June 20, 2013

Portland beer festival to showcase stars of the suds

The city will be buzzing this weekend with craft beer brewers, importers and drinkers from all over the world.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Allison Stevens pours a draft Wednesday at her bar, The Thirsty Pig on Exchange Street in Portland, in advance of the beer celebration known as The Festival. The international event serves as a showcase for the “rock stars” of the craft beer world.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Customers – from left, Sarah Jump, Biz Wing, Erika Colby, Brian Gallant and Helen Walden – enjoy the selections at Novare Res Bier Cafe in Portland on Wednesday. A swarm of beer lovers is expected to visit the city this weekend.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer


Dan Shelton of Shelton Bros. has this advice for how to approach the dizzying array of offerings at the event:

There are several brewers that are considered "rock stars," and the lines at their booths are likely to be long. Take advantage of that, Shelton says, and go visit brewers who have shorter lines but whose products are, in many cases, just as good or better.

Visit as many brewers as you can. "Don't sit at one booth and drink five different beers there," Shelton said.

Try some beers you've never heard of before -- they'll be great, and you'll spend less time in lines.

The usual advice at beer tastings is to start with lower alcohol content and work your way up to higher alcohol content. Don't worry about that here, because there will be simply too much variety.

Take advantage of the rinse stations to wash out your glass between tastings.

Stay hydrated, and be sure to eat something along the way.

-- Meredith Goad

"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:


Twitter: MeredithGoad

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Additional Photos

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Greg Norton, owner of Bier Cellar at 299 Forest Ave., displays a large variety of beers, plus a mead and hard cider, that will be featured this weekend during The Festival at The Portland Company on Fore Street.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer


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