PORTLAND — When Allison Stevens sent out a handful of emails asking pub owners, beer distributors and brewers if they wanted to get together to plan this year’s Portland Beer Week, she wasn’t sure what to expect.
But when the night came and everyone gathered in the back room at Novare Res in the Old Port, more than 40 people showed up.
Stevens was surprised, but that’s exactly what she wanted for the second year of beer week, which will be held Nov. 4-11.
“It’s not coming from just one brand, and it’s not coming from one distributor,” she said. “It’s coming from a really genuine place from people who just really care about beer.”
The inaugural year of beer week was well received, but in a lot of ways, beer lovers say, it was kind of like Restaurant Week with beer as an add-on. This year Stevens, who owns The Thirsty Pig on Exchange Street, and her fellow beer geeks have structured an impressive line-up that is overflowing with nearly 60 events. And they did it all in barely two months.
“They want to include everyone, and I think she’s done a ridiculously good job,” said Jason Loring, co-owner of Nosh Kitchen Bar and Taco Escobarr, who is participating in several events.
Ten bars banded together to help pay for a national ad touting Portland Beer Week in Beer Advocate, and even distributors have been working together to help the schedule come together.
There will be beer-and-cheese pairings, brewery tours, a hot sauce-and-beer tasting, beer dinners, beer showcases, a “canned dinner” featuring Maine’s canned beers, an “urban beer fashion show,” a beer-and-chocolate tasting, tap takeovers and more.
“So it’s not just about beer,” Stevens said, “it’s about beer in the community and beer as a culture and different gatherings for beer, so it’s not just relying on the same few people who show up to events, but it’s relying on these whole other populations of people.”
Stevens has a background in event planning and says she learned a lot from observing the launch of the first Beer Week in Syracuse. She says she has spent $5,000 of her own money to pull this off. (Portland Beer Week will be selling T-shirts and other merchandise to help fund next year’s beer week.)
“I know I won’t come out ahead, but I don’t always do things for that reason,” Stevens said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be in business here for a year. I really want to give back to the community with something I’m passionate about.”
The week will end Nov. 11 with a big finale VIP party at Big Easy on Market Street for vendors, beer reps and bartenders. Tickets will be given away to the public as well, and Stevens says the more events you go to, the better shot you’ll have at nabbing one of them.
Here’s a detailed look at five of the events, followed by a complete schedule of Portland Beer Week:
BEER AND CHEESE, SO HAPPY TOGETHER
One of the first events of Portland Beer Week will actually be held in Brunswick. Ruth Miller, known as the “The Beer and Cheese Maven” of Vermont, will lead a guided beer-and-cheese pairing at 3 p.m. Nov. 4 at Lion’s Pride in Brunswick.
She’ll be pairing beers from Newcastle-based Oxbow with cheeses produced with 40 miles of the brewery. One of the Oxbow brewers will be on hand to answer questions, as will one of the cheesemakers.
Miller was a home brewer for 15 years and became interested in the style guidelines used to judge beer quality.
“Six years ago, my quest for flavors migrated to artisanal cheeses, which share many of the same fermentation methods used for brewing,” she said.
Today, she does pairing consulting for brewers, cheesemakers, restaurants, taprooms and festivals throughout New England.
Most people think of pairing cheeses with different wines, but Miller says beer and cheese share far more similarities in terms of origin of ingredients, flavors and fermentation methods.
“Beer allows for a much wider palette of flavors to work with, given the diversity of styles available and use of a tremendous variety of ingredients,” Miller said. “Wine makers are more tradition-bound and must rely on geography, soil and climate to produce the quality of grapes of their respective vintage. Beer is more consistent and free of the vagaries of a ‘bad year.’ “
Beer also has the advantage of carbonation, which allows flavors to more fully disperse on the palate.
Miller says her aim with this event is to “showcase the uber-local terroir” of the beers and cheeses.
The second beer-and-cheese event will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. Nov. 6 at The Thirsty Pig.
This event will pair Belgian and Belgian-style beers with cheeses from the Cabot Farmers’ Annex on Commercial Street and beers from Allagash Brewing with international cheeses from Micucci.
GET YOUR URBAN BEER FASHION ON
Hipsters, get your coolest threads on and head over to The Thirsty Pig on Nov. 7, and you might just win some free concert tickets.
Urban Outfitters will be showcasing a collection of clothing and goods for the modern beer drinker in a fashion show from 4 to 8 p.m. The beer of choice that night will be – what else? – Hipster Ale from Brooklyn’s Evil Twin Brewing.
There will also be a costume contest searching for the “best dressed hipster.” The winner will receive two tickets to the Tragically Hip show that night at the State Theatre.
THE MAINE BREW BUS GOES ‘ROUND AND ‘ROUND
If you’ve seen a big green bus painted with hops and a cheeky slogan on the side – “Driving You to Drink Local” – you’ve caught a glimpse of the Maine Brew Bus, one of Portland’s newest businesses (themainebrewbus.com).
Zach Poole first thought about creating the shuttle last fall, then debuted his big green bus at the Portland Brew Festival just a few short weeks ago, over Labor Day weekend.
“After seeing all the tourists that come into town,” Poole said, “I just thought it would be a great way to provide safe transportation to some of the local Maine brew pubs and breweries and drinking establishments to promote Maine beer.”
The bus has 12 seats, plus one wheelchair accessible seat.
Poole will be offering free rides from 4 to 8 p.m. the first day of Portland Beer Week, making stops at Bull Feeney’s, East Ender, Great Lost Bear, Gritty’s, LFK, Nosh, Novare Res, Sebago, the Shipyard Lounge at the Residence Inn and The Thirsty Pig.
Flag down the bus, or call 200-9111 to arrange transportation in advance.
“It’s a free shuttle, and I’ll have a tip bucket on the bus,” Poole said. “I’ll make a stop at each location and probably run inside to say I’m there. They can also call ahead. If they have a group of people that want to be picked up somewhere, I can go and grab them and bring them one place, and they they can kind of start the rounds.”
Right now, Poole’s business offers just two regular tours, a York County tour on Fridays and a Portland-area tour on Saturdays. He also does bachelor/bachelorette parties, private charters and pub crawls.
Poole will be launching his third tour,” The Local Pour Tour,” during Portland Beer Week. It will run the first and third Friday of each month. Normally $65 per person, the Local Pour Tour will be offered for $30 on Nov. 8, starting at The Thirsty Pig. And it will cover a lot more than beer, visiting local producers of mead, cider and spirits as well. Stops will include Urban Farm Fermentory, Bunker Brewing Company, Maine Mead Works and New England Distilling.
Breakfast at dinner – brinner – is one of five events that will be hosted at Nosh Kitchen Bar or Taco Escaobarr on Congress Street.
The event, which will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Nov. 4, will feature Founders Breakfast Stout, brewed with flaked oats, chocolates and Sumatra and Kona coffees.
Jason Loring, chef/owner of Nosh, says he’ll be serving his regular menu along with four brunch specials:
• A housemade corned beef hash with potatoes, onions, peppers and two fried eggs on top, served with rye toast.
• A breakfast poutine made with fries, smoked bacon and cheese curds smothered in chicken gravy, with two fried eggs on top.
• A “Holy Hand Grenade,” which is a bacon cheeseburger between two donuts from Holy Donuts, served with a little maple syrup and Nosh’s signature bacon dust.
• Peanut butter and jelly-stuffed French toast.
Loring’s other events, such as the Allagash and Sierra Nevada Tap Takeover on Nov. 7, will not have sit-down menus but more of a cocktail party atmosphere.
“I don’t have menus written for those yet, but we’re not going to do beer dinners because it doesn’t really work for our establishment,” Loring said. “It will be lots of snacks and apps that I do special for these events, so you can walk around and have fun and talk to people and not feel like you have to sit down and have a dinner.”
NEED SOME HOT SAUCE TO WASH DOWN THAT BEER?
What does hot sauce have to do with beer?
Just ask Rich Hirschmann, co-owner of Portland Rock Lobster on Exchange Street, who will be holding a hot sauce tasting from 5 to 9 p.m. Nov. 8 at The Thirsty Pig, featuring brews from Chicago brewers Goose Island and libations from Maine Mead Works.
Hirschmann has a small tasting bar at Portland Rock Lobster where customers can sample hot sauces rated from 1 to 10.
“A lot of people come in here and get very red faced and they’re sweating and their noses are running and they’re, like, ‘Where can I get a beer?’ ” he said.
Hirschmann said he’ll be bringing 10 hot sauces to the tasting.
“Hot sauces are rated in scoville units, which is a scientific rating of the amount of capsaicin they have in them that makes them hot,” he explained, “but the distributors break them out into a 1 through 10 category. There’s a large group within, say, the ones, the twos, the threes. When you get up to the 10s, it’s basically from around 300,000 scovilles up. So in the 10s, you could go from 300,000 scovilles to 6 million or 7 million scovilles. There’s a big difference there, but everybody has a different palate, and they have a different heat level that works for them.”
Sauces in the 1 to 3 category would be equivalent to ketchup, Hirschmann said. A 3 would be closer to a barbecue sauce. Tabasco sauce is also a 3.
“Some of the sauces are so hot they can literally blister you,” he said. “I’ve actually been blistered by one of the sauces, and I couldn’t drink hot coffee for a month and I couldn’t eat anything spicy for about two months. I still enjoy that sauce, I still use it at home, but now I mix it in (with food) so it doesn’t get directly on my tongue.”
For beer week, Hirschmann will bring a middle-of-the-road sauce from each one of the heat levels, including a sauce that is hotter than the one that blistered him. “I tell you, there are people out there that are true fire eaters,” he said.
He’ll also bring a case of each sauce in case people want to buy them. The sauce will be served on an unsalted tortilla chip so it can be tasted directly on the tongue.
Don’t worry, if you get in trouble, there will be plenty of beer around to help wash away the pain.
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 ot at: [email protected]