For Maine beer, 2017 was another banner year. In addition to adding more than 10 new breweries and seeing many established breweries expand, Maine also played host to an unprecedented number of brewfests. There were over 20 beer festivals in the Pine Tree State last year, and I expect that number to increase in 2018.
After attending a number of these brewfests, it occurred to me that not all beer festivals are created equal. While some festivals were clearly founded on passion for high-quality Maine beer, others felt like money grabs by out-of-state interests looking to cash in on Maine’s world-class beer brand.
The Maine Brewers’ Guild kicks off the 2018 festival season this Saturday, hosting Winter Session Brewfest. Let’s take this opportunity to reflect on how to navigate this year’s crowded list of brewfests. (Just a heads up, I highly recommend Saturday’s festival — like, get tickets now.)
To judge whether a brewfest is locally run or being put on by an out-of-state company, consider who’s pouring beer at the festival.
“I think the easiest way for someone to figure out who’s behind the effort is to first look at the list of attending breweries. Is it filled with national beer brands? If so, this is probably a good indication it’s not helping Maine brewers,” Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Maine Brewers’ Guild, explained.
Sullivan noted that though it’s a sign of our beer scene’s strength that big media companies want to host brewfests in Maine, the festivals don’t help our overall beer scene or local communities.
Take for instance, the Portland On Tap brewfest held later this month and Bangor On Tap taking place in March. Both festivals are run by Townsquare Media, a media company that owns a number of radio stations in the U.S. and hosts 18 annual beer festivals throughout the country. The beer list on the Portland On Tap website consists of more out-of-state breweries than Maine breweries, and most of the beer from away can easily be purchased at local beverage stores.
Can you attend one of these festivals and have a great time? Of course — drinking beer with friends is always fun. But, is the festival put on to make the Maine beer scene better? No, it is not. At its worst, the festivals will only water down Maine’s beer culture.
In my experience, the best beer festivals in Maine are hosted by chambers of commerce, non-profit organizations and the Maine Brewers’ Guild. Which brings us to Saturday’s Winter Session. The number of breweries in attendance? Sixty. How many of them are from Maine? All of them. Passes the test so far. Now, how does the brewfest help make Maine beer better?
Once again, Sullivan: “As a nonprofit whose mission it is to promote and protect Maine’s brewers, 100 percent of the net profits from this event will go towards the Guild. We’ll use those profits to market Maine craft beer, support legislation to help Maine brewers, and to educate our brewers to ensure they make the highest quality, best beer possible.”
You’re not going to get that kind of commitment from an out-of-state company.
In contrast to the Maine Brewers’ Guild’s annual Summer Session brewfest, Winter Session will be a more relaxed atmosphere.
“Summer Session is basically our huge summer celebration of beer, whereas Winter Session will be as cozy as grabbing beers with friends — except you’ll have over 100 beers to choose from!” Sullivan said.
As someone who is dedicated to keeping Maine’s beer scene vibrant and healthy, I will use the valuable inches of this column to guide you towards beer festivals that will have the best Maine beer and also support local communities — of which there are at least a dozen this year.
See you at Saturday’s Winter Session and at all the other locally run, high-quality Maine brewfests in 2018.
IF YOU GO:
WHO: Hosted by Maine Brewers’ Guild
WHEN: Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Brick South Building, Thompson’s Point, Portland
ON DRAFT: Expect 60 Maine breweries pouring more than 100 beers, including winter seasonal and specialty beers, along with flagship brews
ENTERTAINMENT: Live music, local food vendors and a chance to talk with local brewers
COST: $49 general admission, $60 VIP
INFO & TICKETS: eventbrite.com
OTHER BEER HAPPENINGS
The Thirsty Pig Presents: Lucky Number Seven Anniversary Party
7 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday, 37 Exchange St., Portland. On Facebook
For seven years, The Thirsty Pig has been a touchstone for great Maine beer and killer beer events in Portland. I can’t sing the praises of this cozy bar enough. The beer list is always filled with cutting edge Maine beer, and owner Allison Stevens continues to be a vital leader in the Maine beer community, spearheading Portland Beer Week each year. On Saturday, after Winter Session Brewfest, take an Uber to The Pig and raise a toast to one of our city’s finest beer institutions. Cheers, Allison and company!
Oxbow Brewing hosts Hewnoaks Alumni Exhibition at Gallery 49
Through Jan. 28, 49 Washington Ave., Portland
Oxbow Brewing continues to use its tasting room on Washington Avenue for outside-the-box events. This trend continues with the Hewnoaks Alumni Exhibition, which runs through the end of the month. Drink artfully-crafted farmhouse ales while you enjoy pieces created by artists who have attended the Hewnoaks Artist Colony. If you’re a painter, sculptor, poet, novelist or songwriter, use this exhibit to inspire you to apply to the Hewnoaks Artist Colony, located on Kezar Lake in Lovell. Applications will be accepted beginning in February for this year’s residencies.