Business brewing: Beer festivals tap into tourism

Kjetil Jikiun (far left), owner of Nogne o, a Norwegian brewery, brews with the team at Infiniti in Portland: Eric Michaud (from left), owner of Novare Res Bier Cafe and Infiniti; Russell Hoskins, Infiniti’s bar manager; and Greg Abbot, Infiniti’s head brewer.
Whit Richardson
Kjetil Jikiun (far left), owner of Nogne o, a Norwegian brewery, brews with the team at Infiniti in Portland: Eric Michaud (from left), owner of Novare Res Bier Cafe and Infiniti; Russell Hoskins, Infiniti’s bar manager; and Greg Abbot, Infiniti’s head brewer.
Posted June 21, 2013, at 7:27 p.m.

The Festival

  • Where: Portland
  • When: June 21-22, 2013
  • Number of years held: 2
  • On the Web: www.the-festival.us

Bangor’s Beer Festival — Tap Into Summer

  • Where: Bangor
  • When: June 22, 2013
  • Number of years held: 1
  • On the Web: www.visitbangormaine.com/?id=2&sub_id=919

Craft Beer Comes to Portland

  • Where: Portland
  • When: July 13
  • Number of years held: 3
  • On the Web: mainebrewersguild.org

Bangor Brew Fest (part of the KahBang festival)

  • Where: Bangor
  • When: Aug. 9-10, 2013
  • Number of years held: 2
  • On the Web: www.bangorbrewfest.com

Portland Brew Festival

  • Where: Portland
  • When: Aug. 30-31, 2013
  • Number of years held: 3
  • On the Web: www.portlandbrewfestival.com

Maine Lakes Brew Fest

  • Where: Casco
  • When: Sept. 28, 2013
  • Number of years held: 10
  • On the Web: www.mainelakesbrewfest.com

Acadia’s Oktoberfest

  • Where: Southwest Harbor
  • When: Oct. 12, 2013
  • Number of years held: 18
  • On the Web: www.acadiaoktoberfest.com/brewfest.html

Maine Brewers Festival

  • Where: Portland
  • When: Nov. 2, 2013
  • Number of years held: 19
  • On the Web: www.learnyourbeer.com

There are eight beer festivals scheduled to take place in Maine this year, including two in Bangor and four in Portland. For beer fans and tourism officials that’s worth a cheer.

A few years ago there were only three.

Starting this weekend through early November, these festivals, in which ale is sampled and the characteristics of hops and barley contemplated, pump up the state’s burgeoning brewing industry, which now has 35 craft breweries, and attracts hundreds of beer tourists with money to spare.

As craft beer explodes across the country and Maine’s brewers continue to make a name for themselves among beer enthusiasts, cities such as Bangor are starting to capitalize on the wave.

Zeth Lundy, co-owner of Central Street Farmhouse in Bangor and an organizer of the Bangor Brew Fest in early August, is leading the charge in Queen City.

Lundy and his wife opened Central Street Farmhouse, which sells home-brewing equipment, in 2010. Around the same time Geaghan Brothers Brewing and Nocturnem Draft Haus opened.

“Before those things happened, you had to go to Portland for a good beer bar or homebrew store,” Lundy said.

No more.

This weekend a suds showdown is taking place for the first time on the Bangor Waterfront.

The Greater Bangor Convention & Visitors Bureau hosts “Bangor’s Beer Festival — Tap Into Summer,” featuring 15 Maine breweries pouring samples of a slew of their beers.

As of Thursday, the bureau had sold 500 advance tickets to the event. But the target number of attendees is four times that, according to Kerrie Tripp, the bureau’s executive director. The bureau is ready for an onslaught with 2,000 sampling glasses on hand.

“I would love to not bring any back to my office on Saturday afternoon,” she said. “That’s the goal and the hope.”

