Monday, March 10, 2014
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.
Craig Dilger, who has been brewing beer at home for the past nine years, will be on the upcoming Portland Brew Week’s tour of home brewers. Dilger, left, with help from his friend Bill Boguski, generally brews up several batches of beer each month at his Portland apartment.
Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer
Dilger and Boguski stir in ground barley to create the mash mixture that they will use when making their next batch of home brew.
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.
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Craig Dilger heats up water used in making the mash mixture for his next batch of home brew beer at his Portland apartment.
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Craig Dilger grinds up freshly roasted barley that he will be using to brew his next batch of home brew.