PORTLAND – The city will become the center of the beer-drinking universe this weekend as thousands of craft beer fans and brewers from around the world converge for an international gathering called The Festival.
Consisting of three tasting sessions – one Friday and two Saturday – at the Portland Co. Complex on Fore Street, The Festival is organized by beer importers and serves as a showcase for the rock stars of the beer world.
It’s expected to inject nearly $1 million into Portland’s economy and provide priceless exposure for local craft brewers, pubs, restaurants and businesses that cater to tourists.
Sven Bosch, 44, is flying to Portland from Mataro, a city in the Catalonia region of Spain. He’s the owner of a Belgian beer cafe, The Drunk Monk (rated one of the 50 best beer bars in the world by ratebeer.com), and is coming to The Festival to seek out new American beers to serve at his bar.
“I’m staying for four days,” Bosch said in an email, “two days for The Festival and then two days for tourism, maybe to visit a brewery and to visit some local pubs.”
Jason Kramer, a 36-year-old pharmacist, planned to leave his home in the central Pennsylvania town of Sunbury on Thursday morning to begin his own pilgrimage to Portland by car. He planned to stop at breweries in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire before arriving at the Portland Marriott on Friday morning.
Kramer will attend all three sessions of The Festival to be sure he can meet as many of the 70 or so brewers who are attending as he wants — the people whose names are on the labels of some of his favorite beers and who are, to the beer world, what chefs like Mario Batali are to the foodie set.
“Some of these brewers — in our weird, demented, beer geek world — are like celebrities,” Kramer said, “and you don’t get a chance to meet these people on a daily basis.”
Multiply Bosch and Kramer by 2,000 or 3,000, and you have some idea of the swarm of beer lovers about to descend on the city this weekend. It’s as if a cruise ship docked in Portland and let all its passengers out into the streets. But instead of going back to the ship in the evening for dinner and a place to rest, the visitors will fill the city’s hotel rooms and dine in its restaurants.
There are travelers coming from as far away as England, Norway and Spain, said Robert Merryman of Shelton Bros. beer distributors, one of the organizers of the event. Some are brewers, but many are tourists coming from Europe just to attend the festival. Attendees also include craft beer fans from 20 states.
“The majority of the festival-goers come from New England and the rest of the eastern seaboard — New York and Pennsylvania,” Merryman said, “but we do have people coming from California, Kentucky, Texas and all over the U.S.”
Barbara Whitten, president of the Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau, estimates that the beer festival will pump at least $750,000 into the Portland economy — and that’s a conservative estimate.
“First-time visitors to our state are highly prized because once they come here, they realize how much more there is to see and do,” she said, “and they will come back and talk to other people about visiting here, too.”
Whitten is particularly happy that the organizers chose Portland because the city has been working hard to promote itself as a culinary travel destination. The thousands of people expected to attend The Festival will help spread the word that “we have some great beer in Maine,” she said.
“They’re just creating more of a beer buzz, if you will,” Whitten said.
Rick Hirshmann of Portland Rock Lobster, an Old Port gift shop that sells Maine-made products and has one of the largest selections of hot sauce in the Northeast, is hoping The Festival will help make up for the “soft numbers” he’s had all year long. Hot sauce and beer, after all, go together like lobster and butter.
A wet, cold spring and national events such as the Boston Marathon bombing and tornadoes that pummeled Western states in May affected the number of travelers visiting the Old Port, Hirshmann said.
“Seasonally, we’re basically a month behind,” he said. “(The Festival) could be huge. It could make the difference for a lot of people.”
Local craft brewers and retail outlets that sell beer are also excited about the opportunity to welcome hundreds of beer drinkers to their businesses.
“It’s really going to attract craft beer aficionados from all over the world, and as a consequence, these people are going to be exposed to a lot of local craft beer they wouldn’t otherwise be able to get their hands on,” said Dan Kleban of Maine Beer Co., who is also the spokesman for the Maine Brewers Guild. “I think that’s a really cool opportunity for us to kind of showcase what we’re doing here in Maine.”
Bosch of Spain, for example, has expressed interest in meeting brewers and sampling local brews from Allagash Brewing Co., Maine Beer Co. and Bull Jagger.
Some Maine brewers are taking the opportunity to do collaborations with their overseas counterparts. Kleban spent part of Wednesday brewing with Kjetil Jikiun, the founder and head brewer at Nogne O, a Norwegian brewery.
“I’ve had their beers many times and have always been a big fan of their beers, so I reached out to him, and we’ve been working on a recipe over email over the past month or so,” Kleban said. “That never would have happened had this festival not come to Portland.”
Local brewers are expanding their tasting room hours, and pubs and retailers are adding the rare and unique beers imported by Shelton Bros. to their stock so they’ll have plenty available for customers to sample.
Novare Res Bier Cafe has been stockpiling Shelton Bros. beers for the past year. RSVP, a liquor store on Forest Avenue, has stocked 60 new beers, according to Dan Shelton of Shelton Bros. Whole Foods Market has special-ordered beers that will come in this weekend, and another shipment will arrive next week.
Allison Stevens, owner of the Thirsty Pig on Exchange Street, has been preparing for The Festival for a month. She’s made 2,000 sausages to sell at the event — similar to what she made for a folk festival on the Eastern Prom headlined by Mumford & Sons last summer — and had to buy a new freezer to hold them all.
Stevens even developed a new one, a ghost chile sausage, “because I find that beer people really like spicy stuff.”
Andy Toppan, an engineer at Bath Iron Works and resident of Yarmouth, says he would have traveled to the first Festival in Worcester, Mass., last year if he had found out about it in time. A self-proclaimed beer geek, Toppan has purchased a ticket for the Saturday afternoon session, and plans to sample mostly “the rare things I’ll never have the chance to find again.”
“To have it right here is amazing,” Toppan said. “We’ve never had a festival of this magnitude in Portland.”
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: