Brewers laud law changes at Bangor beer festival

Posted June 22, 2014, at 6:16 a.m.
Last modified June 22, 2014, at 11 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Brewers and patrons alike lauded recent changes to Maine law that have cleared up confusing, outdated regulations surrounding the state’s booming brewing industry.

Ian McConnell, owner and brewer at Banded Horn Brewing Co. helped keep the taps flowing, passing out samples of his beers to patrons at Bangor’s second Tap into Summer Beer Festival.

Last year, neither he nor any other brewer at a beer tasting festival in Maine were allowed to do that.

In April, Gov. Paul LePage approved Public Law 531, stemming from a piece of emergency legislation aimed at clarifying and softening regulations on beer tasting events. Among the rules it changed: Brewers could now pour beers while talking to patrons rather than relying on volunteers.

“It’s better for everyone at a beer festival,” McConnell said as beer enthusiasts milled around Banded Horn’s station at the start of Saturday’s event. “Being able to answer questions as a brewer about the beer you’re pouring is a much more informative, personal experience.” He added that volunteers may not be well-versed in the beer they’re handing over.

“It’s just great to see people enjoy your beer,” he said.

Organizers of The Festival, a large Shelton Brothers event held in Portland last year, said they would never return to Maine because regulations made the event difficult to host and create a profit. In part, they struggled to find enough volunteers to staff the many tables at the event.

“Maine’s done a good job, but we still have a way to go when it comes to law governing spirits,” McConnell said.

Despite the law change, organizers of Tap into Summer brought in 60 volunteers to assist with this year’s event. Some poured at the taps, others cleaned glasses and punched cards to keep track of how many brews patrons had sampled.

That gave brewers the option of standing behind the taps or stepping out to mingle with their fellow brewers or the patrons.

“We try to make everything as easy as possible for brewers so they can enjoy what they do and talk to people,” said Kerri Tripp, executive director of Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau.

As Saturday’s event kicked off under a large tent along the Penobscot River, Tripp said she expected an even stronger turnout than last year’s inaugural event.

As of noon Friday, more than 800 people had purchased tickets in advance of the event. Prior to the start of Saturday’s general session, people were lining up to buy tickets.

In 2013, the festival drew a total of about 1,200 patrons. This year’s festival also has the added advantage of not being held the same weekend as the large-scale festival in Portland last year.

Tap into Summer was capped at 25 brewers this year, all based in Maine. Among those participants was the Friars’ Brewhouse, which is in its first year of operation and made the Bangor event its first brew festival appearance.

The Franciscan Brothers of St. Elizabeth of Hungary produce the beer, and brewer Brother Don, wearing his brown robe with rope tied around his waist, mingled with patrons who were curious to see what ales the friars had to offer.

“We often don’t get direct feedback from people, so this is a great chance to hear what people think” he said. Most of the Friars’ beer is sold at Bangor Wine and Cheese Co., while the friars work at the bakehouse elsewhere in Bangor’s downtown.

He said one woman said she saw him from behind as she entered the venue and thought he was dressed as Obi Wan Kenobi for some reason.

Patrons are allowed up to 10 4-ounce samples at Tap into Summer.

Tickets were $30 at the gate and the event ran until 5 p.m. Saturday. Proceeds go toward the Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau’s efforts to build tourism in the region.