Many of us look forward to the release of the summer concert schedule each year and try to make sure we scout out the lineup early so that we can get the best tickets to the shows that we remember. This time of year, I’ve got my ear out for other events: beer festivals. In particular, I’ve been awaiting the announcement of the Maine Brewers’ Guild Festival Summer Session.
Summer Session has been my favorite beer fest for the last several years because it is well organized, its profits benefit the beer guild, and it’s the best opportunity to sample a bunch of Maine breweries in one place. This year, the announcement for the festival date came with some major changes to the festival’s format, location and setup, and I’m excited about the direction in which it is headed.
This year, the Maine Brewers’ Guild Summer Session will be held on July 27, around the same time of the summer as the previous festivals. One of the biggest changes we’ll see this year, however, is the festival’s location. The fest has moved several times since its inception – happening at Boothbay Harbor, on the Portland waterfront (near the ferry docks) and, for the last few years, settling into Thompson’s Point.
This year, it will be held at Spring Point Ledge in South Portland, home to Fort Preble and its lighthouse. If this venue sounds familiar, it was the same one used for the style-specific Pils and Love festival hosted by Oxbow in 2017. Located on a little peninsula overlooking the water, the views of surrounding islands, water, sailboats and beaches are probably unsurpassed – at least as far as beer festivals are concerned. The Brewers’ Guild website describes it as being “basically inside a postcard,” and I can’t say that I disagree.
A major benefit of the new location (in addition to the scenery) is that there will be free parking at the nearby Southern Maine Community College campus, a short walk from the venue. Lawn chairs, blankets and your own food are all allowed in this venue, so if you feel like taking a break in the middle of the session, you’re encouraged to do so.
The Brewers’ Guild will also be changing the fest’s structure to put more focus on Maine beer and to give more people a chance to attend without overcrowding. In past years, the festival has taken place over one long session but will now be split into two. The afternoon session will take place from noon to 3 p.m. and is great for anyone who might want to go out and enjoy a dinner in Portland afterward. The second session, after a two-hour break, will run from 5 to 8 p.m., and if the sun is out, has the potential for some amazing opportunities to sip a beer while it sets.
Rather than allowing VIPs early entry to each session, there will be a specialty area for VIP-only access and additional perks that include VIP parking and access to lawn chairs for taking in the view. General admission is $49 per person, and the VIP tickets are $65. Both ticket levels include unlimited beer samples from the breweries, a souvenir tasting glass, and access to live music. Food trucks are due to provide food for purchase during the fest.
For the last two years, Maine brewers have been allowed to invite a guest brewery to pour at the festival alongside them – a way of broadening the fest beyond everything that Maine has to offer. This year’s festival will focus back on Maine and not include guest breweries. I’m slightly torn about this. There were some breweries that wouldn’t otherwise have been able to attend a festival in Maine or have their beer poured here at previous fests.
However, I think from a big picture standpoint, this is a prudent move. With well over 100 breweries now operating in Maine, having a huge chunk of them pouring in one place is such a wonderful opportunity. The Brewers’ Guild has not yet published a list of participating breweries, but estimates about 75 Maine brewers will be pouring.
Beer festivals will always be limited by space and time, so why not give the available space to as many Maine breweries as possible? Most of us can’t travel every weekend to the corners of the state to try every brewery, so a fest as comprehensive as this is a great way to get a sense of what’s brewing in Maine.
I have loved this festival for years because it has always managed to put Maine’s beer in the spotlight for all that attend. I know these changes may be radical to some, and it might change the feel of the fest a bit from previous years. To me, though, the bottom line seems to be that this will allow more people to have more access to more Maine beer – but without crowding, unnecessary distractions or overly-complicated logistics – and that’s always a good thing in my book.