GARDINER — Jokers & Rogues Brewing will host music and catered food at its Water Street craft brewing operation for one last time Saturday before it closes its doors for good.

John Callinan, who owns both the business and the building that houses it, has sold 339 Water St. and is closing the business.

“Closing a business is never just one thing,” Callinan said Friday. “It’s a series of complications that one by one you can deal with, but in the aggregate becomes hard.”

Callinan said a number of factors have contributed to his decision to close, and among them, the COVID-19 pandemic was probably the biggest.

Callinan and Rick McCormick, his partner at the time and the operation’s brewer, had been poised to open in the spring of 2020. But before that could happen, business conditions across central Maine and everywhere underwent a radical change as businesses, government offices and schools closed to slow the spread of a new and unfamiliar viral respiratory disease.

“You just have to admit there are things beyond your control,” he said.


Because the craft brewery isn’t a restaurant and because it doesn’t have outdoor seating, it could not serve customers indoors until public health restrictions eased earlier this year.

John Callinan talks about selling the building and closing the business Friday at the soon-to-be-closed Jokers and Rogues Brewing in Gardiner. The business closes Saturday night. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

At the same time, the two-year long bridge replacement project in Gardiner that wrapped up earlier this year disrupted traffic patterns and commerce in Gardiner’s downtown.

After investing in converting the former retail space to a craft brewery, the partners spent a year with little possibility of revenue coming in.

In October 2020, they started selling beer on a takeout basis ahead of a planned reopening for bars and tasting rooms in the beginning of November, but a spike in COVID-19 cases reversed that decision.

In March, just as soon as they were allowed, they opened up, following state guidelines.

But when people were able to return to tasting rooms, Callinan said they opted for places that were able to offer outdoor seating, which he could not. Plans to offer outdoor seating in McKay Park were stymied because of restrictions about carrying alcohol outside.


“It’s nobody’s fault,” he said. “People’s expectations changed.”

The exterior of the soon-to-be-closed Jokers and Rogues Brewing in Gardiner. The business closes for good on Saturday. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The closure of the brewery comes as the industry has exploded in popularity over the past decade. Last year, Maine was home to at least 155 active, licensed breweries with more 100 unique brands, according to the Maine Brewers Guild.

Craft breweries and distilleries have been popping up across central Maine in recent years, capitalizing on the demand for locally-sourced products and the reputation Maine has built for quality beer. Callinan and McCormick, former owner of Mainiac Brewing & Supply, sought to join their ranks.

In June, Jokers & Rogues co-founder and brewer McCormick opted to leave the business. After his exit, Jackson Kennedy was brought on board as brewer.

The sale of the building, which Callinan bought before opening Craft Beer Cellars in 2015, is scheduled to close next month. Callinan said he doesn’t know who bought the building.

The brewing equipment has also been listed for sale, as have the tasting room fixtures that include tables made from maple salvaged from a Boothbay Harbor bowling alley.


Callinan said he’s certain it will all be sold off.

Before opening his previous Craft Beer Cellars franchise, Callinan said he spent about six months finding a location for the business, before deciding on Gardiner, where he has enjoyed being a part of the downtown business community. Craft Beer Cellars had been closed for a while prior to Callinan and Rick McCormick opening Jokers & Rogues Brewing in the same building.

The music starts at 4 p.m. Saturday with performances by internationally renowned fiddler Owen Kennedy, followed by Susan Stone, the brewery’s event coordinator and server who will perform covers and her own songs. Logan Johnston and Tom Girodano will play after that and the final act is Business Casual.

“It’ll be fine,” Callinan said Friday. “Part of going into business is knowing that someday you’re going to exit and make sure that you’re prepared to do that.”

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