On Nov. 9, a small group of strangers will disembark from a little green bus in front of Craig Dilger’s West End home. The 30-year-old freelance photojournalist will invite them in, and serve them a couple of single-hop beers he’s made with his own hands.
And, if they’re lucky, they might get to taste his signature sweet potato beer (made in protest of pumpkin beer), or a new dark ale he’s experimenting with that has hints of spruce.
Who is Craig Dilger, and why is he one of the stops on a home brew tour during Portland Beer Week?
He’s just a guy who got into home brewing nine years ago and whose dream is to, some day, open a nanobrewery in Portland.
“I tend to brew stuff with weird ingredients, like cayenne, smoked paprika, molasses, sweet potatos, ginger, saffron, cranberries,” he said. “It’s all over the map.”
Portland Beer Week begins Friday and runs through Nov. 10. It’s only the event’s second year, but last year’s Beer Week was so successful there was never really any question that it would have an encore. Allison Stevens, owner of the Thirsty Pig on Exchange Street, owns the event and began meeting last January with about 10 other organizers to evaluate the best and the worst from last year and plan activities for this year.
Last year, food and beer pairings were a hit. Tap takeovers? Not so much.
“This year, I don’t have anyone doing one,” Stevens said.
Last year there were 59 events; this year, there will be 75. Last year, 28 businesses and 32 breweries participated in Portland Beer Week.
This year, there are 35 businesses and at least 46 breweries (at the time we spoke, Stevens was expecting an additional 20 brands to be added to the pouring lists).
The event has been extended to include two weekends instead of one to accommodate people who can’t take week days off to drink beer. One big lesson learned from last year is that there’s a lot of people willing to travel to Portland for a beer vacation.
“We got destroyed on the weekends last year,” Stevens said. “We ended up filling up two hotels with people who were just here for Beer Week events.”
Stevens’ own business had its second best week of the year during Beer Week, and for some Portland pubs and restaurants, it was their best or near best.
And it’s not just folks from away who are making Beer Week a surprising success, considering the size of the city. Stevens believes the unusual energy around and interest in craft brewing and small businesses here fuels the excitement over Portland Beer Week.
“If this is a beer mecca,” she said, “then those people who are into those things, they live here already. I think it’s an affordable beer city with a great selection. I was just in Boston, and it’s hilarious to me how many of the bars are just purchased tap lines, and here it’s so genuine.”
There’s one big event-within-the-event happening this year. The 20th Annual Maine Brewers Festival will be held on Saturday at the Portland Expo Center, and organizers are working hard to make it something that will appeal to serious beer drinkers.
Stevens had also planned a fundraiser this year called “Brewers Kitchen,” a food-and-beer tasting event featuring 15 local restaurants and brewers scheduled for Sunday at Port City Music Hall. It was cancelled Tuesday due to slow ticket sales. Portland Beer Week ended up $5,000 in the red last year, and this event was expected to help offset some of those costs, as well as raise some money for the Maine Brewers Guild. But the $80 ticket price was too much, apparently, for beer geeks.
A silent auction that was supposed to be held at the fundraiser will now be a “traveling silent auction” at various venues throughout the week. The auction features “stuff brewers don’t normally give away,” Stevens said.
Shipyard is auctioning off a year’s supply of beer, Stevens said. Some brewers will be offering private tours or signed, special release bottles. And others will put their used whiskey barrels up for sale – they are popular repurposed as book cases and other crafty items. (They can only be used once for aging beer.)
The rest of Portland Beer Week features a creative, eclectic schedule of events that seems to have something for everyone. Some of the ideas are expected – beer dinners, theme nights that focus on a particular style of beer. But others are brand new and inspired. Here’s a quick sampling:
• There will be two progressive beer dinners. The one on Nov. 5 will feature Bunker Brewing Co. and travel to all three of Jay Villani’s restaurants – Sonny’s, Local 188 and Salvage BBQ. The second one on Nov. 6 will focus on Rising Tide beers, which will be paired with food courses at Outliers, Little Tap House, Portland & Rochester, and Love Cupcakes.
• After 15 years of brewing, Sebago is releasing their 1,000th brew, a Belgian quad, on Nov. 8. They’re calling it “M,” as in 1,000.
• Bull Feeney’s is bringing D.L. Geary and Alan Pugsley together for a four-course beer Founders of Maine Brewing dinner where they’ll talk about the “Birth of Maine Brewing.” Each course will, of course, be paired with Geary’s and Shipyard. The dinner is only $29.95, including gratuity, and seats are limited to 35, so this one is likely to sell out fast.
• Last year, several businesses and groups formed during Portland Beer Week and are having one-year anniversary celebrations this year. One of those groups is the Maine Beer Mavens, which will host a beer-and-cheese party at Rising Tide on Nov. 8.
The Zymurgy Home Brew Tour (Zymurgy is the name of the journal published by the American Homebrewers Association) on Nov. 9 was the suggestion of Zach Poole, owner of the Maine Brew Bus, the tour company whose motto is “Driving you to drink local.”
Poole said he wanted to showcase home brewers who are not really amateurs, but they haven’t yet mustered the nerve to open an actual brewery. Some of the people he’s recruited for the tour he’s met on his own bus; others he tracked down through Portland Mashing Maineiacs, a local home brewing club.
One of the home brewers on Poole’s tour will actually be brewing some beer while entertaining guests from Portland Beer Week, Poole said. Another has experience barrel-aging beers.
“They have other jobs that they do, and they just brew for fun,” Poole said. “Probably most brewers started brewing at home. I don’t know if any of these will someday take the next step into starting their own brewery or not, but they’re all above the home brew kits.”
Why is Craig Dilger letting all these strangers into his home to drink beer?
“Why not?” he replies.
Home brewing, Dilger said, “is a hobby that is all about sharing. If I make 5 gallons of beer at a time, it’s still two cases of beer that’s often best drunk fresh, so it’s a little more beer than one person wants to drink entirely on their own. And it’s about the fun of having people over. For me, the process of brewing has always been something that friends have done with me, or I have done with friends, so it’s always been kind of a community activity.”
Another fun event will be the Beer Week Scavenger Hunt organized by Port City Running Tours, the same group that will also be hosting its regular brewery running tours.
The scavenger hunt will kick off from Rising Tide Brewing Co. at 1 p.m. Nov. 9. Teams of runners will answer trivia questions and follow clues that lead them all around the city. When they stop at a bar or brewery, they’ll have to answer a question, complete a challenge or solve a clue.
“These clues are basically going to lead them all over the peninsula,” said John Calvin Stevens III, owner of Port City Running Tours. “There’s not going to be any rhyme or reason to them. There’s a little bit of planning involved here, as well, some strategy to plan out where these locations are so you’re not zig-zagging across the city.”
Stevens said a lot of people get nervous about combining drinking with running, but he reassures them that the distances are not that far, and the samples are not that large.
The scavenger hunt will be a timed event, and along the way Stevens will throw in some bonus challenges that, if completed, will subtract minutes from a team’s overall time. Most of the challenges involve drinking beer.
“We’re not requiring anyone to drink along the way,” Stevens said, “but as a Beer Week event we’re going to encourage it.”
That’s as it should be: During Portland Beer Week, even runners should be allowed to throw back a few.
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: