Wednesday, April 23, 2014
By TOM ATWELL
The Festival being put on by Shelton Brothers and 12 Percent, two renowned importers and distributors of craft beers, will be different from any other beer fest Maine has seen.
The emphasis will be on foreign beers, many of them high alcohol, while other local festivals are exclusively for Maine and regional beers.
The event is being held at the Portland Yacht Services complex at 58 Fore St., with sessions from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and 1 to 5 p.m. and 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets start at $65 plus a transaction fee, with designated-driver admission $8, and are available at the Bier Cellar, Novare Res and eventbrite.com.
This is the second year The Festival has been held. Last year's was in Worcester, Mass., Matt Dinges of Shelton Brothers said. Part of the reason The Festival is in Portland this year is that the Worcester site was not available on the dates the sponsors wanted to hold it.
"We thought Portland sounded like a lot of fun for the brewers coming from Europe," he said.
When I talked to Dinges more than a week ago, he said that none of the sessions had sold out, but sales were ahead of where they were for the first Festival, and that the Saturday-afternoon session was proving the most popular.
"I'd say this is a one-of-a-kind thing, both in terms of scope and the variety of people who are going to be there," Dinges said. "In most of the larger beer festivals in the United States, there is very little participation from the brewers, and people don't have anyone to talk to."
The Festival will feature 75 different brewers, most of which will bring several different beers. Maine law limits festivals to serving 48 ounces of beer for each customer, and while Dinges said customers will have a choice of 1-ounce or 2-ounce pours, they still will be able to taste only a small percentage of the beers on hand.
I coerced Dinges into recommending three beers that he would want to try.
"A personal favorite from the brewer Mikkeller is Beer Geek Brunch, which we haven't had for a time and is just coming back to us," he said.
That beer is made with civet coffee, Dinges said, which is coffee made with beans that have been eaten by Vietnamese civet cats -- a type of ferret or weasel -- passed through their digestive system, collected and brewed. The enzymes in the civets change the beans enough that it alters the flavor of the coffee.
Getting slightly less exotic, Brasserie Cantillon -- one of Belgium's premier brewers -- will be introducing a sour ale that has been aged for three years in barrels and has a more highly alcohol lambic than most. Dinges recommends that as a great beer.
"Another one people will want to try is Hill Farmstead, a guy that we have known for a number of years who brews in Vermont," Dinges said. "I don't think any of his beers have been in Maine, so this is a one-time chance."
He expects the brewery will offer a strong stout, a sour beer and IPA and maybe some others.
I've never had Hill Farmstead beer, but I know several people who have made the pilgrimage to Greensboro Bend, Vt., and rave about it.
I went to the Bier Cellar, and the only beer available from the three breweries mentioned above was by Mikkeller. I bought the I Beat You American-style India Pale Ale, which is brewed in Scotland even though Mikkeller is a Danish brewer. It's a rich and heavy ale with a bordering-on-syrupy mouthfeel and good hops balanced by malt sweetness. Coming in at 9.7 percent alcohol, it cost $6.99 for an 11.2-ounce bottle.
Greg Norton, the Bier Cellar's co-owner, recommended two other beers that cost less and whose brewers will also be at The Festival.
Evil Twin Brewing was founded by a former partner in Mikkeller who now brews in Stratford, Conn., and is distributed by 12 Percent. Its Lil' B Imperial Porter is 11.5 percent alcohol, and costs $3.99 for a 12-ounce bottle. This is an intense beer -- extremely hoppy, lots of malt and even a bit of molasses.
Prairie Ale, a Belgian-style saison brewed by Prairie Artisan Ales in Krebs, Okla., is a nicely flavorful sour ale, with quite a bit of sweetness up front balanced by the Brett-yeast funk. It's 7 percent alcohol, and costs $12.99 for a 750-milliliter cork-and-cage bottle.
Norton said people should not despair about not being able to taste all the beers at The Festival. Dinges was busy registering The Festival beers for sale in Maine when I called him, and Norton said he will be selling beers brought to Maine that will still be remaining after the event.
For those interested in getting an early start, the Bier Cellar will be holding a tasting from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, featuring three or four beers from Prairie -- depending on how many arrive -- as well as some beers that will be provided by Allagash.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: