Once, in my early 20s, I was sitting on a park bench enjoying a warm day in February. Next to me sat a man in his 80s. Unprovoked, he turned to me and summed up the nature of February in one elegant, crass simile.
“Warm days in February are like a cruel striptease,” he said. “We still have a long way until spring.”
After cleaning out from the recent blizzard, I can say that the 80-year-old man had a point.
It was this kind of late winter lull that inspired Charles and Erika Melhaus of Norway Brewing Co. to spearhead the first annual Norway Winter Carnival. This winter celebration in the tradition of Quebec’s renowned Winter Carnival helps festivalgoers embrace the deep grip of winter with outdoor activities, delicious food and sturdy dark beers.
Norway Winter Carnival takes place Saturday and Sunday with events planned at Norway Brewing Co. and other locations around the quaint Oxford County town.
Charles Melhaus, co-owner and head brewer at Norway Brewing Co., wanted to create an event that brought together the community and celebrated Maine’s winter heritage.
“This festival is all about promoting winter sports in Maine and Norway, in particular, and enjoying the hearty food and beer that rounds off a day out in the cold so well,” Melhaus explained.
I can drink to that.
Here’s an overview of activities planned for the winter carnival, and, yes, you can expect plenty of great beer throughout the weekend:
The festivities kick off Saturday morning with a 2.5K skate ski and 5K classic ski race at Roberts Farm Preserve. The $20 entry fee includes a complimentary beer from the host brewery.
At noon, Norway Brewing Co. releases Grumpalumpagus Imperial Stout. This oatmeal stout was brewed with generous amounts of Coffee By Design coffee. Expect Grumpalumpagus to be rich and complex — the perfect brew for a cold day in February. Only 50 12-ounce bottles will be released, so get to the brewery at noon sharp.
At 1 p.m., Norway Brewing opens the taproom with a lunch menu of Quebecois-style food: poutine, creton and smoked meat. Pair this menu with Norway’s lineup of craft beer, including Midnight Sin, a rye black ale hopped with massive amounts of Citra and Mosaic hops. This beer has a spiciness from the rye grains, roasted flavors from the malts and plenty of luscious citrus flavors from the hops.
Stick around Norway Brewing Co. for the afternoon to partake in an ice carving demonstration at 3 p.m. and the Snow Beer Garden that opens at 5 p.m. with games, a fire pit, hot cocoa and an imperial stout ice luge. If a beer ice luge doesn’t help you kick the late winter blues, you’re a lost cause.
On Sunday morning, the festivities continue with a Fat Bike Rally on freshly groomed trails at Shepard’s Farm Preserve. Green Machine Bike Shop will be on hand to offer fat bike demos. The free event will also feature sledding, hot cocoa and, yup, more beer from Norway Brewing.
Norway Winter Carnival winds down with a Recovery Brunch at the brewery, featuring another round of Quebecois-inspired eats and beer.
February might be a cruel striptease, but when life hands you winter, do as Norway Brewing Co. has done, and make a winter carnival.
WHO: Hosted by Norway Brewing Co., Western Foothills Land Trust and Green Machine Bike Shop
WHERE: Events happening at Norway Brewing Co., Roberts Farm Preserv, and Shepard’s Farm Preserve
ACTIVITIES: Ski races, special beer release, Quebecois-inspired food, Fat Bike Rally and more
ON DRAFT: Expect plenty of beer from Norway Brewing Co., including Grumpalumpagus Imperial Stout and Midnight Sin Black Ale
MORE INFO: facebook.com/norwaybrewingco
OTHER BEER HAPPENINGS
Bait Bags and Beer
2 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Fore River Brewing Company, 45 Huntress Ave, South Portland. On Facebook
Alaina Marie brings her bait bag pop-up shop to Fore River Brewing on Saturday. The event features handmade clutches and totes inspired by Maine lobstermen’s bait bags and constructed from the same marine-grade material. This is a great way to support a local artisan while drinking local beer. Win-win. Pick up a Maine-made bag and fill up your growler while you’re at it.
Seacoast Winter Brew Fest
Noon to 3 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Portsmouth Gas Light, 64 Market St., Portsmouth, New Hampshire. $50 general admission, $75 VIP. seacoastwinterbrewfest.com/tickets/
Just over the Maine border, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, boasts a robust brewing scene with over half a dozen microbreweries. The Seacoast Winter Brew Fest kicks off Portsmouth Beer Week and offers a great way to get intimate with New Hampshire’s seacoast breweries. The brewery list also features breweries from outside of New Hampshire including a number of Maine breweries. If you can’t make the brewfest, be sure to hit up Portsmouth’s great brew scene during the Portsmouth Beer Week festivities.