for those unable to fit inside (or anxious about doing so, given the pandemic). QR codes linked to tables and benches outside allowed drinkers to order online and stay put, awaiting their beers to be delivered.

Belleflower opened with five beers on tap, including New England IPA Scrugsy, and is planning new releases weekly. Photo by Ben Lisle

There were five beers flowing on opening day (though visitors can expect new releases weekly). Lost Leaf, a 5.6% pale lager, is hazy gold in color. It is made with malt from Aroostook County’s Maine Malt House and dry hopped with Bavaria Mandarina, imparting a citrusy brightness. Magpie, a 5.5% pale ale, is lemony and a little spicy, with low bitterness. Its base malt is also from the Maine Malt House, augmented by some malted wheat and oats from Blue Ox Malthouse in Lisbon Falls. It is dry hopped with Cascade from Gorham’s Hopyard. And like its siblings, Scrugsy is built atop Maine Malt House grains, along with flaked oats from Blue Ox. This 7.1% New England IPA is dry hopped with BRU-1 and Enigma. Extremely cloudy, with a dank nose and a silky body, I tasted pineapple, Fruit Stripes gum and candied orange.

This lineup of hop-forward beers was complemented by the rich decadence of Secret Clubhouse, a 12.3% imperial stout with two variants. Both are black all the way through, full-bodied, but not sludgy as massive stouts can get. The Vanilla and Cacao version, true as advertised, features vanilla and chocolate, leading with the former and ending with the latter. So too the Coffee and Cinnamon, exploding with roasty coffee aromas, trailed by cinnamon warmth (and maybe a hint of coconut). By the time a pop-up thunderstorm scattered those of us in the tent, the Secret Clubhouse had warmed me up for my trudge home in the rain.

It’s been a trudge of a year, and so it is fitting that the momentary pleasures of a new brewery opening would be arrested by an unexpected tumult. But Maine’s brewers and beer drinkers have proven to be pretty adaptive over the last year. Cheers to that and the addition of an excellent new brewery to the Portland scene.

Ben Lisle is an assistant professor of American Studies at Colby College. He lives among the breweries in Portland’s East Bayside, where he writes about cultural history, urban geography and craft beer culture. Reach him on Twitter at @bdlisle.

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