PORTLAND, Maine — Autumn in Maine is truly gorgeous, I thought to myself as we headed to Portland on Saturday under a topaz sky, passing stands of trees still flushed with fall colors.
My father celebrates his birthday in early November and I decided we should sample more than just the scenery.
According to Jay Riley, owner of Portland’s annual Maine Brewers Festival, Maine has the second highest number of brewers per capita in the United States. And although these craft brewers work to produce tastes for every season, fall may be the ideal time to explore the best of local beer labor.
The Maine Brewers Festival brought more than 15 Maine breweries to the Portland Expo on Saturday, Nov. 5, for two sessions of craft beer tasting.
More than 84 beers were available to try.
“This is the best party of the year and it’s the end of the season for the brewers,” said Thomas Wilson, marketing director for Gritty’s, a longtime festival participant.
Now that sounded like the perfect birthday gift for Dad. And I was sure he wouldn’t mind if my husband and I wanted to tag along.
First, we had lunch at Sebago Brewing Co.’s Scarborough restaurant, where we discussed the brew fest’s pour list and I monitored Twitter to see what people were enjoying at the happy hour session. Then we checked into a hotel and headed over to the evening session.
The brewers festival is comparable to a wine tasting if going to a basketball game is like going to the ballet. The Portland Expo quickly became crowded with brewers’ booths; vendors hawking pizza, nuts and other foods; a live band; and hundreds of enthusiastic beer lovers, elbow to elbow.
The three of us decided to start with Peak Organic because Dad and I wanted to “start with something fairly light,” in this case the Pomegranate Wheat. And it was delicious: light and flavorful but not too sweet.
We had our first taste of Oxbow, which calls itself “an American Farmhouse Brewery,” and Baxter Brewing Co., which has set up shop in Lewiston’s former Bates Mill. My husband tried Baxter’s Amber Road, which was one of the best tastes of the night.
Another highlight of the evening was courtesy of Kennebec River, which is a brewery affiliated with the Northern Outdoors Adventure Resort in The Forks. The Honey Rye was an intriguing, distinctive beer that left me wanting more.
We have been fans of Sea Dog and Shipyard for years and already fairly familiar with their offerings, but this night gave us a chance to try Shipyard’s Puggsley’s Smashed Blueberry and XXXX IPA. They didn’t disappoint.
Likewise, I put Allagash among my favorite brewers — not just Maine brewers, but all brewers — and I still was eager to get in the long line at the Belgian-style beer maker for a taste of the Dry-Hopped Tripel and Bourbon Barrel Black. The Tripel Ale always is fantastic, and I was pleasantly surprised that the dry-hopped batch was flavorful but not bitter.
As we sipped from our 4-ounce festival glasses and mingled with other party-goers, I thought about my earlier conversation with festival owner Jay Riley. I told him that my father and I both enjoy craft beers and nurture our own home-brewing hobby.
Riley said that while craft beers once drew primarily male drinkers in their 30s and up, a renewed interest in local foods and appreciation for Maine’s microbrews has changed the face of the Maine Brewers Festival. In the festival’s 18th year, young people and women now account for a large portion of the crowd.
I spoke with a young woman who had traveled down from Caribou for the festival, and another couple expressed surprise that I had ventured from Bangor to participate and write about the event.
But after seeing the amazing choices of Maine-brewed beer, wouldn’t you travel for the chance to give them a try?
Maine brewers and their fans are one happy family. And for my family, it was a lot of fun catching up on what’s new and what’s good.
Senior editor Judy Long supervises the BDN Digital Desk. You can follow her on Twitter @JudyLongBDN.