Shea Cusick defers when asked what beers she most enjoys.

“My favorite beer is the next one,” she says, an adage she credited to Michael Schuler, the owner-brewer of Nonesuch River Brewing, her former employer. Such enthusiastic open-mindedness (and, perhaps, diplomacy) befits Cusick’s new professional role as the executive director of the Maine Brewers’ Guild, the nonprofit organization that promotes and protects the interests of the state’s independent breweries.

Maine Brewers’ Guild Executive Director Shea Cusick. Photo courtesy of Shea Cusick

Cusick replaces Sean Sullivan, who spent nearly a decade in that position. And she enters a vastly different beerscape than the one Sullivan first encountered – marked by a tripling in the number of breweries statewide (174 at the start of 2023), growth fueled by changes to taproom and distribution laws that have lowered barriers to entry for new brewers and vastly expanded the number and styles of beer for drinkers to enjoy.

The Guild has played a central role in these changes, and as executive director, Cusick is now the face of that body, whose board members consist of officers from breweries across the state. As director, she is the “voice of the membership,” as she puts it, advancing “breweries’ interests through legislative efforts, fundraising efforts, and through marketing and promotion.”

Cusick has honed the sorts of interpersonal skills that the position requires over decades. “I come from an eclectic family full of artists, sales and trades people,” Cusick notes. That eclecticism is reflected in her own work history, where she worked a range of jobs that helped her “figure out how to build relationships and foster trust.”

When she began working in the beer industry, “it felt like what I had spent those years building finally came into focus.” She grew up in Dayton, Ohio, where her room was accented by a backlit Blatz beer sign. She attended Bowling Green State University, where she received a bachelor of education in parks, recreation and leisure facilities management. Her introduction to Maine came when working for Camp Wekeela, about 30 miles west of Augusta, after college – an experience that prompted her to “vow I would find a way to live here.”


She made good on that vow, moving to Maine in 2010. She worked for about a decade for Trader Joe’s in Portland, training new hires and working with the rest of the management team to grow the store (and its local beer offerings). While there, she also worked part-time as a tour guide for Maine Brews Cruise and at the Portland wine shop Grippy Tannins, honing her knowledge of beer, wine and the beverage industry. In September 2019, she moved to Nonesuch River Brewing in Scarborough, where she was sales manager.

Cusick will play a central role in helping Maine breweries navigate many of the challenges that have emerged in a more mature and competitive beer and beverage marketplace. But the strength of craft brewing in Maine provides solid ballast to help breweries navigate choppy waters ahead. She notes that each one of Maine’s 16 counties is home to at least one brewery. Beer-oriented agricultural production is an area of growth as well. The state’s reputation as an elite beer destination continues to draw beer tourists into brewery taprooms. And those qualities that got Maine beer to where it is today – its “innovative and collaborative spirit,” Cusick calls it – will continue to serve it.

She hopes to continue efforts to diversify the industry in Maine. Cusick points to the labor of people like Canadian Ren Navarro, who started the company Beer. Diversity. in 2018. A queer Black woman, Navarro consults with breweries to help them become more welcoming to employees and drinkers from all backgrounds. Cusick also cites the work of Brave Noise, a collaborative project committed to making the beer industry inclusive and safe for women, people of color and LGBTQIA+, co-founded by Brienne Allan, head brewer at Biddeford’s Sacred Profane.

The craft beer industry’s focus on diversity has largely been targeted at undoing misogyny, racism and homophobia. I asked Cusick what role promoting socioeconomic diversity might play as well, given the higher costs of craft beer and the associated cultural status that “craft” consumption signals to outsiders.

“A large chunk of my job is to protect brewers from policies that place undue financial burden on the backs of breweries,” she told me. Cusick noted that most guild members are small breweries – places that are “neighborhood meeting spots that employ local people and provide needed donations for community events.” Helping these breweries through new legislation can help “keep the cost of our products on the shelf reasonable,” thus potentially increasing accessibility.

“I truly believe that craft beer is for everyone,” Cusick says. “It is a beverage that has been bringing people together for thousands of years.”

It is a sense of inclusiveness that echoes her affection for beer itself. “I love to try what is new at a brewery, what the tasting room staff is most excited about, or just what pops off the menu as I look at it,” she notes. “Beer is so nuanced and full of creativity it would be a shame to limit your choices.”

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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