It’s impossible to know what the economic effect will be before attendees arrive, but a day visitor is likely to spend about $150 for a ticket along with food and gas, Tripp said, ushering $150,000-$250,000 into Bangor.

If a large number of ale enthusiasts flock to the festival and decide to spend the night in a local hotel, that number could more than double, she said.

A beer festival, depending on how many people it attracts, has the potential to bring hundreds of thousands of dollars into a community, say those in the industry.

The two oldest beer festivals in Maine are the Maine Brewers Festival, which will kick off its 19th annual event in Portland on Nov. 2, and Acadia’s Oktoberfest, which will celebrate its 18th annual event on Oct. 12 in Southwest Harbor. Another longstanding ale event is the Maine Lakes Brew Fest in Casco, which will host its 10th annual gathering in September.

The others have popped up in the last three years.

The beer festival appropriately named “ The Festival” happening in Portland this weekend stands to have a much larger effect.

While Bangor’s event features only Maine breweries, The Festival showcases more than 70 European breweries pouring over 200 different, and in some cases rare, beers.

The Festival is attracting “beer geeks” to Portland from across the country, according to Matt Dinges, sales manager at Massachusetts-based Shelton Brothers, who has organized the event with 12 Percent Imports of Brooklyn. Brewers from every European brewery represented have flown in for the event, Dinges said.

“There’s nothing else like this really, even in Europe,” Dinges said.

Organizers hope to sell 3,000 tickets throughout the weekend event, which starts Friday. There will be more than a thousand people pouring into the city for the event, he said.

The Festival is expected to generate at least $750,000 in economic activity in the area, according to Barbara Whitten, CEO of the Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau.

If event-goers spend a few extra days in and around Portland, the effect could easily exceed $1 million, she said.

The inaugural Festival was last year in Worcester. Portland was the choice this year because of its location, beer culture and tourism offerings that made it attractive to European visitors, Dinges said.

“We wanted to keep it in a smaller town in the New England area since that is close to us and the logistics of bringing beers from 75 brewers from all over the world is crazy,” Dinges said. “Portland seems like a cool town. We want the brewers to want to come here, and so we thought people would get excited to see Maine.”

It seems to be working.

Kjetiel Jikiun, the owner of Nogne o, a Norwegian brewery that helped launch that country’s craft beer revolution, spent nearly a week in Portland prior to the event.

“I love being here,” Jikiun said Thursday at Infiniti Fermentation & Distillation, one of Portland’s newest breweries, where he was collaborating on a Nordic Farmhouse ale. “I love this part of the country.”

The event, he said, “will definitely create more awareness of Maine as a craft brewing destination.”

Locals agree.

“The fact that Maine was chosen to be the location for The Festival says a lot about Maine’s reputation in the brewing industry,” said Greg Abbot, head brewer at Infiniti who helped with the farmhouse ale, which used a Norwegian recipe calling for malts smoked with local alder branches and filtering through local juniper twigs.

Eric Michaud, who owns Infiniti and Novare Res Bier Cafe in Portland, said the festival is less about increasing sales at his bars this weekend than creating connections with future customers.

“The bottom line is it’ll be a great weekend. But any summer weekend in Maine could be a great weekend,” he said. “What it will do is advertise for the future.”

That awareness is the end result everyone is hoping for, according to Dan Kleban, president of the Maine Brewers Guild and co-owner of Maine Beer Co. in Freeport.

The Maine Brewers Guild has for the past two years organized a beer festival in Boothbay. This year, it’s bringing the festival to Portland. “Craft Beer Comes to Portland” will be held on the Maine State Pier on July 13.

“It’s not a money-making venture for us,” Kleban said. “It allows us to market our products to an audience that might not otherwise have access to them.”

“It creates that buzz, and that’s the way the craft beer world works,” Kleban said. “Most of us don’t market like Budweiser. It’s social media, word of mouth. In large part what these festivals do is allow people to come experience the beers and hopefully go home and talk to their friends about it.”

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