If you’ve ever traveled a decent distance away from Maine’s coastline, you’ve probably had the revelation that Maine is a much larger state than it appears on most map projections.
To drive from Maine’s southernmost brewery (Tributary Brewing Co. in Kittery) to the northernmost (First Mile Brewing in Fort Kent) will take you nearly six hours and cover over 350 miles – a longer distance than a trip from Portland to New York City. A few years ago, I attempted to visit all the breweries in one summer – at the time, there were only 60-ish – and failed because it would have taken far too many overnight stays and long drives.
Luckily, for those who are travel-limited, there is a festival that will allow you to travel around the state – and even around the world – using only your feet. The Maine Brewers’ Guild Summer Session is the only annual festival in which nearly every brewery in Maine participates, and it is taking place on Saturday at Thompson’s Point in Portland. Tributary and First Mile will both be in attendance, along with a generous heap of breweries whose beer rarely makes it outside of their own communities, including Norway Brewing Co., Monhegan Brewing Co. and Saco River Brewing in Fryeburg.
Participating breweries are also allowed to invite a guest brewery from out of state (and even out of the country), which will bring some breweries into the state whose beers have not been available in Maine at all and others that have just recently started to distribute here. The Maine Brewers’ Guild website (mainebrewersguild.org) has a preview of the guest breweries attending, which this year includes Aslin Brewing (Virginia), Maui Brewing Co. (Hawaii) and The Brothers Brewery (Iceland).
In addition to being a central place to access the products of our renowned breweries, the festival has a few key elements that make it stand out against other festivals. First, it is the largest brewfest in Maine in terms of the number of brewers that are pouring there and also in attendance. But rather than being in a crowded indoor venue, Summer Session spreads out over the entire property of Thompson’s Point – a venue that almost seems tailored for a beer fest. There is a large, permanent pavilion that has a concrete slab underneath where many brewer tables are located and additional tents set up across the vast neighboring field for more brewers, vendors and activities.
How do you get the most out of a brewfest like this? Here’s some quick advice about how to make the most of the Summer Session:
1. If you run into someone you know, or if you start talking to someone – ask them what they’re drinking, and ask them what the best thing they’ve had so far is. I always find the most interesting beers are the ones that I might not have found on my own, so embrace the adventure and the recommendations of friends and strangers.
2. Go for the breweries you don’t know and take breaks with your favorites. The festival is long enough to be able to pace yourself, and one of the best ways to do this is to take frequent breaks from trying as many samples as possible. A strategy that works well is to prioritize those breweries that you are unfamiliar with over the ones that you know well, but grabbing food and a sample of a favorite (like Rising Tide Daymark, for example) is a nice way to slow down in between the frenzied tasting sessions.
3. Water is essential to life – and essential to beer festivals. At the Maine Brewers’ Guild fest, rinsing/drinking water stations are provided, and you should take advantage of them fully. In between potent beers, rinse your glass, then fill it up with water again to drink it. That extra few ounces in between samples can make all the difference in the world later in the day – and the next morning.
4. If you don’t dig something, don’t make yourself finish it. It seems strange for me to recommend that you dump beer without consuming it, but this strategy allows you to try more beer without spending time downing something you don’t enjoy. While I don’t advocate dumping the beer in front of the brewer that made it (rude!), find a rinse station and bail on it so that you can move onto something you can rave about and recommend.
General session tickets ($49) were still available on the Maine Brewers’ Guild website as of late last week, though the VIP session which allows participants in an hour early to sample special beers was sold out. But what’s left is likely to go quickly, so don’t let yourself get caught without a ticket to tour the state of Maine’s craft beer scene – on foot.